This is a scifi/uber tale. It has love/sex scenes between consenting adults of the same sex. This tale follows Tango and will make more sense if you read that first. Hopefully.
These characters are mine and any resemblance to characters living, dead, or frozen in ice are purely planned. Thats why we read uber.
Thanks to Teryn (whos nothing, absolutely nothing, like the Teryn in this tale) for beta reading and encouragement, and Kathy for that and more. This story is copyrighted May 2000 by Kerry McCommon.
If you have comments, email me at KerryMcCommon@aol.com and Ill write you back.
By Kerry McCommon
Kay Lazarus walked briskly down the corridor of the officers wing toward her own quarters. Pausing at the door for a retinal scan that allowed the computer to open the door on a voice command, she tugged at the uniform that still felt new to her. She glanced around the room and liked what she saw. The bunk was neatly made and everything else was stowed away and shipshape. She had very little that was personal in her quarters other than a few old fashioned hard copy books on a small shelf next to her bed. They included a book of mythology, a couple of archaeology tomes, a slender volume of poetry, and an old Chinese text of weapons and warfare. Nothing of much interest to a casual reader, but Lazarus had thumbed through them so many times they felt like old friends.
She tugged at the uniform top again and tugged it loose from her breeches in an attempt to make it fit more comfortably. The door chime announced a visitor and she called "Come in," without looking up from the problematic shirt.
"Hi." Kay glanced up and again caught her breath at the beauty that stood in her doorway. Lt. Carter Laughlin leaned against the door obviously amused, watching her struggle. Her sea green eyes were framed by wheat colored hair. Her nose crinkled in the most adorable way when she smiled. "Oh good. Youre getting undressed," she teased Kay.
"Ha," Kay couldnt help but smile at Carter. "No, Im trying to figure out why this uniform is so uncomfortable. Ive become so accustomed to wearing coveralls that it doesnt feel right anymore."
"Well, I think its sexy," Carter walked over to her and started to unbutton the blouse for Kay. She reached up to the taller woman and planted a light kiss on Kays lips. She found herself getting caught in Kays sky blue eyes and the light kiss turned into a deeper more sensual kiss that seriously threatened Carters equilibrium. "You were taking this off, werent you?" she murmured.
"No," Kay smiled at her. "You know Im on duty. Im just taking a break to try to fix this uniform. Its been driving me crazy." At nearly six feet tall, with long, dark hair and ice blue eyes, Kay was simply striking. Generally oblivious to the effect she had on both men and women, she was keenly aware of the effect she had on Carter.
"Why dont you get a mans shirt?" Carter asked. "At least until you can have some made. Womens shirts are cut too short for you." She ran her hands down the front of Kays ill fitting garment as she spoke.
"I cant believe Im back in uniform at all," Kay spoke with wonder in her tone. Having been forced to resign from the Federation a few years back on a trumped up charge, she had distinctly mixed feelings about returning to the service again. Her return had happened so quickly that she hadnt had time to sort through the left over emotional baggage. She never would have agreed to return to the service it wasnt for two things. First, the ongoing conflict with the Ultharians that emphasized the deep space stations dire need of a fighter pilot leader. And second, and most important, Carter Laughlin.
Carter Laughlin had turned Kay Lazaruss world upside down. Lazarus had always been a loner, at least emotionally. Then a few short weeks ago she had met the small lieutenant and in a blinding flash her days of solitude were over. She had been instantly smitten with the woman and despite her half-hearted attempts to resist the temptation, she had fallen quickly and deeply in love. Their connection was unlike anything she had ever dreamed possible. She had been resigned to the idea that she was not meant for love. At thirty-two she had certainly had her share of lovers, both male and female, and had even lived with a couple of them for a while, but she had never been in love. Lucky in cards, unlucky in love. It just wasnt meant to be.
But it was. It had just taken its sweet time getting there, thats all. And it had come in the form of a young career officer in the Federation. A kind of short, really cute officer whose nose crinkled when she smiled and who had a voracious appetite and a disconcerting habit of knowing Kay better than she knew herself sometimes. And who also had a way of making Kay face up to feelings that were not always comfortable.
"Its a good look for you," Carter told her, gently tugging on Kays blouse. "Youll get used to it again. You just havent settled down yet."
Kay nodded. Her journey back to the space station where she had been stationed several years before had been an eventful one. There was the thrilling shock of falling in love. Then the shock of discovering that someone she thought was a friend was not, and the added discovery that someone she thought was an enemy well, that one remained to be seen. All in all, it was unsettling. And then to find herself back in a majors uniform again, however ill fitting, was another surprise. Change had been the only constant in her life since her return to Deep Space Station Zebra.
