By Windstar and Zee
with sincere thanks to by S.A. Milone for all of her edits.
A camera lens whirred, refocusing whilst a young security marshal wearing bio-armor sat uncomfortably in her data booth. Her hair was rust red, something that bothered her a great deal. She kept it short so most of it would be hidden under her duty cap, but now that cap was clutched, and twisted in her hands. She was wiry and lean, with dusky-golden skin, and eyes of gunmetal gray.
Finally the red light above the camera came on.
Morgan cleared her throat nervously. “Hey, mom,” she started, immediately faltering. “I'm… Well, I'm not a marine, sorry about that. Dano is probably gloating somewhere over your shoulder. He always said I was too dumb to be a marine even. Guess he was right, but as you can see I landed on my feet. I may not have been as bright as Bethany or Franklin, but I'm a good shot and I follow orders well. That was enough for the Captain. Young, dumb, and I look good in my uniform.”
Her mother didn't smile.
“I hear what they say about me... er... us. So I might not know the ifs and whys of space travel, but I can put my gun together in fifteen seconds and hit a bulls eye. And I don't understand what a plasma drive is exactly, but I can disarm and disable twelve armed enemies.” Morgan sighed. Her thoughts were all jumbled. “I guess I just wanted you to know I was okay. I know you were all expecting me to ship home after I was dishonorably discharged, but I wanted more than to wash out back to the farm. Part of my pay should be wired to you, so you'll get a little help that way. It’s not as honorable as being a marine but it’s a good job. So... I'll send another data package when I can. If you feel up to it send me one, just so I know that everyone's okay. Security Marshall Morgan Saunders out.”
Morgan leaned forward, her neck and chest filling the screen. After a few fumbles she managed to stop the recording device and send the data packet.
Standing, she rolled her shoulders to release the tension that had accumulated and fixed her cap back on her head. Once again she was just another nameless grunt on the prison freighter, preparing to drop off prisoners to a prison mining camp. She wondered what her brothers and sisters were doing. They were probably wondering why she hadn't come home after the trouble. Her step-father Dano had come to her trial to gloat.
Morgan had grown up on a Luddite planet on the far end of the Alliance, a place where those who felt the evils of the world came away from technology. The people there did there best to shed its trappings and get back to honest work and labor. There was only one trade port where ships launched and landed, and as girl she'd snuck away to watch what seemed like magic to her.
She marveled at how something so big and heavy could burst free from the pull of the world. It still seemed that way to Morgan now. The world was full of magic and wonders, and she wanted to see them. A recruiter had come to her school and she'd signed up. One of his promises was that she'd see the world. She snorted as she thought about it. She'd seen its ugly side. Too stupid to know better she had been taken advantage of left and right, an easy mark.
Morgan exited the mail room and nodded at her fellow security marshal.
“Ante up ladies!”
“Why should we Laura, you going to let us win this time?”
“You just gotta learn how to get better at playing the game, Paul.” Laura waggled her eyebrows, tossing her own chips into the center of the table along with the others.
Half a dozen officers were gambling off-shift in a storage locker for medical supplies. The small room was lined with equipment. It had taken some creative stacking to make space for the folding table and cheap metal chairs that had been acquired. It was illuminated by a single rigged light panel above the table that was dimmed by all the cigar and cigarette smoke that hung thick in the air.
Laura nodded her thanks as the cards were dealt. She picked up her hand, only glancing at the cards briefly before studying her fellow gamblers over the brim. None of them were high-ranking officers, all junior members of their departments, although she was one of the youngest around the table.
Space was at a premium on a space ship, even one as large as the prison ship. Hundreds of crew-members, and ten times that many prisoners were crammed into a spherical ship that was just a touch over a kilometer long. Added to that was all the equipment necessary to keep those people alive and under power. It didn’t leave a lot of room for other things.
The prison ship wasn’t much to look at from the exterior; a long bulbous ship, massive fuel tanks strapped to her back end, and antenna protrusions along with the occasional weapons emplacement marring her lines. She wouldn’t ever be able to stand up to a full warship, but she certainly was heavily armed enough to keep pirate ships from doing anything stupid.
They weren’t military, but the company who ran the ship ran it more or less according to military rules and regulations. Hence this open-secret of a meeting place for weekly poker games.
“Twenty.” The balding man to Laura’s left announced, tossing a red chip out onto the table top.
Laura smirked. “Twenty Gustav? That's it? Come on, you're being cheap again.”
Gustav glared at Laura and flipped another chip onto the table. “Forty then, smart ass.”
“That's more like it.” Laura flipped two chips out to call the hand and the betting continued around the table, only to end in swearing as she laid down her cards and scooped up her winnings.
“Fuck it Laura, you cheating?” Gustav growled, his face turning red as she took his chips.
“Nope, just better at the game than you are. Smarter and prettier too.” Laura laughed as Gustav’s hands clenched in furry. “Come on Gustav, you can win them back, you just have to get smarter.”
“You little bitch!” He started to rise only to sit back down as the other five yelled at him, keeping him in check.
Laura grinned as she picked up her cards, brushing a hand through the short, cropped dark hair that framed her face. She was also the smallest person in the room, easily a head shorter than Gustav and almost two heads shorter than Paul. A byproduct of being born on an orbital station instead of planet side like Gustav, or a low-gravity world like Paul.
Laura often wondered if Gustav's mean streak was because he came from one of the core worlds of the alliance, thinking himself better than anyone else.
“I'm smart enough not to get dishonorably discharged.” Gustav said, just as Laura thought he'd let the anger go. It was a cheap shot and she glanced sideways at him, her jaw tightening as her dark eyes narrowed.
“Yeah, you just retired, old man,” she replied. Unfortunately he didn't rise to the bait, simply giving her an angry smile as he picked up his cards.
“I hear they found you in bed with the General’s daughter. How'd that go over?” Gustav prodded.
Laura ground her teeth as she picked up her own cards.
“Yeah Laura,” someone else called, laughing. “I heard you two were doing the nasty when they tossed you out of bed.”
The laughter made Laura flush a little, angrily. “I don't want to talk about it.” She tossed down the cards, passing on the betting and losing her ante this time.
Gustav leaned in, eager to embarrass her in front of the others. “They were in the General's private shuttle. I hear they were going to charge you with grand theft and toss you in a cell to rot.”
Laura crossed her arms, leaning back in her uncomfortable chair, her face blank as she reached boiling point. The memories were painful. “I heard a rumor about why you retired, old man,” she said, voice dark and soft. The laughter died away, all eyes turning towards her. Gustav's look turned deadly.
Laura should have just let it go, walked away before she said things that couldn't be taken back. She'd never been good at that though.
“Heard you tried to rape a recruit, but you couldn't get it up.”
Gustav’s bellow of furry sent her backward just as he flipped the table out of the way, leaping at her in rage. “I'll kill you, you little bitch!” he screamed, being brought up short as Paul wrapped an arm around his waist, hauling him back.
“You’re dead!” Gustav kept yelling as Laura gathered up her chips and winked at the other officers. “Guess I’m done for the night. Thanks for the credits guys. I gotta get bunk time anyway. Pilot's need their beauty sleep.” She waved to Gustav, only making him go redder in the face.
Laughing, she slipped out of the storage room, leaving chaos in her wake.
In the supply closet two figures clashed together, hands, lips tongues dueling against one another, but sometimes helping each other.
Morgan's hands moved to undo the belt of other woman, who was a doctor or a nurse or something. The nurse attached herself to Morgan’s neck like some sort of leach.
Belt undone, the nurse’s pants fell to the floor and Morgan’s hands went to her own pants and undid the fasteners.
The pair thrust together with a symphony of sighs and moans.
Morgan had grown up on a planet that followed the teachings of Duarrant, a religious zealot who taught that all of society’s ills could be blamed on technology. As a result, Duarrant and his followers had moved to a tech-dead planet. Morgan had once pointed out to her stepfather they weren't completely tech-free because they relied on the space port for import and export. The result was she hadn't been able to sit for a week.
Due to her upbringing Morgan may not have been considered the smartest person, but she was mildly educated. Morgan had gone to school until her mother married, after which her stepfather had pulled Morgan out of school to both work on the farm and take care of her younger siblings, believing education was a waste.
Morgan thrust harder into the nurse, pushing up against the shelving.
Morgan thought there was nothing as good as making love to a woman. She thought this despite having a horrible first time. She had been caught in the barn with Molly Tanner. Her step dad made her stand up outside for 24hours reading from the teachings of Duarrant. Every time Morgan started to drift off to sleep he'd hit her with a bucket of cold water. In the middle of the night with her lips turning blue, she hadn't given her stepfather the satisfaction of admitting what she had done was wrong. It hadn't felt wrong, and still to this day, in this moment, it didn't feel wrong.
The nurse was moaning 'harder, faster' and Morgan did her best to step up to fulfill the woman's desire.
Later in a sweaty mess on the floor Morgan watched the nurse get dressed, still not really sure what her name was.
“I'm on shift in a few, but honey, look me up again,” the nurse said.
Morgan smiled as she pulled up her own pants.
No, Morgan didn't regret leaving her home. Nobody here cared who she slept with, or even if she read at a fourth grade level. Among the other security specialists all they cared about was that she did her job and had their backs. A few minutes later Morgan left to go down to the mess to grab some food and coffee before she was on duty.
After an uneventful shift Morgan got off duty.
She stopped at the duty desk, checked her sidearm back in, and filled out some paperwork. The job wasn't hard. Most of the prisoners being transported were in suspended animation. A few, however, were not asleep, and those were the ones they guarded until they got to wherever they were going.
Morgan smiled at the desk clerk. “So why don't we get fancy laser guns?”
The clerk rolled his eyes. “You're not important enough. Only the captain has a laser gun, and it’s not really a laser it’s more of electrical gun. We'll let you know when you're important. Guns and
bullets are cheap and so are you.” He put the gun in the cabinet and locked it.
Morgan nodded. “You have a good day as well.” Shaking her head she went to the locker room to change.
She wasn't alone, Voick was there. He smiled at her. “The rest of us getting off shift are going to play poker and drink you want to join?”
She shook her head and unbuttoned her uniform shirt. “No thanks. I don't drink and I don't like to be parted from my money. I'm going to head to the gym.”
“You're boring. Come on, come play, you're always working out. This will be way more fun.” he countered.
“We have one purpose; to guard those prisoners and protect the rest of the ship. Tell me how you're going to do that with your gut,” she pointed out as she slipped on a t-shirt and shorts, tossing her work clothes in the cleaning bin.
“You really are a bitch,” he groused trying to suck in his stomach.
“I'm a bitch in shape,” Morgan said, shutting her locker before heading to the gym.
Life as a pilot in deep space was boring as hell, Laura thought to herself as she ran laps. There just wasn’t much to do other than double-check their coordinates, make sure the ship was still heading to the next pick up destination and test the equipment. Shuttle use was rare in deep space too, which really didn’t give her much to do as the ship’s lead pilot.
That would all change once they got in system of course, she’d be one of the busiest people on the ship, but until then she was basically just a passenger.
There really were only so many equipment readiness tests that she could do without wanting to bang her head against a console just to mix up her routine.
That was why Laura was currently in the gym, running laps in the corridor space designated for it, trying to push herself to break her personal best lap time. Which, judging by the chrono beeping coming from her wrist, she was guaranteed to do if she kept up this pace.
Stretching her short legs even farther, Laura sprinted down the penultimate lap, breathing hard through her nose, trying to pace herself for that all-important final lap. She purposefully sprinted right past Gustav. The older man was puffing away as he jogged steadily along the track, putting in his required physical training time, and she’d passed him three times already, enjoying the fact his face got redder every time she did.
The final lap was in sight and Laura really pushed herself. Her short, cropped hair was plastered to her scalp and she could feel sweat dripping down her back. But it was worth it, she was finally going to beat her old record, just couple dozen feet more and it was hers!
Laura wasn’t even thinking about being petty to Gustav as she passed him this time, she barely realized he was next to her, her entire focus was on crossing that finish line at the end of the straightway.
Which was also why she never noticed him slow down on purpose, or the foot he casually stuck out in her path.
Sprinting at full speed Laura’s foot caught on Gustav’s and suddenly she was airborne just as the doors to the training room slid open. Laura had a brief impression of a tall shape entering and then she crashed into it, sending both of them tumbling in a tangle of limbs.
The breath knocked out of her, Laura lay where she was, gasping. She could have sworn she heard Gustav laughing as he passed by.