"Its a temporary assignment," she reminded Carter, who needed no reminder. "Just until the crisis is past." Her expression softened as she gazed on Carter. "At least it allows me time to stay here with you. Thats all I really care about."
Carter searched Kays face intently. Her own current assignment was only scheduled to last a few more weeks and then she either had to reup for four more years or resign. Two months ago she would not have given it any thought. She was on a career fast track that had served her well. A chief communications officer on the bridge at the relatively tender age of twenty-seven was almost unheard of, but Carter was confident of her ability and proud of her progress. Now, everything was different. She was in love.
"Kay," she began tentatively, unsure of how to approach the subject of their future together. "We need to talk about what we want to do I have a decision to make soon." Her color rose and she looked down at her feet. Forcing herself to go ahead with the subject that was constantly on her mind she said, "I need to know what you want from me, what you expect from us." She could feel her cheeks burning.
Kay Lazarus looked at the woman who had become more precious to her than anything she had ever known and felt torn. Yes, she was crazy about this cute, funny, intelligent young woman, but could she ask her to throw everything she had worked for away at the drop of a hat? The Academy was a tough and grueling four years that Carter had admittedly worked for from an early age. She had an impressive resume already. If Lazaruss comeback was truly temporary, then how could she ask Carter to walk away from her lifelong dream to run cargo in deep space with her? It didnt seem fair.
Carters blush deepened as Kay hesitated. "Listen, nevermind. This is a bad time," Carter suddenly felt the blood draining from her face. "I have to get back to the bridge." She turned from Kay and started for the door, profoundly shocked that Kay had hesitated. Apparently her feelings were not on an equal plane with her lovers. She was also deeply embarrassed that she felt tears beginning to well in her eyes despite her vehement orders to herself not to cry.
"Carter, wait a minute," Kay called out to the retreating figure. "Wait! You misunderstood." She appealed in vain to Carters back as she disappeared through the automatic door. "Shit." She buttoned her shirt back up and hurried to the door only to see Carter turn the corner at the end of the corridor. "Damn." She was only on a twenty minute break and had pilots waiting in the ready room for her to return for the afternoons recon flight schedule. Her sense of duty pulled sharply at her, but the distress she felt at causing Carter pain was almost overwhelming. Making her mind up, she sprinted in the direction that Carter had gone.
Turning the corner, she spotted Carter disappearing into her own quarters rather than heading back to the bridge. Kay trotted up to her door and tapped lightly. "Carter?" She listened but didnt hear anything. "Carter, please dont make me stand out here and talk to you. Open up, honey," she spoke softly through the door.
"Come in." Kay barely heard Carter say as the door slid open. She walked into Carters quarters to find the younger woman with her back to her. Kays guilt over causing the woman she loved pain was almost more than she could bear. She walked softly to Carter and placed her hands on her shoulders.
"Sweetheart, Im sorry. You misunderstood my hesitation," Kay spoke softly to Carter who still faced away from her. "Let me just tell you that I want to be with you more than I want anything else in the world. I want to spend my life with you. I just didnt want to say what I wanted at the expense of what you wanted and have worked for so long. I " Words failed her.
Carter wiped her eyes and turned to Kay. "Its okay. Well talk later. We both have work to do now." She visibly drew herself up.
Kays heart was breaking. "Carter, I would never do or say anything intentionally to hurt you. You know that, dont you?" She tentatively reached out to hold Carter who at least didnt resist. She was rewarded with a wan smile.
"Ill talk to you after my shift is over," Carter avoided answering. "I really need to get back." She pulled her hand from Kays and reached up and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "See you later."
"Okay," Lazaruss worried eyes followed Carter out the door. "Way to go, Lazarus," she muttered to herself as she forced herself to head back to work.
The rest of day crept by for Lazarus. She was edgy and short with the pilots who seemed to take her moodiness in stride. Nkwanda Johnson, her second in command among the pilots, looked at her askance once or twice but decided to say nothing until the training runs were at an end. After docking the fighters back in the station, Lt. Johnson sauntered over to Kay. "Everything okay, Major?"
"Oh yeah, fine," Kay responded. Realizing how she sounded, she forced a small smile to her face. "Sorry, Lieutenant. Its a personal problem. Ill shake it off by tomorrow."
Nkwanda hesitated for a moment then plunged ahead. "Want to go have a drink? Ill buy."
Kay shook her head, then abruptly changed her mind. "Yeah. That sounds like a good idea."
"Great!" Nkwanda was a little surprised at her squad leaders acceptance. Kay Lazarus was not known for socializing other than her well known association with the chief communications officer, Lt. Laughlin. On DSSZebra, gossip was one of the main forms of entertainment no matter how hard one attempted to avoid it. Stories about personnel may as well have been uploaded into the mainframe they circulated so quickly, and when it involved someone as intriguing as either Lazarus or Laughlin it made the rounds at lightning speed. The news that they were a couple sent waves of either envy or disappointment through the ranks. But everyone agreed that the well-liked lieutenant had seemed radiant lately, and Major Lazarus had failed to live up to her reputation as a major hardass.
The two women strolled down the corridors to the main concourse where most of the stations legitimate business occurred. "This okay?" Nkwanda gestured toward a small bistro.
"Sure," Lazarus replied, obviously not really caring. Her moroseness had returned despite her earlier attempt to shake it off. Regretting her decision to come to the bar, she nevertheless followed the lieutenant to a small table set in a corner. Nkwanda slid her Personal Information Chip into the slot provided and a holo menu popped up. She informed the holo that she would like a particular Indonesian microbrew, then looked questioningly at Lazarus.
"Uh, the same, I guess," Kay said, absolutely clueless about what she had just ordered.
Nkwanda smiled and placed the order. "Not much of a drinker, huh?"
"Not really," Lazarus admitted. "I like being in control too much. When I was younger I drank occasionally but it rarely seemed worth the price I paid."
"I promise to cut you off before it gets that far," Nkwanda grinned. "Big adjustment being back on the station, isnt it?" A server bot brought their drinks, a dark foamy brew Lazarus looked at skeptically.
"You know everything thats happened to me since Ive been back. Some of its been exceptionally awful, and some of its been well, really great," Kay said, taking a small sip of her drink. "Hey, thats not too bad."
Nkwanda nodded, sipping her own drink. "Yeah, I like a beer occasionally." She slowly twirled the glass on the table. "Its been rough for you, I know." She tried to bring the conversation back to Kay.
"It was hard finding out about Lyra. I thought he was my friend. And it was a hard decision to come back even on a temporary basis after I was forced to resign," Kay said. Nkwanda listened, aware that Kay Lazarus opening up any of her private life was a rare opportunity. "And then theres Carter."
Uh oh, thought Nkwanda, keeping her expression neutral. Trouble in paradise. "Carters a good person," she offered.
Lazaruss entire countenance changed as a slow smile stole onto her face. "Yes, she is," she replied. "I love her."
Nkwanda mentally reached up and shut her jaw which she was sure was hanging open. "Thats great, Major. So whats wrong?" she asked gently.
"Please call me Lazarus or Kay when were off duty," Lazarus told her. "And nothing and everything is wrong."
Nkwanda was sure that this was a day of firsts where Kay Lazarus was concerned. First, she was socializing. Second, she said out loud she was in love. Third, she had a first name. Who knew? Aware of the honor bestowed on her, she watched and waited to see if Kay would continue.
"Nothing is wrong with Carter and me other than bad timing. When I first got here, I was hauling cargo and I was only going to be here long enough for upgrades to be installed and to have my supplies restocked. Then we met," the loopy smile crept over her face once again and Nkwanda took a sip of her drink to hide her own smile. "And everything changed. The Ultharian attack on Gamma colony, the attack on the station, me being assigned as a civilian to the fighter squad. My name being cleared," Kay frowned. "So here I am, temporarily back on duty until they decide to keep me or I decide to leave."
"So whats the problem?"
"Carters four years here are up soon. My future is undecided. She wants to know where I stand. I dont want her to throw her career away, shes worked so hard, but I dont want to lose her either." The pain of this thought was sudden and excruciating. "I just dont know what to do," Kay ended sounding more deflated than when she started.
"What does Carter think?" Nkwanda asked sensibly.
Lazarus looked at her. "I dont really know." Nkwanda continued to look at her as if she were a recalcitrant child refusing to learn a lesson. "I guess I should ask her, huh?"
"I guess you should," Nkwanda replied with a twinkle. "You dont really like that beer. Leave it with me and go talk to your woman."
Lazarus laughed for the first time that day. "Thanks, Nkwanda."
"Youre welcome, Kay," Nkwanda replied sweetly.