Most people would have been pissed off or thrown a fit having been hurled to the ground so unexpectedly by a stranger. Morgan just shook her head. She tried to figure out which were her limbs and make sure they worked before checking the other person. “You okay?” she asked. “Whoops sorry.” She quickly retracted a hand from what felt like a breast. “Good thing the gym floor is padded,” Morgan said sliding backward and wiping some blood from under her nose. Her nose didn't feel like it was swelling so it was probably just a bump.
One dark blue eye cracked open, followed by the other. The woman on the floor groaned as she rolled over and flopped onto her back. The chrono on her wrist beeped twice and went silent. Her eyes closed again and she exclaimed, “Shit!”
Morgan's eyes widened in alarm. “Oh shit, you okay?” Morgan got up on her knees and started checking the casualty’s neck even though she didn't have any real medical training, just the basics.
“No, I’m not okay.” Morgan’s hands were batted away as the woman sat up with a wince. “Do you know how long I’ve been trying to break that record? Since the academy. And I finally had it in my sights.” Her eyes were scanning the training room, narrowing dangerously.
Morgan sat back on her heels and shrugged. “Hey, you ran into me, not my fault you're a klutz.” She rolled back up on to her feet. There was a sink nearby and she moved over to it checking her nose and
wipe away the blood.
Once satisfied she wasn't going to bleed to death Morgan moved over to the weight machines. The machines were a miss-match of bars and plates, and bars with gravity settings, updates
were slow and costly.
Morgan decided that there was no pleasing some women, some would just always be angry, so she did her best to put it out of her mind.
Laura realized Gustav had already left the gym, laughing all the way to the men's showers no doubt. She started planning what she was going to do to him the next chance she got.
As a result it took her a few seconds to realise what the woman she’d careered into had said. “What?” Laura got up to her feet. After making sure everything was moving just fine she moved to the lifting area. “I am not a klutz!” she declared loudly.
Morgan didn't look at Laura. She set the weight down onto the bar and then got on the bench. She inhaled and the picked the bar up, doing bench presses. “So far it seems that you are,” Morgan grunted out.
“No, I’m not, I was deliberately tripped.” Laura paused in her rant, eyes tracing the lines of Morgan’s muscles. “You’re a guard.” It wasn’t a question. Laura crossed her arms, eyeing the woman on the weight machine.
“Yes, Ma'am.” Morgan replied. And even though Morgan knew it would be like kicking a bees nest she said, “You deliberately tripped yourself? Maybe you didn't want to beat that record.”
It really wasn’t often that Laura was reduced to sputtering fury, but this guard had done it with just a few simple words. “Why you…. You… “ She snarled. “Of course I didn’t trip myself you idiot!”
Morgan set the bar down resting between reps. “You're the only one in here Ma'am,” she said before picking the bar up and resuming.
Laura resisted the urge to stamp her foot against the floor, having been drilled out of that during the Academy, but it was a close thing. “I hope you crush yourself with your stupid weights,” she hissed, turning on her heel and stalking away from the machines.
Morgan smiled. “Yes ma'am,” she said, finishing her rep and moving on to the leg machine.
She heard an incoherent screech of rage as Laura flung herself through the doors into the woman’s shower area.
Morgan thought Laura was wound a bit tight, but still frowned when a man exited the men's showers, however. Finishing with the leg machine Morgan got off the bench. Using her towel to mop the sweat off the back of her neck she said, “You could have really hurt either of us with that stunt.”
“What stunt?” the balding man asked, buttoning up his uniform coat. “I’m certain I didn’t just hear you ask me a question, grunt, without saying ‘Sir’ at the end of it.” He didn’t even break stride as he headed toward the doors leading out of the exercise area. “Consider yourself on notice, I’ll make a note in your record.” He grinned nastily, as the doors opened for him.
“You do that, Sir.” Morgan sighed and looked up. Just what she needed. Then a thought occurred to her. A smile spread out over her face as he was still within earshot. “You do that, and they'll pull the security camera footage, Sir. Then you can be written up for abuse of power.”
Gustav stopped and turned. “Threatening a senior officer.” He glowered at her. “I’m going to enjoy making your life difficult.” He studied her face, memorizing it and nodded as he left.
“You probably shouldn’t have antagonized him,” Laura said as she exited the women’s room, her hair still mussed and damp from the quick shower she’d sped through. “He’s a lieutenant if you can believe it.”
Morgan sighed. “I seem to have knack of annoying people in positions of power. Never seen him before, so he's not a Lieutenant over the guards, which will just mean him pestering my super.” Morgan knew she was going to have to keep her nose clean however, or her option left would be going back home.
“Sorry for bothering you, Ma'am,” Morgan said heading back to the weight machines.
“Hmmm, well. No one who pisses off Gustav can be all bad,” Laura admitted. “Name’s Laura Vasquez. Sorry about the earlier tussle-thing.” The apology was quick, she hated apologizing.. “Even if it wasn’t my fault,” she added.
Morgan hesitated. “Morgan Saunders, Grunt,” she said, sitting down at a new machine and started to exercise. “Sorry you have to work with that asshat.”
“Asshat?” That earned Morgan a genuine smile. Laura cocked a hip up against one of the other machines, watching Morgan’s muscles move in fascination. “I haven’t heard that one before, where are you from?”
“Nowhere. It’s a backwards planet founded on a fear of tech and religion. I left as soon as I was able.”
“You’re from an Aggie colony?” Laura blurted in surprise, jerking her gaze away from Morgan’s biceps. “You don’t look like an Aggie.”
“What's an Aggie?” Morgan asked finishing her reps and moved to the bar used for dips. She hoisted herself up, bending and crossing her legs, before starting to lower herself and then raise herself back up.
“Uh….” Laura was distracted again for a moment. “You know, an Aggie, someone from an agricultural planet without any tech.” Laura pointed up behind her ear. “No sockets at birth sort of thing.” It was a derogatory term Laura knew she probably shouldn’t have used, but she was still pissed from earlier.
“Ah, well then yes I guess I'm an Aggie,” Morgan said. She paused and set herself back down to the ground. standing for a moment to catch her breath. She wiped her hands on her shorts.
Laura was proud of herself; she really was that she didn’t take the opportunity to sneak a peek down Morgan’s shirt. That showed considerably restraint she decided. “Yeah…” Laura bit her lip and shrugged. “You probably shouldn’t go around calling yourself an Aggie, not the best term.”
“Then why'd you call me an Aggie?” Morgan asked, hoisting herself up and starting again. Sweat was making her shirt stick to her back. She powered through and then got down moving on to the mats to do abs. “Is there something you want Laura? You've knocked me down, got me written up, and insulted me; was there something you missed?” It was almost like her final day in boot camp.
“I was trying to be friendly.” Laura pushed off from the edge of the machine angrily. “But fine, you want to work out alone, be alone. You’re the one who got yourself written up though chickie, not me.” Laura gave a mocking wave and walked away.
Morgan shook her head utterly confused. Laura was trying to be nice by insulting her? She didn't get that. “Have a nice day,” she said, starting her crunches. Morgan had never slept with a pilot, but she noted that they seemed highly strung. Maybe she was missing out, because sometimes the highly strung were real fire-crackers. Other times, however, they were just stalkers waiting to happen.
“Vasquez!” The word was a low rumble coming from a large man. Laura had been angrily running down the hall after the unpleasant meeting with Morgan, she slowed as she spotted Paul. If there was anyone on board the prison ship that she considered a friend, it was this man, and Laura smiled as he lumbered towards her.
“Careful there gigantor or you’ll put your foot through the hull,” Laura teased, relaxing a little as her anger simmered..
Paul snorted, shaking his head as he reached her side. Paul was a communications officer, and was easily head and shoulders, and a little bit of his chest, taller than Laura. “That joke never gets old,” he said in his deep bass voice.
Laura’s smile grew. “You’re right, it never does. What’s up, way up there?”
He sighed, a long suffering sound as he kept pace with her down the hall. “Captain wanted me to get you. We’ve got an unscheduled rendezvous for a prisoner transfer. You’re driving.”
“Shuttle work?” Laura felt the last of her dark mood evaporate. “Fantastic. When’s it happening?”
“Sixteen hundred hours, he wants you on the command deck for the approach.”
“Right. I’d better get changed then,” she said, already taking off at a jog. “See you later Paul!”
Paul watched her go with a shake of his head, seeing her dodge through a group of crewmen, diving through the center of them as they yelled curses after her. How someone so small could cause so much chaos everywhere she went was still a mystery to him. “Bye,” he rumbled, turning to get back to his duty station.
“Saunders!” A voice barked out.
Morgan came to attention at her post. “Yes, Sir, Supervisor Maddox.”
“Can you explain to me why I have a Lieutenant Gustav wanting you written up for insubordination?”
“I didn't know he was a lieutenant at the time he wasn't in uniform.”
Maddox growled. He didn’t like pilots, cocky sons of bitches. However, he didn't let on, he let Morgan think he was pissed at her. “Off duty?”
“Yes Sir, in the gym.”
Maddox nodded, Gustav was a prick. Off duty and out of uniform he couldn't pull rank. “We’ve got a prisoner transfer coming up, you just got assigned to the security team for the transfer.”
Morgan groaned internally. “Yes sir.” If anything were to go wrong it would be during transport, it was the most dangerous part of the job. Plus, small aircraft scared the crap out of her.
“It’s a hush job,” he muttered, handing over the flimsy with the mission details printed on it. Some days he missed having actual paper to read instead of the clear, perfectly recyclable, sheets of plastic with black printing. “So no gossiping about it,” he added.
“No Sir.” Morgan never gossiped, neither about work nor the women she slept with.
“Excused, to read the report.”
not being wasn't well-educated it took Morgan a while to read through things, plus she didn't have one of those fancy data jacks in her head.
Sixteen hundred ship time seemed to take forever to crawl around, and Laura felt like she might have to do another few laps of running by the time she started her slow maneuvering of the prison ship. She was now safely ensconced in her duty station, however, displays surrounding her as she reclined in the contoured chair, neural feed plugged into the socket behind her right ear, eyes half closed as she eased the ship through space.
“Distance, twelve hundred kilometers,” a disembodied voice chimed in her ear. She slowed the massive prison ship even further.
“Two kilometers per second,” Laura called out, for the benefit of the other officers on the bridge. It wasn’t much of a bridge, certainly nothing like the frigates and destroyers she’d piloted before, but it was piloting, and deep down she knew she would have given anything to keep flying when they kicked her out.
A man’s voice behind her called, “Slow us down helm, no need to scare them with a quick approach,” and Laura set about following the order. It was an order, not a jibe, since the owner of that voice was the Old Man, Captain Jacobson, lord and master under god of the prison ship. His word was law while they were in space.
“We’re down to one half kps,” Laura confirmed. Half a kilometer per second felt like crawling, even for a ship this big. Laura’s eyelids drooped even further as she concentrated on the small ship they were approaching. It was barely a tenth of their size, but judging by the energy readings she was a fast little thing. Maybe a courier ship?
Laura wouldn’t know until she saw it, and even then it might just look like a tramp freighter, a lot of courier ships tended to disguise their true appearance with random pieces of hull plating.
“We’re approaching one hundred kilometers, Sir,” Laura called out, relaying the information he no doubt already knew. But protocols were protocols.
“Set us up for station keeping a hundred kilometers off their bow helm. Get your second to take over and you’re free to go see to the shuttle,” the old man answered easily.
Laura hid a smile. Piloting the prison ship was nice, it certainly had a lot of engine power to play around with, but it was nothing like piloting a shuttle. The small trans-atmospheric craft were little more than engines, with wings for atmospheric flight if needed, and a life support system.
She loved how responsive they were.
“Aye, aye Sir,” Laura said, waiting for station keeping drive to come online and then un-plugging from her console. With a wink she handed it over to Sanders, who she noted gleefully looked jealous.
“Don’t’ worry Jerry, I bet you’ll get the next one,” she whispered as she passed him. His sigh kept her happy all the way down to the shuttle bay.
Unlike the prison ship, which didn’t even have the grace to have a name just a serial number, each of the ship’s four shuttles were named. She’d specifically gotten Betty ready for use, the shuttle she liked the best out of the quartet of choices.
“Hey ladies and gentleman, sorry I’m late, was busy on the bridge,” Laura announced, bounding up the lowered rear ramp and into the back of the shuttle. Some of the spring left her steps however as she spotted one of the security officers on board.
Fuck. What were the odds Morgan was going to be assigned to this little errand mission?