Carter sighed as she left the comm station on the bridge that afternoon. Ever since she had inadvertently gotten on the wrong side of Major Joan Warren, the Executive Officer, Carter had not exactly avoided her but had not purposefully sought her out either. Today her XO had been in charge on the bridge while the CO had a rare afternoon off. The XO had not spoken to Carter other than to issue normal commands, but Carter had felt the tension between them all day. Relieved that the day was finally drawing to a close, and still feeling sick at heart about her earlier conversation with Kay, Carter was exhausted. Running her hand through her blond shoulder length hair, she moved wearily to her quarters. Pausing for the retinal scan to allow her entry, she glanced down the corridor toward Kays quarters. Disappointed on some level that Kay wasnt waiting for her, she entered her room and glanced at the terminal. No messages. Shit. This day was getting worse by the minute.
Carter shed her uniform and pulled on a loose pair of trousers and a tunic. She walked to the small replicator and said, "Coffee. Extra cream, extra sugar." What the hell. Picking up the hot mug, she sipped gingerly at it. Oh, that was good. Nothing lifted the spirits like a good caffeine and sugar infusion. Turning back to her terminal, she said, "Contact Major Lazarus."
"Major Lazarus is unavailable. Would you like to leave a message?" the neutral voice of the central computer informed her.
"Yes," Carter responded. A small light on her terminal blinked letting her know that her message was being recorded. "Hi Kay," she looked at the monitor. "Call me when you get in please. I need to talk to you. See you later."
She felt bad about their conversation earlier in the day. She worried that she had pushed Kay ahead of where they were in their relationship. The only way that Carter knew to handle the uncomfortable situation was by talking. That was something she was normally good at doing, although there were times when she found herself tongue-tied around a certain blue-eyed major she was rather fond of. She smiled to herself at the thought of Kay Lazarus. No matter what transpired between them, she was sure they could sort through it. If she had to wait forever for Kay to make up her mind, then shed wait. Shed do what she had to do. Kay was The One.
A light tap on her door brought her out of her reverie. "Come in," she called and the door slid open. Kay Lazarus paused in the open doorway and looked at Carter cautiously.
"Can I come in?" She asked Carter who melted at the sight of her. Kay had stopped by her own quarters and quickly changed out of her uniform into a deep blue tunic and black trousers. Deciding to bypass the comm system she walked directly to Carters quarters. Standing there now with her long dark hair loose on her shoulders, her ice blue eyes reflecting the love she felt, Kay Lazarus was a balm to Carters weary spirit. "I should have called you first," she said.
Instead of answering, Carter walked to Kay and wrapped her arms around the taller woman. Both of them heaved a sigh of relief that the day had come to this. Kay pulled back a little and looked down at Carter. "Im sorry," they both said at the same time.
"Me first," Carter said, putting a finger on Kays mouth when she tried to interrupt. Kay bit her lightly, and grinned at her through perfect white teeth. "I mean it," Carter scolded. "Ive been unhappy all day. I have to tell you that I didnt mean to push you earlier. You have every right to take all the time you need with this relationship. Let go of my finger."
"Sorry," Kay said, setting free said digit. "I dont have to think about what I want, Carter. Ive known from the moment I met you. I guess what I need to know is what do you want? I dont know why it never occurred to me to just ask."
"No," replied Carter. "I dont know why it never occurred to you either. Im pretty accessible, I think. Im also pretty sure my heart is right here on my sleeve in case youre interested in knowing about it." She felt a curious mixture of tenderness and annoyance toward her lover. "We have to work on communication skills, Kay. I can get through anything if I know were okay, but my whole day is shot if Im worried about you."
"Yeah, it was a rotten day," Kay agreed. She held Carters hand as she walked her over to the bed and sat down. "So talk to me. Tell me what you want to do."
Carter took a deep breath. "I cant believe I dont have mixed feelings about this, but I dont. I just want to be with you, Kay. If you dont want to stay on Zebra then Ill resign my commission. If you do want to stay then I have to ask you to make a commitment of at least four years and Ill reup. I dont care if were hauling garbage as long as I can be with you."
"But Carter, youve worked so hard to get this far. If we choose to leave here youll lose it all," Kay protested the younger womans sacrifice.
"Kay, as far as I know, Ive worked this hard to get here to meet you. You, at the risk of sounding truly sappy, are my destiny," Carter spoke softly.
I hardly know what to say," murmured Kay, her eyes searching Carters face and finding exactly what she wanted.
"Thats the communication thing I want to work on," Carter lightly teased. "Say what you mean. Thats all I ask."
"In that case, I love you. I think Id like to stay on the station if it feels right." It felt to Lazarus like a terrible risk to say that out loud. "Well work this out. Ill talk to Captain DeForest and find out where my reinstatement stands. Ill tell him I need to know as soon as possible," Kay ran her hands down Carters back where they settled on her hips. Looking into Carters eyes, she felt the now familiar tingle running down to her belly. "Forgive me."
"Nothing to forgive," whispered Carter, reaching her lips up to Kays.
Joan Warren stood in front of the Commanding Officers desk giving him the daily reports. A minor skirmish reported by security on the concourse between two merchants, incoming cargo ships, outgoing passenger ships, the usual in other words, were all quickly reported and dismissed.
"The interesting news is still the space anomaly in Sector 12. Astrophysics still thinks its a new wormhole forming. Latest is that its still too unstable for a probe to get through and back again, but theyre keeping close tabs on it," Warren informed Captain James DeForest. The formation of a wormhole was gigantic scientific news and the military implications could be equally valuable. Astrophysics had infected the entire station with excitement.
DeForest didnt bother to contain his glee. "If theyre correct about this we should be swamped with Federation personnel and resources. The Federation will spare no expense for this opportunity." It was no secret that Deep Space Station Zebra was often shortchanged when it came to the military budget. Out of sight, out of mind, seemed to be their reasoning despite the fact that Zebra was their first line of defense against the Ultharian front. DeForest was distressed at how much of his time went toward battling bureaucracy trying to fight for better funding and more people.
"Yes, sir," Warren was pleased to see the CO looking a little more relaxed after his day off the bridge. "Will there be anything else, sir?"
"Actually I wanted to talk to you about Lazarus," DeForest said, watching the XOs reaction carefully.
"Yes, sir?" Warren never twitched.
"You know Im trying to petition for her reinstatement," he continued. "And I wanted to be sure you could work with her, Joan. I know there have been some hard feelings, but we need both of you right now. I dont need trouble on my senior staff in light of everything else thats going on."
"Ive spoken with Lazarus, Captain," Warren informed him. "Briefly, but I believe that Ive taken responsibility for my mistakes and I think we have a starting place. Ill talk to her again."
After years of animosity between the two senior officers, DeForest was surprised that Warren seemed so calm, but was pleased by her response. He was not sure what caused their rift to begin with and didnt want to know. He just wanted peace on his bridge. "I appreciate that," he allowed his pleasure to show. "See you tomorrow morning."
"Good night, sir," Warren exited his office and turned toward her quarters, allowing her composure to relax revealing a face that was a study in unhappiness.
Carter untied Kays tunic and pushed it back on her shoulders. The tunic was cooperative enough to fall to the floor while Carter ran her hands up Kays ribs to her breasts. "I love you," Carter murmured to Kay. Kay moaned and leaned over to kiss Carter, lightly biting her lower lip. Kay pushed Carter back on the bed and reached her hands inside Carters tunic, which she then pulled over Carters head and tossed aside. Lying on top of her, her breasts pressed against Carters, was as close to heaven as she ever hoped to get. Wondering what she had done to deserve such happiness, they kissed deeply, Kays hands running up Carters compact body to her breasts. At Carters moan, Kay squeezed lightly only to feel Carters hips rising to meet her own. Kissing her way down her lovers body, she unfastened Carters trousers and pulled them off. Gazing at the loveliness of the body before her, she was unable to stifle her sharp intake of breath at the sight of Carter drawing her knees up slowly.
"Take your pants off," Carter demanded in a voice that Kay had quickly learned to love. She complied. Kay kicked her pants to the side and dropped to her knees at the side of the bed. Running her hands lightly up and down her thighs, Kay spread Carters knees wider opening her lover up to complete access. Gazing at the sight before her, Kay ran her tongue down the inside of Carters leg, nipping lightly at the sensitive skin. Carters hips involuntarily rose up at the same time that she moaned, "Now, please." Unable to torment Carter any longer after this sweet plea, Kay moved her tongue and fingers where Carter really wanted them and delighted in the sounds and movement and smells and taste that issued from this woman who had changed her life.
Naked, eating replicated Japanese food in Carters small bunk, Carter laughed as Kay once again dropped her bite of synthetic raw tuna from her chopsticks. "I guess I dont like raw fish," Kay said, dismayed at both her failure and the mess she was making of Carters already wrecked bed.
"Its not really raw fish," Carter laughed, knowing Kay knew that as well as she did. "At least you dont feel like its trying to swim upstream after you eat it." She stretched her foot out and ran it up Kays leg, locking eyes with her. God, she loved this woman. Watching Kays eyes turn from ice to smoke gave Carter a sense of sexual power that she had never felt before. The idea that this gorgeous woman wanted her to the exclusion of all others was the best aphrodisiac shes ever had. "You through?" Without waiting for an answer, Carter took the hapless chopsticks from her lovers hand and somehow managed to move all the food out of the way before she once again appeased her real appetite.