Deciding to ignore the well-built guard, Laura slid into the pilot’s chair and picked up the plug to attach behind her ear. “Please fasten your safety restraints and restrain from using anything explosive while on board!” A few clicks of switches and the rear ramp raised, sealing off the craft.
A quick pressure check showed they were space worthy and Laura started up the engines. “A reminder for those newbies among us,” she refrained from looking over at Morgan, “The shuttle will be a zero gravity environment once we clear the mother ship. Refrain from spitting or vomiting, it’s a real bitch to clean up and messy as hell. I’ll try to give you great people a smooth ride.” Another typed request and the bridge gave her clearance to leave, depressurizing the bay around her and opening the outer bay doors.
Finally she could see space with her own eyes again.
With an evil smile over her shoulder at her passengers she engaged the engines and scorched the bulkhead accelerating out of the ship’s hanger bay. The stars swiveling around crazily as she did a barrel roll, just for the hell of it.
“Beautiful,” Laura murmured under her breath as the view settled and she caught sight of the small ship they were heading towards. Definitely a courier vessel, she could see the large engines from here. Although it was probably a private vessel, considering the ugly colors and hull plating someone had decided to decorate with to hide the vessels sleek clean lines.
Morgan felt her stomach drop to her knees and she was sure her face was green. She bent over putting her head between her knees.
The other guard, Stevens, just shook his head and plugged a data jack in getting the replay of a game that had happened weeks ago on his home planet. He rolled his eyes and did his best to ignore her.
“Woops, sorry about that Morgan.” Laura glanced behind her and then back at the ship that was growing larger in her view port. Morgan didn’t think she sounded very sorry.
Morgan got her stomach under control. It was silly, being in the big ship was just the same as a small one but it sure felt different. Plus the pilot, Laura, seemed to still have a bug up her butt about their first and only meeting. It was just her luck that she'd be the pilot assigned to this job. Morgan belched and felt better. She watched the ship get closer not able to shake the feeling that they were going to crash.
“Hey come on, relax. I’m the best pilot on board. Just ask me.” Laura grinned, evening out her flight pattern a bit. “Want to see a loop de loop?”
“What's a loop de loop?” Morgan asked.
Stevens snorted and might have muttered something that sounded like 'moron'.
Instead of answering, Laura pulled back on the stick, boosting the energy output of the engines. G forces pressed them down against their seats as she did a full three hundred and sixty loop. The view screen settled down with the view of the other ship again. “That's a loop de loop.”
Morgan turned green, now she knew Laura hated her.
“Fun isn't it?” Laura laughed.
“If you're going to blow chunks retard, do it in your helmet.” Stevens sneered. He got up and moved over a seat in case she vomited.
“Um... Fun is not the word I would use.” Morgan said ignoring Stevens entirely. She did unstrap her helmet however, on the off chance she'd need to use it for something other than a safety device.
“Thrilling then.” Laura nodded. She paused as she got a tersely worded message through her neural feed from the Old Man. “Oof, well no more of that. Captain says I do any others and I'll be scrubbing the floor.” He'd been a bit more direct about his comments, but she'd toned it down.
Morgan nodded and leaned back against her seat, she let her eyes close and tried to pretend she was still on the big ship.
“I love flying shuttles,” Laura said. “They respond to every thought so quickly.” She waggled the shuttle a bit just to show off, her smile widening. “Much more fun to fly then the prison ship.”
Morgan was basically a captive audience. There was nowhere else that Laura felt as comfortable as when she was in the pilot’s seat. And when she was comfortable she tended to talk. Perhaps a bit more than she should have. “And don't worry about Gustav, the guy’s a bastard who's upset about the size of his dick.”
Stevens snorted but then focused back on the vid of his game.
Morgan cracked open and eye. “He can still bust me down. I got transport duty and night shift for the rest of the month.”
“So, stay out of his way. I'll piss him off again. Hell, he's probably already pissed that I'm flying this and not him. Then he'll just forget you. Hey, you ever been in a combat skiff?” Laura double checked their approach vector, adjusting it a little.
“What's that?” Morgan asked, doubting she had. “I was in boot camp to be a marine before I ended up here. That was mainly running, jumping and shooting.”
“They didn't take you up in a skiff and throw you out of it with a jump pack?” Laura twisted as much as the neural feed would allow to look at Morgan.
“Couldn't. I don't have a jack,” Morgan said touching her head. “No way to navigate to my landing point. Doc looked at me but said I was too old to have the procedure done.”
“No jack?” Laura jerked back to look at her again. “Oh right, aggie.” She winced, not being able to even imagine living without hers.
“I was long range artillery. Came down on transport with the guns. Set em up and fired. I can hit a mosquito on the edge of the horizon.” But that skill did her any good here.
“Artillery. Cool.” Laura sunk down into her seat, slowing as the courier ship filled the screen. “Hold on boys and girls, we're about to dock.”
The courier's shuttle bay was a small little thing, not that much bigger than the shuttle. Its outer doors were opening even as they made their final approach.
Morgan closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing through her mouth.
“Here we go.” Laura murmured, more to herself than to anyone else. She touched off a burst with the engines. There was a bit of a bump as the front hit the deck but otherwise the landing was good as far as Laura was concerned.
“Made it in one piece, thanks to the amazing skill of your pilot of course.” Laura waggled her eyebrows, stretching her arms above her head. “Okay you two go do your thing, I'll stay here and do my thing.” Already the shuttle bay's doors had closed and the bay was pressurizing.
Stevens was up and after a moment Morgan was too.
They exited the ship and Morgan handed the papers to the waiting crew on the other side of the pressure doors. “Here for prisoner pick up and transfer.”
The young man who took them glanced through the flimsy and nodded, gesturing to the three armed men with him. “Go get the prisoner.” He studied Morgan, shoving his hands in his jacket, and grinned, showing off a gold front tooth. “We caught him you know, hunted him across three systems before we caught up to him.”
“I'm sure that was very exciting, sir.” Morgan never asked or cared what they did because if you started listening or caring they got under your skin.
“You have fun with this one.” He laughed, watching as the three armed crew members escorted out the prisoner. He wasn't large, maybe Morgan's height and build. He was bald though, the entirety of his scalp and shoulders tattooed with blue ink showing stylized sharks circling each other. Dark eyes stared out at them as he was hustled along, wearing only briefs. His hands were cuffed behind his back and solid irons restricted his feet.
Beside her Stevens swore softly, drawing his side arm and tensing.
Stevens and Morgan played gun, cannon, and bomb to see who would stay back with the prisoner. It felt like she lost because she had to go sit up in the co-pilots seat. “What's with the fucks and shits? Who is this guy?” Morgan asked, strapping herself in.
“Uh, no one. No one at all,” Laura said loudly. Then she hissed at Morgan, “That's fucking Phoenix Regan.” Laura started up the engines, waiting for some sign of understanding from Morgan. When none came she said, very quietly. “You know the guy who bombed the Prylax shipyards?”
“Where's Prylax?” Was Morgan's response.
“Prylax.” Laura groaned. “Look, it’s a big naval yard. The guy destroyed like half of it or something. A ton of people died. You seriously haven't heard about this before?”
“How would I have heard about it? All your news and information streams right into your heads via those jacks. Unless someone tells me something it’s hard for me to go look it up.”
“Right. Let's just get him to the ship and in deep freeze. The guy gives me the creeps.” Laura suddenly wasn't so happy about being in the shuttle and she put a bit more power into the engines, wanting the trip to be over.
The trip wasn't all that exciting, the prisoner didn't do a thing, and they easily handed him off to the waiting team and doctors to be put into sleep. Once finished Morgan found herself at a loss. She couldn't really do anything since she was scheduled for night shift in a few hours. She checked in her side arm and then headed to the cafeteria to eat and maybe find someone for some casual fun to make the time pass.
“Phoenix fucking Regan, can you believe that shit?” Laura appeared with her own tray of food and sat down uninvited at Morgan’s table, evidently still wound up from the flight. “Holy crap, I hadn’t even heard that they’d captured him. That’s major news.”
Morgan sighed and smiled apologetically across the room to the nurse she'd been flirting with. She turned her attention to Laura. “Every prisoner here has a story. When you start to believe in that legend that’s when they start getting weird powers over you. So I just don't bother with it. Don't want to be one those guards that gets caught up in the myth and then dies.” Morgan grabbed her mug and stood up. “I was going to get a coffee refill, you want anything?”
Instead of answering, Laura simply picked up her own cup and stood as well. “Yeah, but those are normal prisoners. This guy is one of the top ten wanted in the entire Alliance. We’re talking seriously bad shit here, like breathing vacuum bad shit.” Laura helped herself to a cup of coffee, although the caffeine probably wasn’t needed. “That makes three you know.” She said, meaningfully as she sipped her coffee.
“Three? Three what?” Morgan didn't get it.
Behind Laura a fellow pilot waggled his eyebrows. Laura narrowed her eyes at Matt, knowing exactly what he was implying and ready to throw her cup of coffee at him if he kept it up. “Three of the top ten most wanted, on this ship. That’s got to be some sort of record.”
“Oh. I guess. I don't read a lot so I wouldn't know.” Morgan filled her cup and headed back to the table, resigning herself to Laura’s company.
Laura hip checked Matt on her way back to the table, causing him to go into a security guard who’d just filled a cup of hot coffee. The resulting chaos was pretty good Laura admitted as she slid back into the seat across from Morgan, continuing her story. “I don’t think any prison ship has had more than two of the top ten before.” Someone had to fill the poor Morgan in on who she was actually guarding. “I’m pretty sure the other two are in deep sleep though.”
“In a few hours this guy will be on ice as well,” Morgan said sipping her coffee. “He's just another violent offender.”
“You’re crazy.” Laura leaned in, lowering her voice, eyes intent as she relished the ability to tell someone who’d never heard about them the gory details. “Let’s review shall we? Dr. Ivan Tochinsky, renowned geneticist and bio-engineer, number eight on the ten most wanted list for engineering a nanobot plague that killed almost a thousand people on his home world when it got free from his laboratories. Captured last year and has been with us since then.” Laura sipped her coffee with a waggle of her eyebrows. “Christina McGerry, the infamous Ice Maiden herself, professional hit woman who InSec thinks has been behind dozens of high profile murders, kidnappings and the occasional bout of mass mayhem. Number six on the ten most wanted list.”
Laura pointed at Morgan with her cup of coffee. “And last but not least, at number two on the entire list, Phoenix Regan, the mastermind behind the Prylax bombings, destroying, conservatively, four Alliance warships and one of the front line shipyards in the process. Come on, these aren’t just normal violent offenders, these are the big guns.”
“The problem with that sort of thinking is, people start to believe that hype, those bad guys become mythical, it gives them a sort of power over you. As a guard I can't afford to believe that or have it affect me. It’s good to know somewhat, but it’s bad too.” Morgan shrugged and sipped her coffee.
Laura sat back. “Unbelievable. You’re completely unphased by this.”
Morgan bristled a little and stood up. “I need to get to work; I have night duty all this week.”
As soon as Morgan left Matt and Andrea slid into seats at the table.
Andrea smiled. “So... Nice choice. One of the nurses I see casually says she's amazing, if you want a stress reducing quickie, even without the neural link.”
Matt made a face. “You don't jack in for a quickie.”
Andrea rolled her eyes. “We know, and then you guys fumble around and it’s the most frustrating twenty to thirty minutes of our life. You don't have a clue what we want unless you can skim our thoughts. From what I hear she just knows.” Andrea grinned and sipped her tea.
Laura made a face. “You can have her. I was trying to be friendly, but she’s obviously an insane person who has no social abilities at all.” Which Laura realized was odd coming from her, but at least she could joke around with people without getting up and just walking away. Sipping her coffee Laura slowly smiled though. “But, I did see her working out, and all I can say is; wow. Why don't you go after her if you like her so much, Andrea?”
“Maybe I will. It’s not like we have a lot going on right now. Who cares about social skills when you just want to get laid?”
Matt choked on his coffee. “You sure you don't have a dick? Because you sure sound like one of the guys.”
Andrea hit him in the shoulder. “Why would I want to be one of you when I'm already better than all of you without a dick?”
“She’s got you there,” Laura said, laughing as she finished off her coffee and stood up. “I’m off duty so I’m going to go hit the rack, it’s been a long day. See you guys tomorrow.” They really did behave like an old married couple, if she didn’t know for a fact that Andrea preferred women she would have suspected them of sleeping together.