Captain James DeForest shuffled through the reports on his desk, reading them but not really taking in the information. His latest communiqué from Command Headquarters on Mars was one more bull-headed, blasted, arrogant message from someone who should have never made it past Officious Clerk, let alone into a position of command. No doubt some pursed lipped tightass who really, really enjoyed being able to tell a space station commander "No." DeForest took a deep breath and swallowed his anger, forcing his mind to think of nothing. Waiting for the calmness that followed, he sat very still until the entry chime announced a visitor.
"Come in," he deliberately evened out his tone, dismissing his irritation
"Morning, Captain," Lazarus entered the room followed closely by the rest of the command staff. They settled around the large conference table that dominated the room. DeForest noticed with amusement that Lazarus never sat in the same seat twice. Whether that was to consciously ruffle feathers or simply beneath her level of thought was the question. He refrained from smiling at the glimpse of annoyance that passed over the Chief Engineers face as Lazarus sat unconcerned in his usual seat to the right of the commanders chair. The Chief Engineer, whose real name was Chester Androlly, was simply known as Chief. He was a serious man capable of wildly creative thinking where the space station was concerned. The fact that he had been born and reared in the artificial atmosphere of Mars lent an interesting purple cast to his otherwise dark features.
Also present for the command staff meeting were the Executive Officer Joan Warren, the new warrant officer Major Kevlan Dumas, the chief medical officer Michaela Buchanan, and the senior communications officer Carter Laughlin. "A good group," DeForest thought as he watched them settle around the table. With the exception of Lazarus and Warren, there had been little dissension among his command staff, and hopefully that was behind them now. DeForest settled himself at the head of the table wondering briefly why Lazarus had never taken his chair and how he would react if she did.
"Something funny, sir?" Lazarus asked.
"Uh, no," he replied. "Lets get to it. Start us off, Major Dumas."
New to the station, Kevlan Dumas had been recently promoted to major and had accepted the position of Warrant Officer after the unfortunate incident with John Lyra, the previous security chief. DeForest felt like Dumas was a perfect fit for the job: a man who had had his difficulties but had persisted and knew both sides of the law pretty well. "Ive been reviewing staff and procedures and have implemented a few changes to the cargo and civilian teams. I introduced myself to the security staff my first day on duty. Told em the first one to pronounce my name dumb ass would find out pretty quickly that there are lower positions than ensign."
The rest of the staff laughed and felt Dumas would blend very nicely into this group. The meeting continued with all senior officers reporting on their own field of expertise. When all were done DeForest turned to the XO and asked, "Whats the news on the anomaly?"
Joan Warren smiled taking years off her normally serious face. "I received pretty exciting news from astrophysics right before the meeting started. The wormhole, and that is whats forming, has stabilized to the point where we think its feasible to send a probe through." A murmur of excitement arose around the table. "I think at this point it would be wise to send a runabout to the general area and launch the probe from the runabout. Data wouldnt have as far to travel and it might be nice to have a first hand look at it."
"Agreed," DeForest said. "Arrange for the away team to go as soon as possible. We need to know how this will effect us and if the Ultharians will have any military interest in it also."
"Ill pick the team today, Captain," Warren said.
"If thats all, dismissed," DeForest said. "Lazarus, if youd stay for a moment please."
Carter glanced at Lazarus who shrugged slightly and then smiled. "Later," Carter mouthed at Kay and headed toward the bridge for the Alpha shift.
Lazarus waited patiently for DeForest to say what he wanted. After what seemed a reasonable amount of time, she cleared her throat quietly. DeForest walked to terminal and said, "Play command message 1463."
An ensigns face appeared on the viewscreen. "Captain DeForest, this message is from Commander Northrup. He said to tell you that at this time your request about Major Lazarus is denied pending further investigation." The young man had the decency to look abashed. "Im sorry, sir. Thats the end of the message." His image disappeared.
Lazarus remained impassive. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." She turned to leave the room before her inner turmoil showed itself to the space station captain.
"Wait a minute, Major," DeForest spoke softly. "I know this is a disappointment but Ill go over Northrups head on this. Its that important."
"Sir, I cant ask you to do that. Hell make your life miserable, and consequently, that of the entire station. Its really doesnt serve the greater good," Lazarus spoke firmly. "There are people who can perform my job. Lt. Johnson has progressed very nicely over the last few weeks."
"Sometimes you have to pick your fights, Lazarus," DeForest said simply. "This is right. A grave injustice was done and I have a chance to rectify it. Youre still on duty. Dismissed, Major."
Lazarus met the eyes of a leader who had made his mind up. Recognizing his determination, she saluted and left the Captains office, reeling at the repeated rejection of an organization she had wanted to devote her life to at one point. Now what? If it had just involved her, she would have shed her uniform and walked straight back to her ship Tango and have been gone within the hour. But now one very attractive lieutenant complicated her life. Once again she questioned whether it was right to space Carters career along with her already trashed career. Maybe she should just leave and save them both the trouble.
Carter wondered why her lover had been asked to stay behind to speak to the CO after the command staff meeting was over, but soon dismissed the thought from her mind as the Alpha shift began. She greeted Lt. Annie Woo, the Gamma shift communications officer who briefed Carter and then wearily left the bridge. Carter scanned the log for the previous two shifts, looking for anything out of the ordinary. She ran a diagnostics program on the bridge comm center and then performed a visual inspection of the equipment. Lt. Carter Laughlin was an excellent engineer in her own right. She was checking the diagnostics results when the XO walked to her station.
"I want you on the away team to check out the wormhole, Lieutenant," Joan Warren informed her. "Report to the shuttle bay at 1300 hours. Well be out for about three days."
"Aye, Major," Carter replied, wincing at the "we" and wondering who else would be on the team. If Lazarus wasnt included she would miss her badly. Plus she would be trapped on the small runabout for three days with her XO, a woman she had a polite relationship with at best. Probably Lazarus wasnt included, she thought glumly. Warren was in charge of personnel assignments, and there was no way she would want Lazarus along. Probably another engineer and a science officer would be the extent of the away team. She assumed Warren would pilot the shuttle herself.
At 1200 hours, Carter was excused from duty to prepare for the away mission. She immediately tapped into the nearest terminal. "Contact Major Lazarus."
Lazaruss face appeared. "Hi," she greeted Carter.
"Why are you in your quarters in the middle of your shift?" Carter noted the background and asked, her mind racing in different directions.
"Im packing," Lazarus informed her.
Carters heart sank. Oh God. She was leaving her. Her reinstatement had been denied and she was leaving her. How could she look so calm when Carters world had just shattered into a million pieces? She felt her head swimming and for a moment thought she was going to pass out.
"Are you all right?" Lazarus finally looked concerned.
"Yeah," Carter managed to croak out, silently demanding that her head stop spinning.
"Carter, if you dont feel well maybe you should ask Warren to replace you on this away mission. I sure would miss you though," Lazaruss voice took on a wistful quality that Carter thought was adorable.
"No, no, Im good," Carter said, feeling a new lightheadedness coming on. "Youre assigned to the away team?" She was mentally giving herself a swift kick for leaping to stupid conclusions. Of course Kay wouldnt just leave her.
"Sure," Lazarus grinned at her. "They need a pilot and Im the best theyve got."
"Are you sure that youll be able to fit your head in through the hatch?" Carter was feeling much better.
"If I cant Im sure you can cut me down to size," Lazarus laughed and warmed Carters heart. "Youd better hurry. Weve got to be in the shuttle bay in less than an hour. I stopped and got you a sandwich."
"You are so sweet," Carter was touched by her lovers thoughtfulness.
"Keep it to yourself," Lazarus pretended to growl. "I have a reputation to consider."
Carter signed off and hurried to her quarters. She quickly threw a few items in her Federation bag and dashed out the door to run into Kay. "Oof, She grunted as she ran into Lazaruss hard body.
"Come back inside for a minute," Kay said in a voice Carter instantly recognized.
"Honey, we dont have time," Carter protested as her body betrayed her words by entering into her quarters again. As the door slid shut behind them Kay pushed her against the nearest wall and pressed her lips fiercely against Carters. Carter groaned and dropped her bag. Kays hands took on a life of their own and they roamed up and down her lovers body. "Oh God, baby," Carter murmured as her own hands reached for Lazaruss buttons.
"Youre right, we dont have time," Lazarus replied wickedly. "I just wanted to give you something to think about for the next three days while were stuck in a shuttle with two other people."
"Oh, Im going to have to hurt you badly," Carter leaned against Lazarus until she felt her strength returning to her knees. "Like Id forget?"
Lazarus laughed and kissed her again, this time without the urgency. "Ready?"
"Youll never know how ready," Carter replied.
"Ill bet I do."
Entering shuttle bay 1, Carter was pleased to see a junior officer, Lt. Denise Dobbs from engineering waiting for the rest of the team to arrive. Dobbs was a fun person to hang around with, kind of a wild child in Carters opinion, but a hell of an engineer. There was no sign of the fourth member of the team.