“You sure you're not interested,” Andrea checked, not willing to cause any sort of bad feelings between them. Andrea and Laura had slept together once but they'd been too competitive in bed to want to ever do it again. Dating fellow pilots rarely worked out.
“Why would I care?” Laura snorted, making a show of being blasé about the entire thing as she set her rubbish into the shoot to be recycled. “Do whatever you want. I bet she’s not even very good, probably too full of herself.”
“I'll let you know,” Andrea said.
“I want details,” Matt said as he got up to go do his shift at the helm.
Morgan sat in the lounge, her back to the stars and galaxies that moved past them. She didn't like to look out windows, but she still had forty minutes until shift. She had a battered book out to practice reading. They didn't even make them anymore as far as she knew. Her lips moved silently as she made out the words. There were still forms both printed and electronic, but a lot of information was either flashed on info tablets, which she couldn't afford, or was streamed directly into the jacks. It was because she couldn't read well that she'd been drummed out of the Marines. She was called in to her supervisor and told everything would be okay if she signed a piece of paper.
That piece of paper had been a confession that she'd been stealing supplies and selling them. She'd been discharged so fast her head had spun. An easy scapegoat because she'd grown up an Aggie.
“So you hide away in here a lot?” A silky smooth voice burred as it’s owner, a leggy blond, slid into a seat across from Morgan, giving her a smile that showed a lot of white teeth. She wore a pilot’s uniform, with the same rank as Laura’s blazoned on the shoulders.
Morgan's gaze had darted up from the book she was reading, and her eyes had narrowed in reaction to the uniform. “Sometimes,” Morgan answered. “I'm just killing time ‘til shift.” She shoved the book into a pocket. “What can I help you with, pilot?”
“It’s Andrea Eriksen.” Andrea tucked a leg up under her watching Morgan with speculative eyes.
“Morgan Saunders,” Morgan replied. “You here to talk down to me as well?” she asked.
“I’d never talk down to you, unless you like that sort of thing of course.” Andrea waggled an eyebrow. “I just thought you looked like you could use some company.”
Now Morgan really looked at her. Maybe it was because Morgan didn't have a jack, or maybe it was that she’d grown up having to avoid her step-father’s rages, but she was really good at reading body language. “I think you’re the one that could use some company. How far away is your room? Or were you thinking of a supply closest? There's one two corridors away.”
Andrea licked her lips and stood up in one fluid motion. “I like the way you think. My room isn’t that far.”
“Lead the way.” Morgan got up, holding out her hand. “This is just to pass the time? No strings right?” It was pointless making real attachments. Pilots and medical personal came and went, going on to bigger and better jobs. Morgan, by contrast, wasn't going anywhere.
“Whatever you want honey.” Andrea took Morgan’s hand, sliding in closer than necessary and pressing her body up against her, enjoying the strength of Morgan’s body.
“No kissing and telling, and no commitments. That's what I like,” Morgan said bluntly, but because they were alone in the lounge she leaned forward and kissed her anyway. By the way Andrea responded Morgan understood to go slow like melting honey. She pulled away. “Lead on, I'm interested in seeing how pilots live.”
“Thought you said no kissing?” Andrea purred, pulling Morgan down the hallway, past crew members who shot the pilot knowing looks. The shifts hadn’t changed over yet so there weren’t that many people in the main corridors. “We don’t live much better than you do I bet, but I do get a solo room. Not a big one, but it’s all mine.” Andrea was going to enjoy trying to dominate the grunt.
“Solo room, that's nice.” Morgan's bunkmate was probably celebrating her working nights by having her boyfriend over.
Andrea waited for the door to be closed behind them before pushing Morgan up against the metal door. Her room wasn’t large, just big enough for a single bed and a desk molded into the wall. She shared the head down the hall with the other pilots. But it did make a splendid place to have a bit of fun. Her mouth was hot and demanding on Morgan’s as she tugged against the Morgan’s pants and shirt. This was all about mutual pleasure and a bit of fun, something Andrea approved of whole-heartedly.
Morgan initially let Andrea have control. She undid her work shirt and then pulled her undershirt off over her head. The door was cold against her skin as she slowly started taking that control back from Andrea, doing the things that Andrea’s long lean body said it wanted.
“Ung…” The woman grunted in surprise, head thrown back as Morgan got a hand down her pants and between her legs. It was not how she’d anticipated this encounter going.
A sudden loud bang on the door to her cabin cut off the comment Andrea had been about to make and she went still in Morgan’s arms, eyes flying open. Again a bang echoed in the small cabin as something heavy slammed itself up against the outside of the door. “What the fuck?”
Morgan looked at her questioningly. “You need me to stop?”
The loud bang came again and Andrea drew away from her. “As long as whoever the fuck that is keeps doing that, yes,” she said, annoyed as she drew up her pants. “Some asshole’s trying to ruin this, I bet it’s Matt.”
Morgan grabbed her shirt and pulled it on stepping away from the door. She then bent over grabbing her work shirt. Now she was going to be wet and frustrated all through the night shift.
“Dammit Matt stop that!” Andrea yelled as the door banged again. She disengaged the lock she’d activated as soon as they’d entered. A push of a button and the door slid open. “What the fuck do you think you’re…” Andrea’s voice trailed off, her eyes widening in response to the man standing in front of her. His fists were red with blood, mostly from the woman’s head he’d beaten into a pulp against her door. His uniform was sprayed with blood, so was his face, his smile was wrong, completely wrong, bright and insane was the only word that came to Andrea’s mind as he reached for her.
Morgan reacted as she'd been trained. She pushed Andrea out of the way and tackled the man to the floor. Thankfully she hadn't taken her belt off first, she found her cuffs and cuffed his arms behind his back. “Call security,” Morgan grunted as the man screamed and tried to buck her off. She fumbled for her neural disruptor which would scramble the man's nervous system and paralyze him.
“Kill you! I’ll kill you all!” he screamed, twisting and writhing beneath her, insanity giving him momentum to slam them both up against the other side of the corridor. “Kill you,” he hissed into Morgan’s ear, lunging at her, trying to bite her.
Morgan raised her arm up blocking him from biting her throat. She screamed as he bit into her flesh. With a growl of pain she head butted him, her forehead smashing his nose. As his bite loosened she did a leg sweep and hit him in the back with the disruptor.
The man convulsed, body arching under the neural stun and then collapsing, unconscious on the deck.
“Security is on the way,” Andrea said, breathlessly as she stared, wide eyed at Morgan. “You’re bleeding.”
“Bit me,” she replied going over to check on the woman who had been his first casualty. Morgan’s gut told her it was a lost cause, but still she crouched down and searched for a pulse. “Oh fuck. She's got a pulse,” Morgan stated. Her hands went to her belt once again. Somewhere she had foam that would cover wounds and stop bleeding.
“She’s still alive?” Andrea moved away, eyes widening even further as she slipped a little in blood. “Oh god, that’s…” She turned and ran down the hallway, diving for the bathroom door as she choked on vomit.
“Hey, what the fuck Andrea?” Laura yelled, nearly taking a header as Andrea shoved past her and into the bathroom she’d just exited. Laura had needed a shower before hitting the sack and the shared stalls had blessedly been empty when she’d entered. Her words died as she saw Morgan, the unconscious crew member next to her and the bleeding woman spread out on the deck. “Morgan? What the hell’s going on?”
“The guy went nuts. Space sick maybe?” She fumbled with the spray. “Started knocking on doors with this woman's head.” Morgan gently used the spray on the lacerations on the woman's head to slow the bleeding. “It’s going to be okay,” she said quietly, having no idea if it were true or not. “You hang in there for me, okay?”
Morgan looked over her shoulder. “Where the fuck is security and medical? That guy isn't going to be out forever.” Her hands were starting to shake.
“Oh god, that’s Cindy, she works in communications.” Laura breathed, going to her knees next to Morgan, using her towel to press against the blood welling from the side of the woman’s head. She looked up, wide-eyed at Morgan and then over at the still unconscious man. “Space sickness? They usually go suicidal don’t they?” Laura swallowed, looking back down at the woman on the ground.
A small crowd of crewmen were starting to gather now, drawn by the commotion and the blood sprayed everywhere. Behind them came the running footsteps of security as the nearest team sprinted towards their location. Medical was a few steps behind them, the two med techs carrying a stretcher between them.
“She's got a pulse. It’s weak,” Morgan said, standing up to get out of the way. “He just... he was pounding her head into the door.”
“You're bleeding,” a tech said.
Morgan shrugged. “He bit me. But she's the one with a cracked skull.”
The culprit was starting to move by then and Security suddenly had their hands full trying to keep him from attacking anyone else. They ended up having to stun him twice to get him down and then dragging him away, bound up in restraints. All the while the med techs labored furiously to get Cindy stabilized and then onto the stretcher to be carried back to medical.
“Holy shit,” Laura said softly later, standing back, away from the crowd next to Morgan. “The guy just went nuts?”
“Yep.” Morgan rubbed her face with her now bandaged arm. She had refused to go down to the med bay, but had promised to go down later. “Thanks for your help; your fellow pilot couldn't handle the pressure.”
“Andrea has a thing about blood.” Laura winced as she remembered the look on her fellow pilot's face had been very bleak. “You sure you don't want to go to the med bay? That's a lot of blood.” She nodded to the guards red bandages.
“I will once I report for night shift. The shift supervisor will either send me to medical or not.” Morgan pushed away from the wall. “Thanks for your help. Tell your friend I'm sorry.” She checked her watch knowing she had to go check in for shift.
“Wait.” Laura frowned. “Were you down here because you were with Andrea?” Impossible, even the Andrea didn't work that fast.
“Yes. We started talking and she invited me to her room so we could talk in private,” Morgan said with a straight face. It was obvious what they'd been up to, but even so, she didn't have to air her personal business.
“Talking,” Laura said flatly. “You should probably fix your shirt, you know, from the talking you did.” She shoved past Morgan, and straight past the cleanup crew that had shown up to start getting rid of the blood.
Morgan just blinked watching her leave. “Shit, that woman runs hot and cold,” she murmured.
The night shift was boring. Morgan’s Shift Supervisor was annoyed he had to let her leave to fill out reports because she couldn't just plug in and upload, but he'd gotten over it quickly, and the rest of the night had progressed in slowly and painfully. When the shift was finally over Morgan headed to get some breakfast and bunk time.
Rounding a corner she ran full into the asshat lieutenant from the gym. “Sorry sir.”
Morgan’s supervisor had given her clear instructions to watch herself with the pilots, since the old man thought the sun set and rose on their asses.
Gustav snarled, shoving her shoulder. “You again,” he said, recognition dawning.
“Yes, sir,” she responded, moving to attention.
He eyed the bandage on her arm, a nasty look developing in his eyes. “For assaulting an officer drop and give me two-hundred push-ups. You do them all and I'll think about not writing you up.”
“Yes sir.” Morgan dropped and started counting them off. At sixty her wound pulled open and started bleeding. At one hundred and twenty her arm started shaking.
“Eighty more to go.” Gustav put his hands on his waist, laughing. “Are you so weak that you can't do a few simply pushups?”
“Then do them, or get written up again,” he yelled, obviously taking pleasure in humiliating her.
Morgan’s step-father had been a bigger prick than this guy, she thought. He would have put his foot on her back to try to push her down. “One hundred twenty one, Sir,” she said, counting again. At one hundred and eighty one, the bandage was so saturated that blood was dripping on to the floor. Morgan was so hyper-focused on not giving the asshat the satisfaction of seeing her fail, she didn't notice.
“Remember this, grunt.” Gustav bent down, voice harsh in her ear. “Remember who's your betters, Aggie.”
“Yes, Sir,” Morgan replied, hoping he'd leave before her arm gave out.
“You’re bleeding all over the deck.” Gustav pushed past, rising. “Clean it up, Aggie.” He laughed, walking away.
Morgan knew that if she were smarter she'd be able to deliver a one liner and he'd never even realize she'd insulted him, but she wasn't smart or clever. She was a stupid Aggie.
She collapsed to the deck hissing in pain. She'd get up in a moment and clean the deck.
“Holy fuck, what are you doing?” Andrea yelped, having rounded the corner and seeing Morgan laying there with a pool of blood forming around her. Andrea skidded to a stop, the sight of all that blood turning her an unhealthy shade of green. “I was looking for you.” She gasped, turning away and covering her mouth as she gagged.
“I'm fine, just tore open my wound after being dropped for two hundred push-ups,” Morgan said, panting.
“That's a lot of blood.” Andrea gulped, bending over and sucking in air.
Morgan opened her eyes, and slowly started to get to her feet. She grabbed her radio. “Custodial to deck five, hallway fourteen for a bio hazard clean up.”
“Could we, uh, go somewhere else?” Andrea gulped, almost as white now as her blonde hair. “Like the med bay?” she pleaded.
“You don't have to stick with me, Laura said you don't like the sight of blood. I can find you after I'm done with the med bay.”
“Good idea.” Andrea gulped, going green again as she glanced at Morgan and the blood dripping from her arm. “I'll be in the lounge.” She all but bolted down the hallway.
Morgan shook her head and headed to the med bay. The last thing she wanted was to be hanging out; she just wanted some food and sleep.
Forty minutes later she peeked her head into the lounge. She took her cap off and ran her fingers through her rust red hair.
“Hey, Morgan, over here!” Andrea called, loudly, from her spot near one of the observation ports. The lounge was open to all crew members, although usually officers occupied one half and regular crew the other. Senior officers had access to their own lounge and seldom showed up down here with the rest.
Morgan waved and put her cap back on, heading her way. “Hey.” She sat down putting her back to the stars.
“Here, in apology for me bolting on you earlier.” Andrea offered her a glass of wine.
“Uh, thanks. I don't drink though.” Morgan did sniff it though, and it smelled nice, reminded her of the cherry orchards.
“You don't drink?” Andrea said flatly. “Ever?”
“No Ma'am. Smells nice though, better than beer.” Morgan hesitated. “My dad and step-dad were both mean drunks.”
“Oh. Well, enjoy the smell then?” Andrea said weakly. “I really did want to apologize for earlier, when Lieutenant Evans went crazy.”
“Not your fault, he went berserk and ruined a good time. Some folks get lost watching all that darkness and space.”
“They say Cindy will make it, but they had to put her in deep sleep until they can transfer her to a hospital ship.” Andrea made a face. “What makes a guy just snap like that?”
Morgan liked Andrea, even though all they had been to each other was an almost good time. Andrea had yet to call her stupid or an Aggie. “Can't say. Maybe his lover left him, maybe work stress, or maybe having the universe stare back at you long enough makes your mind unravel.” Morgan shrugged.
Andrea looked around and then leaned in, lowering her voice. “Laura heard a rumor that he went crazy at his duty station. Heard something over the communications array and that's what drove him insane. Maybe the deep black talked to him.”
“Maybe.” Morgan tilted her head looking at Andrea with tired eyes. “Did you just want to talk our did you want to do other things?”
Andrea sighed. “I can't, I have the morning duty shift.” She sipped her wine. “Besides, you look exhausted. I don't want to take advantage,” she said with a sly look.
“I don't mind when pretty women take advantage of me. I take it as a complement.”
“As it was intended.” Andrea’s smile was wide, all teeth. “What's going on between you and Laura? She didn't want to talk about you at all.”
“Fucked if I know. I swear she hates me, calls me an Aggie and glares at me but then the next minute she's sitting down next to me and starting conversations. That woman makes my head hurt.”
“Amen to that.” Andrea raised her glass of wine in salute and sipped. “We dated a little, well, kind of fucked around more than anything. Pilots should not get involved with pilots though. Too much drama.”
“There's not enough space for both your egos,” Morgan said with a grin. Pilots were cocky bastards, they had to be for the insane shit they did.
“I don't have an ego.” Andrea laughed, bright and loud.
Morgan chuckled and then leaned across table kissing Andrea. “I'd like to continue where we left off.”
“Tomorrow,” Andrea promised. “Come see me when your shift is done and we'll...” she traced a finger along Morgan's cheek, “pick up where we left off.”
“Sounds good.” Morgan turned her head capturing Andrea's finger and nipped the tip. “Tomorrow then.” She got up with a yawn.
Andrea winked, watching Morgan leave and enjoying the way her work pants hugged her ass. She picked up the wine she had gotten Morgan and, not wanting it to go to waste, took a sip of the wine.
“Andrea,” Laura growled, sliding into the seat that Morgan had just vacated. “What the hell are you doing?” she hissed.
“Hey Laura.” Andrea pushed the glass of wine over to Laura. “Meeting with a new friend. Why?”
“A new friend.” Laura eyed her darkly. “That's Morgan, the security officer that you left with Cindy while she was bleeding. You mean your next conquest right?”
“And? We talked about this you weren't interested. Has this changed?”
“No.” Laura said quickly. “But she's kind of a friend. Okay, not really, but she could be if she stopped being so prickly. I just know how you go through women.”
Andrea just looked at her. “And you don't?”
“That's not the point.” Laura gritted her teeth.
Andrea tried hard not to look amused. “What is the problem? You told me you weren't interested, that she was annoying and other less flattering things.”
“Yes she's a complete idiot, but she's an idiot who doesn't know any better and you're going to take advantage of her. What pretty things did you whisper to her? I know how... tempting you can be.”
Andrea smiled. “I had originally planned on that. But before we were interrupted, she had me totally turned around and was taking advantage of me.”
“She....” Laura pulled up short. “What? She was taking advantage of you?” Laura was shocked. “You wouldn't even let me take advantage of you!”
Andrea shrugged. “I have no idea what happened but she had her hands down my pants before I knew what was going on.”
“Huh.” Laura studied her friend. “Fantastic. You two can just use each other then.”
Andrea pursed her lips as she looked at Laura. “We're stuck on a ship, looking for a break in the day to day. What is your problem? I asked you if you were interested.”
“Go have your quick fuck.” Laura shoved off from the chair, lips pressed into a thin line.
Andrea sighed. “Laura, stop. Why are you mad at me? Look a good fuck isn't worth damaging our friendship, I'll tell her we can't meet tomorrow.”
Fantastic, Laura thought, now Andrea was making her feel like an idiot. “No, I’m just being a bitch. Have your diversion, maybe it's just been too long since I've had one.”
“Do you want her? Be honest. I'll back off. I'm already seeing a nurse and that hot prep cook. You haven't seen anyone this tour.”
“No.” Laura waved it off. “I can find someone, just been a slow spell.”
Andrea reached over and rested her hand on top of Laura's, “You want the nasty details tomorrow at lunch?” She wiggled her eyebrows.
That hadn't been what Laura had expected her to say and it surprised a laugh out of her. “No. I don't think I will want details. Just...” Laura looked troubled. “Be nice to her.”
“Me? According to her you keep talking down to her and calling her an Aggie. If you want to be friends stop being an asshole pilot.”
Laura made a face. “Not certain I know how to do that. Happens when you're the best pilot on the ship.” She smiled at her friend.
“Whatever, second best.” Andrea said. “Lunch tomorrow?”
“Lunch.” Laura agreed, with a wave. “Send me a lynk if something comes up. I have night shift tomorrow.”
“Maybe you should meet Morgan for dinner, she's got night shift too.”
“We'll see. Night Andrea.” Laura waved again, leaving Andrea alone in the lounge.
“Night shift? Why’d you get stuck with night shift?”
Laura rolled her eyes, looking up at Paul who was sharing the lift with her as they headed towards the command deck. “Gustav got me in shit for doing that loop de loop on the way to the courier ship. Apparently he convinced the Captain that I’m a loose cannon and need taming.”
Paul arched an eyebrow. “You? Never,” he said, in the driest tone possible.
“See, that’s what I love about my friends, they always support me no matter what.”
“We also call you an ass when you’re being an ass.”
“You’ve been talking to Andrea and Matt again haven’t you?”
Paul laughed, a deep rumbling sound. “Despite what you pilots think, the universe does not in fact revolve around you.”
“Sure it does.” Laura grinned. “Why are you on duty?”
“Evans’ freak-out means we had to rearrange things in communications. I got the short stick so I get night shift there,” Paul said, obviously not happy about it. “And I had morning shift today.”
“Sorry Paul, that sucks. At least I only have one shift. Pilot regs you know, we need our beauty sleep.”
“Beauty sleep. Right,” he said dryly again as he followed her out of the lift when the doors opened. “See you later Vasquez.”
Laura gave him a wink before making certain her short black hair was combed and not sticking up anywhere before heading for the main command center. Paul would be tucked away deeper in the deck, among the communications arrays he’d be in charge of for the night shift. She envied him sometimes, not having superior officers always breathing down his neck.
“Ms. Vasquez, good of you to join us.” The Old Man’s voice drew her up short, pulling her out of her musings as soon as she’d entered the shielded command deck. Her eyes widened, not expecting the Captain to be up so late. He was stroking his short white beard, elegantly trimmed as always, as she rounded his console and headed towards her own.
“Yes Sir.” It wouldn’t do any good to point out that she was on time, not considering the dark look on the older man’s face and she hurriedly relieved Matt from the pilot’s station and slid into the console. Plugging into the ship’s systems she started up her diagnostic routines, double-checking all of the main propulsion systems.
Behind her Laura could feel the Captain’s eyes boring into her as she immersed herself in her duties, trying to be as busy as possible. Whatever had crawled up the old man’s ass had obviously died there, and he was in a foul mood.
A glance at the duty logs showed he’d been on the bridge for the better part of three shifts now, no wonder the man was cranky! She’d be pissed too if she was starting her third shift in a row, 24 hours on the bridge would be enough to drive anyone to anger.
“Captain, I could take over this shift from you,” Commander Todd said.
Apparently she wasn’t the only one to think three shifts was too many, and a glance over her shoulder showed the executive officer talking quietly by the side of the Captain’s station. Laura didn’t have much to do with Commander Todd, but he seemed a decent enough fellow, strict about protocol, but she hadn’t pissed him off too many times yet.
“I’ll tell you when I want you to take over the com from me, commander.” The Captain’s answer was nowhere near as quiet as Todd’s suggestion.
“But sir, you need…”
The sound of the Captain’s fist slamming down onto the arm of his chair drew the attention of every officer on the bridge and Laura jerked her head around to stare, wide-eyed at the fury on the older man’s face. His pale skin was turning red. “Are you questioning my orders, Commander?”
“Sir, you need rest.” Todd tried again, worriedly now.
“I need for you people to stop plotting and scheming behind my back!”
“Sir?” Todd sounded as confused as Laura felt at that outburst.
“You think I don’t know what you’ve been up to Commander?” The Captain rose out of his chair and Laura’s gut clenched as she saw the weapon he’d been holding under the displays of his console. The laser pistol was bad news.
Todd was backing up, hands half raised, eyes wide. “Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The hell you don’t, traitor!” the Captain shouted, pistol raising and firing. Todd didn’t have a chance; he was at point blank range when the laser pulse hit the center of his chest, burning straight through it as if it wasn’t even there. The energy kept on going through him, scorching a bulkhead on the other side of the bridge. “Traitors, you’re all traitors!” the Captain screamed, whirling with the pistol and Laura dropped, hiding behind her console chair as she urgently sent requests for security through her jack.
Then the Captain was firing again, at anything that moved and she had to tear the lynk from her jack, needing to find better cover from the man who seemed to have just gone insane.
The desk sergeant's eyes widened as he received an SOS through his jack. He tore out of his seat and threw open the door. “You three up to the helm we have a situation, use deadly force only if necessary.”
Morgan and two others stood up from where they had been sitting in the break room. “Yes, sir.” They shouted before sprinting of.
A body was sprayed all over the bulkhead across the hallway from where the lift opened. A laser pulse had caught whoever it was in the back of the head and the resulting energy transfer had literally exploded the person’s head off their shoulders. The rest of the body lay, spread out on the floor, an arm flung out towards the lift, as if reaching for cover.
Farther away they could hear shouting, a man’s voice, enraged, screaming about traitors and mutiny.
“Fuck!” One guy said putting his arm over his mouth to dampen the smell.
“Oh shit. Why didn't anyone mention the Captain had gone space loopy?” The woman to Morgan's right said coming to the same conclusion she had.
Morgan was just cursing the fact she'd agreed to take early break instead of the later one.
They moved forward looking around. Morgan gestured for them to move out to the edge of the room.
“Captain,” Morgan said to the man's back. He had someone pinned to the wall, a gun to their head. “It’s Saunders, sir. I understand there's a problem?” The other two security marshals stared at Morgan in confusion.
“She’s a traitor, can’t you see that Marine?” the Captain screamed, spittle covering Laura’s face as he held her up against the wall, feet dangling against the bulkhead. Sparks exploded from a damaged console near the front of the bridge, and scorch marks adorned the walls. Three other bodies lay across the decking, including the body of the executive officer.
Laura gurgled, struggling to breath with the Captain’s hand wrapped around her throat, lifting her off the ground as if she weighed nothing. Laura knew she wasn’t a big person, hell she barely made the height requirement for the Navy, but the Captain wasn’t a young man. When the hell had he become so goddamn strong?
Morgan decided it was much like dealing with her step-father after he had too much to drink. “Of course Sir, that’s why we are here. To take her into custody and question her about the possibility of more traitors. Permission to approach and handcuff the traitor?” She kept her voice level and soothing.
Muscles bulged along the man’s jaw as he clenched his teeth so tightly Morgan could hear them grinding together. “She deserves execution. Mutiny is punishable by death.” His finger tightened along the trigger of the laser pistol, its warning indicator across the back flashing once to indicate a full charge ready.
“Sir. It would be easier to find the other traitors if we had one to question, you can still execute the traitor when we are done, Sir,” Morgan said reasonably. “Isn't it more important to find the other traitors, you have the whole safety of the ship to consider.” She cautiously moved closer. Until the Captain brought the gun down it would be impossible to save Laura.
“The ship,” the Captain said slowly, as if only barely understanding her words. “Yes the ship.” He blinked, finger loosening on the trigger as he backed a little away from Laura.
Laura gasped, sucking in air as red spots danced across her vision. The roar of her blood pumping filled her ears and she greedily sucked in as much air as she could though his hand was still around her neck, pinning her to the wall. “But…” The Captain said, turning to stare at Morgan. “You could be a traitor.”
“No Sir, I can't,” Morgan said not even blinking. “You handpicked me to come and be part of your crew, you would never make a mistake like that.” She reached for her cuffs and took them off her utility belt and moved forward.
“I did?” the Captain blinked in confusion, then nodded. “I did.” He straightened, lifting Laura higher off the deck. “I want the names of all the traitors. All of them!”
“Sir. You don't need to do that. That's why you hired us.” Morgan stepped forward, cuffs in one hand and with the other hand she pressed the neural disruptor right into the armpit of his raised arm.
As the Captain fell Morgan tossed the cuffs to Phillip and caught Laura before she could slam into the deck. She lifted her radio to her lips. “Security and medical to the helm. Someone better find the second-in-command as well.”
“We have any sedatives? He's acting just like that communications guy, which means when this wears off he's going to get pissed.”
“He’s dead,” Laura said, coughing and gasping as she held onto Morgan’s arm, leaning against her. She’d never been so happy to see security show up before. “Captain killed him first.” She nodded to the body near the command chair.
“Who's the next in command?” Morgan said frowning. “Fuck.” This was turning into a real mess. “You two have the old man?” she checked. When they nodded she picked Laura up. “Going to take her to medical and get a statement.”
Laura didn’t even protest when the security guard picked her up and carried her towards the lift doors. She blanched as she saw the body splayed out on the hall. “Third in command is dead too.” Laura closed her eyes, leaning her head against Morgan’s shoulder for a second. “That leaves the chief engineer in command, I guess. You can put me down now you know.”
“You are the key witness to a massacre, you've been shoved up against wall and had a gun shoved into your face. No, ma'am I am not putting you down until I have you in medical,” Morgan replied.
“So, do I know you’re being serious when you start calling me Ma’am?” Laura closed her eyes again, leaning her head against Morgan’s shoulder. This was not what she had expected when she’d shown up for duty that evening. “That makes two senior officers who have gone insane.”
Morgan stepped into the lift. “I didn't know that. The guy yesterday, I didn't know he was a senior officer.” She hit the button for the medical deck. “I guess I should ask if you're okay. No pain, broken bones, or bleeding?”
“My neck is killing me. I suspect that happens when you’re held up by it,” Laura said, immediately regretting having snapping at Morgan. “You’re stronger than you look, and you already look strong,” she said, by way of apology. “He was head of communications, they guy yesterday, Evans.”
“Guess that's the by-product of growing up an aggie. Being strong that is,” Morgan replied as she stepped out of the lift.
It wasn't far to medical and the moment she stepped in they were both surrounded by medical crew.
Medical was a busy place that shift. Although Laura was one of their few living customers, everyone else from the bridge was coming down in a body bag, except for the Captain. Within a few minutes they’d scanned her, given her something to keep the swelling down in her throat and had her placed in one of the observation rooms.
Throughout it all, Laura was aware of Morgan’s presence nearby and it was actually comforting to know she was there.
“You’re still upset about the aggie thing?” Laura asked, as soon as the last med tech had been called away to deal with another problem.
“Yes, ma'am. I'm also not all that fond of the way you talk down to me,” Morgan replied. “I'm not the smartest person, I know that. I also don't have one of those doohickey things in my head. But I am smart enough to know when I'm being treated like a child, or worse. You may not think I noticed Stevens' calling me a retard or moron. I did, but Stevens never tries to be friendly. Ma'am you do both and you can't have it both ways,” she said evenly. Morgan was still on duty and was guarding the only witness to the Captain’s meltdown, something she took seriously until someone in charge could come tell her different.
“Goddammit, I didn’t mean to…” Laura sat up on the bed, ignoring the system behind her as it made an irritated beeping sound when she left its field of observation. No doubt some nurse would be by shortly to chide her into not leaving the sensor’s range. “Thank you, Morgan, for saving my life,” Laura said, pronouncing each word carefully.
Morgan looked at Laura, wondering if she was talking slowly and carefully to make fun of her or not. She decided to take it at face value. “You're welcome Laura, glad I could be there. Wish I could have got there sooner to save the others.”
“The XO got it first, point blank range; no way anyone could have saved him.” Laura shuddered, remembering the smell of burning flesh and the sudden awful silence after that first shot. “He just snapped Morgan, there wasn’t really any warning. I mean, he was being grouchy, but nothing more than usual.”
“He wasn't himself at all. He was like a bad drunk, possessed,” Morgan said moving closer. “Lie back down before you hurt something or a nurse comes in and yells at us.” Morgan put a hand on Laura's shoulder and gently pushed her back down.
Giving Morgan a disgruntled look, Laura did as she was asked, wondering if they were going to make her take off her uniform and put on one of those ridiculous white medical things instead. “What are the odds of two senior officers losing it within twenty four hours?”
“I haven't got a clue Ma'am. Maybe it’s a virus?” Morgan said and then smiled at one of the nurses she’d had sex with in the supply closet last month.
Laura’s bright blue eyes narrowed as she watched the interaction. She submitted to the nurse checking her vitals. The nurse made a note with her lynk before winking at Morgan and sashaying out.
“Holy shit, Andrea wasn’t lying,” Laura hissed, pointing at Morgan. “You slept with that nurse didn’t you?”
“Laura, that is none of your business and I'm not one to tell tales,” Morgan replied.
Ignoring her Laura growled. “Did you sleep with Andrea today?”
“No Ma'am, I did not. Instead I'm here in this room with you.” Morgan was in fact ten minutes late for her meeting with Andrea.
“Don’t let me keep you.” Laura sniffed.
“Laura?” Morgan started becoming amused. “Are you jealous that I might be sleeping with Andrea?”
“Of course not!” Laura snapped, eyes narrowing again. “But don’t let me get in the way of your latest conquest, or is it Andrea’s? Hard to tell with you two apparently.”
Morgan shut the door and rounded on Laura. “What the hell is the matter with you? You say you don't care but then you get all bent out of shape.”
“What does it matter to you? You should just go on and have your little tryst with Andrea. I’m sure she’s quite eager for you to get back in her pants!” Laura shot back.
“Holy fucking shit, it’s like you're possessed. One minute you’re nice and the next you're being some raging bitch. You can't have it both ways. So which is it? Are we friends or not? Because if we are, whose pants I may or may not be getting into shouldn't matter,” Morgan stated.
Laura blinked for a moment, and then smiled, completely missing most of what Morgan had just said. “You consider me a friend?”
“What? Maybe?” Morgan shifted uncomfortably. Coming down from the adrenaline rush from earlier had left her horny and this back and forth with Laura wasn't helping. She hoped she got released from duty sometime soon before Andrea went on shift.
“Maybe. Hmmm.” Laura settled back down against the bed, considering that answer. “Fine. We’re friends, but if you’re my friend I have to warn you that I, occasionally, get a little bitchy.” Laura was silent for a moment. “Oh, and Andrea’s filling in for me on duty now, so your date’s canceled. She just sent me a lynk message.” Laura tapped the jack behind her right ear.
Just Morgan’s luck. Maybe the nurse from earlier had a break soon, worst case was her alone in her bunk. “It’s not a problem. I haven't been relieved from duty. Until I am you are stuck with me. And Laura, that's not a little bitchy.” Morgan headed back to the door to open it.
“Sure it is, god forbid you ever see me get beaten at some sort of flying contest. Then you’ll see real bitchy Laura.” Laura gave Morgan an impish grin, folding her arms under her head and turning to stare up at the ceiling.
Since just looking into space made Morgan queasy she doubted she'd ever watch a flying contest. Morgan opened the door and then went back to standing guard. She picked up her radio. “Um, Saunders checking in. I'm still in med watching over the witness. No one’s been by yet to relieve me or take a statement. Confirm I should stay on duty or check out?”
Maddox’s voice growled back at her, “Saunders, stay the fuck where you are. I’ve got incidents coming in from all over the ship and until I get someone out there to take over, you’re stuck there. Get some sort of statement from the witness if you can.” He was tense and abrupt. “Keep your neural stunner nearby, Morgan.” And the channel was cut off.
“Fuck,” Morgan muttered. She didn’t just have a neural stunner she also had her sidearm. She hadn't checked it back in. She waved over a nurse. “Nurse... Butler, may I escort Laura back to her room?” Sounded like the ship was getting worse and med bay would be hopping soon.
“Sure honey. But you could take me back to your room after my shift.” The nurse winked, making a notation in a file. “Just make sure she comes back tomorrow for a check up once the doctor’s free. It’s been a crazy night in here.”
“Not sure when I’ll be off shift, but we can see if our ships might pass in the night.” Morgan smiled before turning around looking at Laura. “Good news. I can take you back to your room. Bad news you're stuck with me until I'm told otherwise.”
“You just picked up...” It boggled Laura's mind how that had just happened in front of her. “Fine.” She bit it off, sitting up and swinging her feet off the bed. “Guess I'm ruining your plans for the night.” She smiled sweetly, standing up.
“I have one job, on this ship. Just one. To protect the people on it, so if I miss out on my plans that's okay. Because I'm doing my job.” Morgan replied. “You okay or do you need help walking?”
It was tempting to pretend to need help standing to get a feel of Morgan's biceps again. “I'm good.” Laura did get up carefully though, just in case. “Why don't you get someone to relieve you and you can go on your date, or dates, it's hard to tell which.”
“Right now my job is to protect you.” Morgan hovered near Laura, in case she needed help.
“You're big on this job and honor thing aren't you?” Laura grinned. “What were you doing before you got hired onto our wonderful little prison world?” The room didn't spin around her so she tested out walking.
“I was in boot camp. I was kicked out,” Morgan replied.
“Boot camp? For the army, no wait, navy?” Laura gave into temptation and held onto Morgan's arm.
“Marines,” Morgan clarified as she led them out of the med bay.
“Marine.” Laura considered that, and flashed a smile up at the taller woman. “I bet you would have looked fantastic in that uniform.”
Morgan shrugged. “Never got the chance.”
“Oh.” That was a temporary conversation killer. “Why?”
“I uh... like I said I was kicked out, for stealing supplies. At least that's the confession I signed.”
“For stealing?” Laura jerked in surprise, looking up at Morgan.
“I'm from a tech dead world; I have a fourth grade education. My instructor pulled me in and asked me to sign some paperwork and I did.” Morgan paused at the lift. “So which way to your bunk?”
“Your instructor, who was either looking for a scapegoat or was the one who actually stole the supplies.” Laura snorted. “Two doors down from Andrea's bunk.”
“Ah,” Morgan hit the button for Andrea’s deck. “Probably something along those lines. Thought I was going to have to go home to the farm when The Old Man offered me a job.” That was the only reason she hadn't just pulled her gun and shot him, she owed him big.
“He came looking for you specifically? Did you know him from before?” Laura didn't know anything about him other than he was the Captain.
“Nope, never met him before.” She shrugged and stepped out of the lift. “Two doors right or left?”
“Right. She's senior to me, so she got the one farthest from the main corridor. You don't have to stay with me all night, Morgan.”
“Yes, Ma'am I do. Until instructed otherwise. Unless you're the one with plans and then I can stand at the door and be amused.”
“Morgan!” Laura said, startled into a laugh. “You're a voyeur, I never would have guessed.”
Morgan just grinned. “What's more beautiful than a woman in the throes of pleasure? Can't think of a thing.”
Matt came out of his bunk. “Laura, I was going to grab some food... and you two have a nice rest of your day.” He scurried on giving her a thumbs up behind Morgan's back.
“What... wait....” Laura groaned, knowing he must have heard at least the last bit of Morgan's statement. “Hope you don't mind explaining that to Andrea, I have no doubt he's already lynking her a message about this,” Laura muttered, typing in the code to unlock her door.
“Andrea will be fine.” Morgan replied, Andrea had been very clear about casual.
“Well you must have something better to do with your time,” Laura said.
“I work out. I go to the shooting range. Guards don't live the life of leisure you pilots do.”
“Some of them do. I've seen the guts on some of your fellow guards. I don't know how many of them work out as much as you do,” Laura said, waving her towards the chair at the small desk.
Morgan sat wanting nothing more than to be relieved so she could go get relieved, but the universe was against her today. “So what do you do for fun, Laura?”
“Pilot. I fly in my dreams and in my day.” She smiled, perching on the edge of her bed. “I used to have other dalliances,” she murmured, with a half-smile, remembering previous tours.
“How long before you move on to bigger and better things? People here are either going up or going down. Me, I'm going down. Pilots and medics are going up.”
Laura laughed. “Oh, I'm stuck here, in my own little purgatory until I've paid for my transgressions. I've been on this ship three years, Morgan, and I'm still the junior pilot.”
That meant nothing to Morgan. “Sorry to hear that, although it sounds as if you have a way out in time.” Most people Morgan could read, but Laura's body language was a mystery to her.
“Depends on the admiral whose daughter I was screwing in his private yacht.” Laura waggled an eyebrow, rising to reach across the small chamber. “Water? Something more?”
“Depends on what something more is? I don't drink.”
“You don't drink? Like ever?” Laura brushed dark hair from her forehead. “Why, is that some sort of Agg....” She bit off the word. “Um, thing from the planet you come from?”
“No, I just don’t drink,” Morgan replied.
“You've never tasted alcohol then?” Laura asked, curious.
“No Ma'am. Getting beat by a two-hundred and fifty pound man who smells like a bar kind of makes it unappealing.” Morgan flushed realizing what she said. “Sorry, that was probably too much information.”
Laura’s eye narrowed. “Your father beat you when you were young?” That made more sense. “I don't think you would beat a child. Don't worry, I won't kiss and tell.”
Morgan shrugged and then smiled. “You're assuming I'm going to kiss you.”
“Of course you are.” Laura grinned, cocky. “Not tonight, but we'll kiss sometime.”
“I thought you didn't poach from your friends?” Morgan said leaning back in her chair.
“Andrea doesn't do long term relationships.” Laura leaned back as well, mimicking Morgan.
Morgan laughed and then stood up stretching before she did something stupid. “Your friend and I aren't in a relationship, and we ain't ever going to be in a relationship.”
“Fine, you’re going to be fuck buddies.” Laura drawled the last two words, rolling her eyes and standing up. “Look, this isn’t going to work with the two of us in a small room, obviously. I’m still keyed up from earlier; do you want to do something?”
Holy shit, Morgan thought, was she that transparent? Her gaze went to Laura's face but she still couldn't read anything. Laura wasn't suggesting what she thought, couldn't be, she was just reading in to it. “You're hurt. Maybe you should just lay down and rest like the nurse said.”
“I feel fine. I’m just going to have a hand shaped bruise around my throat. They wouldn’t have let me go if I wasn’t going to be okay,” Laura pointed out reasonably, rising to her feet. “You’re just itching to do something.”
“You hungry? I'm starving. Been up too damn long with a huge adrenaline rush.” The cafeteria should be safe. Desk Sargent said other folks were acting crazy. They just needed to be smart about it. Or she could try and convince Laura to stay here. She shook her head to dislodge that last thought.
Reaching across the very small space between them, Laura patted Morgan on the shoulder, with a wink. “See, that’s using your head. Let’s get out of here.”
Morgan's eyes narrowed trying to figure out if Laura was mocking her in some way. “Right my head. Come on.” She opened the door and headed out. She smiled as she saw Andrea headed down the hall. “Hey you want to join us? We were just headed to the cafeteria.”
Andrea's eyes narrowed angrily at Morgan seeing the room she was coming out of. “What now you're fucking her? Matt linked me, can't believe he was right.”
“Whoa. We talked about this,” Morgan said holding up her hands. ”Just calm down. I'm not sleeping with her, doesn't matter if I was, but I'm not. We're friends.”
Andrea unexpectedly lunged forward and pulled the gun from Morgan’s holster. A loud bang echoed up and down the hallway and Morgan hit the deck with a groan as her leg went out.
Andrea kicked Morgan a few times then turned the firearm on Laura. “You cunt, you backstabbing bitch.” She kicked Morgan again. “Whore!”
“Whoa!” Laura flung up both hands, eyes wide in shock as her friend aimed down the barrel at her. “What the fuck Andrea! You just shot Morgan! You're supposed to be on the bridge!” Although it looked like a shot to the leg, not a mortal wound, Laura hoped. “She’s guarding me after the Captain went berserk, we didn’t sleep together.” Laura stared at Andrea warily, starting to recognize a crazed look that was appearing in people’s eyes. She’d seen them in the Captain’s eyes right as he’d pulled the trigger and cut down the XO.
“Andrea, she was talking about meeting up with you all the time. It was sickening really, I swear.” Laura said quickly, watching her friends eyes flick down to the groaning guard. In that split second Laura reacted with the quick reflexes that made her an excellent pilot, flinging herself at her friend. They both went down, grappling for the gun and Laura grimaced as it went off right next to her ear, Andrea screaming and beating against her.
“Morgan!” Laura yelled, ending in a grunt as she got kneed in the chest. “Help please?” Her grip on the gun was slipping and she knew without a doubt that Andrea would shoot them both if she got free.
Morgan rolled over and hit Andrea with the neural disruptor. Then with a grunt of pain crawled over and cuffed her hands. ”You okay?” she croaked, falling back to the floor.
“Great. Help me get her up and we'll hand cuff her to her bed. I'm sure that's not a first for her,” Laura said.
Shakily Morgan got to her feet. There was a gash in her thigh that was bleeding sluggishly. It stung like a bitch. “She just went crazy!”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” Laura said, getting up just as shakily. This attack had shaken her more than the one with the Captain, probably because she considered Andrea a friend. “What the fuck’s going on around here Morgan?” she whispered, helping to get Andrea into her room and handcuffed to the metal frame that was bolted to the deck.
“I haven't got a clue,” Morgan replied moving anything dangerous out of reach. ”Some sort of sickness?” She shrugged and reached for her radio. ”This is Saunders. Pilot Erikson just went crazy, tried to shoot me and Pilot Vasquez. Have her subdued and handcuffed in her bunk, requesting security.”
“Saunders, the brig is full, security is busy. That's a good place for her. You need to report to medical as soon as you are able. It’s a mess down there.”
Morgan sighed. ”Yes sir. What about Vasquez?”
“Morgan I know you're slow but don't make me have to spell everything out for you. Bring her with, leave her behind, I don't care, we have bigger problems.”
Morgan re-holstered her gun and limped out of Andrea's room. ”You coming or staying?”
“I’m going with the person with the gun.” Laura sealed the door behind her, typing in a lock code to keep it closed just in case someone wanted to take advantage of Andrea while she was tied up. Sprinting down the corridor she used her elbow to break open a sealed emergency cabinet, pulling out the med kit inside. “Can you stop for a second so you don’t bleed to death getting to med bay?” she asked Morgan archly.
“Yes ma'am. Can we go in your bunk so I can take off my pants without embarrassing myself? Since I haven't had time to do laundry and I'm not wearing underwear,” Morgan asked quietly.
Laura rubbed her temple. “Of course you’re not wearing underwear,” she muttered, spinning on her heel and opening her door again for the guard. “Sit down.” Laura waved at the bed, opening up the med kit and sorting through its contents.
“I have some sealing foam on my belt,” Morgan said undoing the belt and then her pants. ”If you want to give me a moment I'm sure I can just take care of it. There's a lot of blood but it just grazed the side.” Well grazed and ripped out a chunk, but it didn't hit anything vital.
“Just shut up, strip and sit down,” Laura snapped and then sighed, rubbing her temple again. “Sorry, I get even more bitchy when I have a headache.” She pretended not to notice how well muscled Morgan’s legs were as she pulled the med kit over to the bed. “You better get medical to redo this or it’s going to leave a scar,” Laura warned, using the bio-gel in the kit to pack the wound and then seal the skin around the edges with sealing foam.
“Yes Ma'am.” Then with a straight face Morgan asked, ”Was it good for you?”
“You gotta give instead of just taking and taking,” Laura said, dryly as she loaded an injector with an analgesic. “I gotta do something for this headache,” she muttered, pressing it to the side of her neck, below her jack.
“You okay?” Morgan asked slipping back on her pants and belt. She checked the neural disruptor and her gun.
“It’s just a headache, comes from being choked and then having a gun aimed at me by my friend,” Laura said, trying for a joke and failing.
Morgan stepped up to Laura and turned her around beginning to rub and knead her shoulders. They could spare a moment before rushing down to med bay.
“I used to get horrible migraines when I was younger,” Laura admitted softly. “Haven’t had one in a long time.” Laura repacked the med kit, giving Morgan a wane smile. She was just about to explain why she used to get migraines when the lights flickered and went out.
“Great,” Laura muttered, waiting the heartbeat it took for the small yellow emergency light in the corner to come to life, casting the entire room in a sickly shade of yellow. She reached under a panel, manually opening the doors.
Morgan frowned. “That's not good. The engines have stopped as well.” Back-ups would ensure the prisoners were contained. “Shit, the ones in cryo-sleep will start to thaw. Takes too much energy to keep them on ice, back-up power goes to life systems.” She forgot all about giving Laura a massage and headed out. They needed to check medical first and then head down.
“Left behind again. Story of my life,” Laura grumbled, picking up the med kit and hurrying to follow after Morgan.
“Where is everyone?” Laura whispered, staying right on top of Morgan, practically in the woman’s back pocket as they moved. Yellow emergency lighting illuminated everything, casting entirely too many shadows for her liking. “Why hasn’t anyone made an announcement? I’m not getting anything on my lynk. If we find a data port I could jack in and see what’s going on.”
“Don't know. You can jack in if you want. Not sure anyone’s around to make an announcement. This is a classic take over maneuver. Neutralize the crew, cut power, free the prisoners and take over. That makes the sudden bout of crazy make sense. If all the guards are running around subduing people, who's watching the prisoners?” Morgan talked out loud trying to process everything. “But how'd they make people go crazy? Something in the water; drugs, virus or maybe the air?” She frowned. “And why are we okay?” She turned around looking at Laura. “You are okay?”
“My headache and I are right here with you.” Laura rolled her eyes. “Promise, I won’t grab your gun and try to shoot you.” Although she might want to shoot herself if it turned into a full-blown migraine. “Look Morgan, we haven’t seen a single crew member yet. How could they, whoever they are, have gotten to everyone so fast?”
“I haven't got a clue.” Morgan reached for her radio. “This is Saunders? Status report?” There was no answer. “Fuck.” She tried again. “Please report.” Still no response. She looked at Laura. “Thoughts?”
“Whoever took down the engines took down the communications net.” Laura shrugged. “I doubt it would be too hard if they already have some sort of control over the fusion core.” Which brought several nasty scenarios to mind, most involving a large explosion in space. “Morgan, if they have control over the core, at least enough to shut it down, that means they’re able to access our computer systems.” Which was really troubling, as they moved towards the lift and she snorted, humorously. “Guess we’re climbing down to the med bay?”
“Looks like.” Morgan moved to the lift shaft and looked up and down. There was no lighting. “Med bay is down, so here.” She pulled a retractable line from her utility belt and turned to Laura threading it through a couple of belt loops and then tying it. “I'll go first and you follow. If you slip try to shout a warning and I'll do the same. You'll have a second to brace yourself, enough pressure and the line will snap.” She shrugged, it was the best she could do.
Morgan approached the lift and a second eyelid covered her eyes.
The universe was a strange and unusual place, humans had gone out and conquered what they could, still they couldn't conquer evolution, and to survive on some planets humans had to change. This was a gift from her father, a man who had grown up on a dark world, one with long periods of darkness. The only thing he'd given her that had been worth anything before he'd just left one day. It wasn't something she shared. The core worlds of the Alliance weren't big on aliens in the mix, and had done their best to fight evolution and keep the DNA codes purely human.
“Morgan, what are we going to do when we… AHHH!” Laura screamed and nearly slipped off the rungs of the emergency access ladder, feet dangling for a brief second before she got them back on the lower wrung. Red eyes had flashed up at her from Morgan and she’d nearly wet herself in surprise at the unexpected change to the her eyes. “What the hell happened to your eyes?” she asked, once she was certain her voice wasn’t going to betray her.
“Genetics, I'm fairly certain,” Morgan said dryly. She had braced herself as Laura lost her balance. Once they were settled she started down the emergency ladder again. Ears straining in the dark on the off chance the lift started moving.
“What do you….” Laura hurried to keep up, lowering her voice. “What do you mean genetics? Those aren’t implants? What’s going on with your eyes?”
Morgan sighed. “I'll tell you if you promise not to report me to anyone.”
There was a slight pause and Laura said, “All right, tell me.”
“My bio-dad is from a dark world. You know what that is?” she asked.
“I’m guessing it’s not a bright and shiny place?”
Morgan laughed, “No it’s not. They are planets on the edge of the Alliance; they have long periods of darkness so after some time people have adapted to see in the dark.”
“Adapted.” Laura grunted, continuing her steps down. “You mean genetic manipulation. No wonder you don’t want me to tell anyone.” Genetic manipulation of humans was outlawed, considered taboo and an offense throughout Alliance space. Which of course didn’t really stop it from happening.
“In the genetic stew of creation, my dad passed it on to me. I'm mentally slow with an illegal genetic mutation. So I try to keep my head down and do good work, because I don't want to end up in a gene scrubbing facility or back home on the farm.” She paused. “Hold up, I'm at the lift doors.” Morgan reached over and hit the emergency release enabling her to push the doors open. As soon as the yellow emergency light flooded through her secondary eyelids dropped down.
“I won’t tell. Promise,” Laura called from above, waiting for her to shimmy through the opened lift doors onto the med bay floor. Even from where she was she could tell the floor was slick with a dark liquid. Bloody hand prints adorned the walls and she swallowed. “I think we missed the party.”
“Parties can be overrated,” Morgan replied. She untied the line from Laura's belt loops and let it retract. She pulled her side arm and started slowly down the hallway. “Hello?” she called out.
Something clattered to the ground deeper inside the med bay, but other than that it was silent.
Behind Morgan, Laura stepped off the ladder onto the floor, grimacing at the sticky texture and the smell of blood. “No bodies,” she whispered, swallowing hard against the urge to vomit. Arcs of blood were splattered across the entry doors to med bay, where she’d been only a little while earlier. “This must have happened so quickly. We were just down here, Morgan.”
“There have to be bodies,” Morgan argued. “People just don't disappear into thin air. Maybe they went and locked themselves in the meat lockers to get away.” She did realize if she hadn't insisted on leaving earlier they might have been caught up in whatever happened.
“Great.” Laura breathed heavily through her mouth, following after Morgan as they wound their way down the halls and among the abandoned rooms. “I’m in a horror vid.” She closed her eyes as they found the first body, a doctor judging by what was left of his uniform. Someone had used laser scalpels to peel the skin away from his body.
Morgan reached for her neural disruptor and handed it back to Laura before kneeling down and checking for a pulse. He was dead. She stood back up and continued on. “Hello? Anyone here? Anyone need help?”
“Hello?” A thin voice called back and Laura stiffened in surprise.
“Not all dead then,” Laura said, moving towards that voice. “Hello? Where are you?” She called, moving faster as the voice called back again.
“Unless they've gone insane, but so far they sound sane,” Morgan said following quickly behind Laura.
“Hello? Where are you?” The muffled voice called again, female, Laura thought it sounded like one of the nurses she’d seen earlier. She moved faster, pushing past upended gurneys and equipment scattered across the med bay floor.
“Here,” Laura called, rushing to an observation bay whose door was closed.
Morgan rushed to Laura’s side, re-holstered her gun and dug her fingers into the seams of the door, trying to pull it open. It wasn’t locked, although it took both of them to push the automatic door open. Laura frowned as she realized that meant power was fading fast from the door control mechanisms.
“Stay there!” The voice yelled, clearer now and Laura paused, blinking as she took in the dark observation room.
A figure shifted, holding what she thought at first was an old style lighter in one hand. “Stay there.” The voice said again, tinged with hysteria. “Both of you!”
“Oh shit.” Laura breathed, reaching out blindly with one hand to touch Morgan’s arm, gripping the material of her uniform as she stared at the nurse. “She’s got a homemade flame thrower.” The lighter was a laser scalpel on full burn held in the woman’s right hand. In the left, aimed at them, was a flexible metal hose from the anesthetic tank mounted on the wall. They could both see the flammable markings stenciled in red across the surface of the tank.
Morgan froze and then backed away from the door slowly. “Hey, this is Security Marshal Saunders. You know me; we met for dinner one time and then other stuff. You remember?” She asked keeping her voice calm.
“Morgan?” the nurse said, eyes still wide and her hands shaking far too much for Laura’s piece of mind. One false squeeze and they’d suddenly have a fireball to deal with in here. “They all went crazy! All of them.”
“Can you get her to lower the scalpel?” Laura whispered.
“Tell me about it. I've been bitten and shot.” Morgan cleared her throat. “So, um, can you put the laser down, because I'd look really funny without eyebrows. Then maybe we can come in there were it seems safe or you can come out here?” she asked keeping her voice calm.
The nurse hesitated. “How do I know you’re not with them?”
Laura took a step and immediately froze as the woman aimed the nozzle at her. “Don’t move!” she hissed eyes wide again.
“Because we're not acting insane. No one I've seen snap has acted remotely logically. So I figure if we were insane we'd be throwing our bodies mindlessly into the doors trying to get you instead of chatting,” Morgan replied.
“Okay,” the nurse said slowly, eying Laura skeptically. “She stays outside. She was on the bridge when this all went to shit and then she came down here and everything went crazy. So she stays outside.”
“What?” Laura threw up her hands. “Listen lady, I didn’t have anything to do with this.”
“You stay outside.” The nurse growled, eyes narrowing and raising the hose for good measure.
“Fine, fine.” Laura gave Morgan a dark look and backed out of the room.
“Wait! No. Laura don't go anywhere. I haven't spent most of my day guarding you to send you unguarded out of my sight. Um...” She tried to quickly come up with a compromise. “What if I handcuff her? Would that be okay?” Morgan asked.
The nurse licked her lips and then slowly nodded. “Handcuff her over there, next to the door. I don’t want her coming near me.”
“Now you’re going to handcuff me?” Laura hissed. “What the fuck, Morgan?”
Morgan grinned. “I know, just hitting all those fantasies.” She waited a moment and pulled out her spare set of cuffs. “You want to go out there where it will take me forever to come help you if any of those crazies come back or you want to be in here with us?” She led her over to the door and attached the cuffs to a rail and then took Laura's wrist.
“Yeah thanks, this is much better, being chained up.” Laura tugged on the cuffs once they’d been locked and glared over at the nurse.
The nurse glared right back, not lowering her weapon, yet. “You sure she can’t get free?”
“Yes, Ma'am.” Morgan checked one more time, loosening it so Laura could slip her hand out, if there was trouble. “She's going to stay right there unless we get into trouble. We all good now? Cause I'd sure like if you put that laser down.” Morgan sat down in a chair and tried to look non-threatening. “Seems like this ship is in a real pickle, and we need what sane people we can find to stay calm and salvage what we can from this.”
“Real pickle?” Laura whispered from behind her, thinking the guard might be laying on the Aggie roll a bit thick.
“It happened so fast,” the nurse said, lowering her improvised weapon slowly, hands shaking. “I’m Jessie, Jessie Ayers, nurse tech class three.” She swallowed, obviously reliving the previous hour or so of her life.
Laura felt just a little bad for acting like a jerk. She could see why Morgan had slept with her, she was as tall as the guard, but much more slender in build and her dark brown hair had the curly look of someone who’d gotten it sculpted that way.
“You okay Jessie?” Morgan got up and took a chair over to Laura. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Forgot my manners.” Morgan returned and sat down. ”Jessie, is there any medical reason why people would be going off the deep end like this?”
“Medical reason? Not really. I already checked for any sort of biological attack, you know some gasses can cause mass hysteria or hallucinations, but the environmental sensors didn’t show any.” She paced, still holding onto the scalpel and hose, going as far as the hose would let her and then turning around and pacing back. “It thought it was everyone on the ship, but you two are fine, right?”
“Just peachy.” Laura grumbled, rubbing at her forehead and wishing the woman wouldn’t talk so loudly, it hurt her head.
“Other than being bit and shot, I'm good. Uh, Laura has a headache from being slammed into the wall a couple of times, but you all checked her out and said she was fine.” Morgan looked at Jessie. “And you're okay? Not feeling weird?” Morgan got up and went to Laura and started rubbing her neck again. Not even realizing she was doing it.
It felt very good and Laura leaned her head forward, sighing in pleasure as some of the ache went away.
“Fine, I’m fine, no signs of going insane. But then, would you really know if you were going insane?” Jessie closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and trying to keep herself from losing control. “Okay, there has to be a reason the three of us are still here, right? I mean, out of what, eight hundred plus crew, why us three?”
“Our sparkling personalities,” Laura mumbled, raising her head as Morgan’s hands paused. “That didn’t mean stop,” she whispered, plaintively.
Morgan gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Maybe I'm too stupid to know I'm supposed to be insane.” She went back to rubbing Laura's neck. “Well, I got bit and haven't shown any changes so it’s not a virus. The only thing new is we took on that new prisoner.”
“Holy shit.” Laura’s head jerked up. “You’re right. We took on Phoenix at the same time all this started. He’s got to be involved somehow.”
“Phoenix?” Jessie looked from one to the other, confused.
“Oh god, not another one who doesn’t jack into the news,” Laura grumbled, letting her head fall forward again.
Morgan laughed and then looked at Jessie. “Why don't you know about Phoenix? I didn't because I don't have a jack.”
The nurse winced. “It’s personal.”
That caught Laura’s attention and she looked up, questioningly. “How can not knowing the news be personal?”
Jessie shifted uneasily. “I had an accident with my jack and it’s not fully functional yet.”
“There's a guard Reynolds, during a riot he was hit in the head damaged his jack, they weren't ever able to fix it. Good guy, but he's having a hard time adjusting to life without it.” Morgan let her hands go up into Laura's scalp and worked on her head.
Jessie nodded, biting her lip and watching the two of them. “A prisoner got hold of an electrical stunner; he slammed me with it when I was helping do a pre-freeze physical a couple of weeks ago. It damaged the jack. Dr. Chung says they can replace it, but it’ll take a full hospital.”
Under Morgan’s talented fingers – really, where had she learned to give such fantastic massages? –
Laura groaned, the tension in her head easing and the headache becoming more bearable. “Wait,” she said, blinking as she opened her eyes to look at the nervously pacing nurse. “So neither you, nor wonder fingers here have an operating jack? That has to mean something, doesn’t it?”
Morgan blinked and took her hands away. She reached for her radio. “This is Saunders. Reynolds, Vega, Mort, and Froewin please check in if you're still alive?” She looked at Laura. “Yeah but you have one.” She pointed out. “So why aren't you affected? You have some mega virus scan in that thing?”
Laura laughed, brushing her hair back into place and looking at the taller woman amused. “No.” But she did pause, considering the question. “But it’s not really a standard jack,” she said slowly.
The radio crackled and came to life. “This is Reynolds; thank god someone else is alive. Me and Vega have locked ourselves in the supply closet.”
Morgan picked up her radio. “Stay there, I'll radio when I have more information.”
“Mort here, ditto that. I'm locked in my bunk chained my bunk mate to the shower and locked the door.”
Morgan sighed and looked at Laura and Jessie. “Not sure I understand this correctly, but I think there's a virus that is transmitted through the jacks. You're doing okay but that might not last. Is there anything we can do? Upload an anti-virus?” Then there was the power and the fact that prisoners would start coming out of ice soon.
“That’s impossible,” both Laura and Jessie said at the same time and then paused, looking at each other in surprise.
“You can’t hack a person’s brain,” Jessie continued, looking away from Laura, a thoughtful look in her eyes. “It just doesn’t work that way. The jacks have fail safes built into them to keep damage happening to a persons’ brain.”