"Hey Dobbsy," Carter grinned at her. "You coming along on this trip?"
"Hell yes," Dobbs grinned back at Carter, her Alabama accent evoking smiles from the two women. "I caint imagine why she picked me but Im glad for any reason to get off this tub for a couple of days. Im goin stir crazy."
"Its hard to think that being cooped up in a shuttle with three other people would alleviate cabin fever," Carter remarked.
"Any change of scenery will do," Dobbs replied with a twinkle. "You know how easily I get bored." Dobbs was famous or possibly infamous depending on who you talked to, for leaving a long string of broken hearts behind her. "And this is a nice change of scenery," she eyed Lazarus. "How do you do, Major? Im Dobbs."
Carter jumped in before Lazarus could respond. "This is Major Lazarus, Dobbsy. Shes our pilot." The hand that was placed obviously and possessively on Lazarus arm informed Dobbs that Lazarus more than just a pilot to Carter. Kay looked down at Carters hand and an eyebrow edged up slightly.
"Nice to meet you, Lieutenant," she shook hands with the young woman.
"Too bad youre going to be so busy, you know, being a pilot and all," she cut her laughing eyes at Carter. "We might coulda had some fun together. I guess its a good thing I brought crossword puzzles."
Carter smirked slightly as Dobbs sighed dramatically and adopted a hangdog expression. They all turned as the shuttle bay door slid open once again and the XO walked toward them carrying a small bag. Uh oh, thought Lazarus. This doesnt bode well.
"Are we ready?" Major Warren stepped on the gangplank leading into the shuttle. The other three women followed her, Lazarus and Laughlin glancing at each other. Lazarus managed a small smile and Carter returned it with an effort. Joan Warren was the chief science officer so she certainly had every right to head this away team.
Lazarus settled into the pilots seat and began the pre-launch sequence. Dobbs moved to the area where the probe was stored and began running diagnostics on the equipment. Carter started stowing gear. Her real work would start when the probe began sending back information from the wormhole. Warren strapped herself in next to Lazarus at the shuttle control panel.
"Everybody strapped in?" Lazarus asked. "Two minutes." Dobbs and Carter settled in the rear seats and waited. The large cargo doors opened and they heard the whoosh of decompression and felt the shuttle lift smoothly and glide cleanly through the doors. Lazarus banked the shuttle away from the space station and input the coordinates of the wormhole sector. "Were underway," she said. "Be there in about sixteen hours." She monitored the ever-changing readouts on the control panel while Dobbs and Carter unstrapped themselves. Dobbs returned to her probe and Carter made busy work for herself. Each woman felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of the XO, Lazarus and Carter because of the personal history between Warren and Lazarus, and Dobbs because she had fallen afoul of the XO on a few occasions. Secretly, Lt. Dobbs amused the XO endlessly, but Dobbs would never know that.
Dobbs hummed tunelessly as she entered data onto her padd and Carter glanced at her. "How do you even hum with an Alabama accent?" she asked quietly.
"Just skill, I guess," Dobbs replied. "I have lots of talent you dont know anything about, Carter. Not yet, anyway," she grinned.
Carter laughed. Dobbss flirting came as easily as breathing came to most people. She flirted with everyone: men, women, superior officers, or the maintenance crew. It had gotten her in trouble and brought her many adventures, but it was part of her make-up and she could no more change than a jaguar could change his spots.
The crew lapsed into silence, each woman busy with her own thoughts. Finally there was no more work to be manufactured, and they settled down to wait until early morning when they would arrive at the wormhole. "Why dont you let me pilot while you take a dinner break?" Warren formed a question but it really wasnt a request.
"Okay," Lazarus replied. The shuttle was on auto anyway and scans showed nothing unusual in the area. She got up from the seat and stretched her long frame, noting that she had the rapt attention of both Carter and Dobbs. She grinned at Carter. Dobbs sighed again and went back to her crossword puzzle.
"Whats for dinner?" Lazarus asked, knowing it made little difference. The replicator on board was capable of only limited menus, all of which tasted remarkably similar.
"Shit on a shingle," Dobbs drawled. She frowned at her crossword puzzle."Hey, whats another word for synonym?"
"Youre soo funny, Dobbsy," Carter groaned, but was unable to keep the smile from her face. Lazarus laughed at both of them and sat as close as she could to Carter. Carter felt a thrill chase up her spine from Lazaruss leg touching her own. She looked at her lover, captured by the intensity of those eyes.
"Oh, dont bother," cracked Dobbs. "Ill be more than happy to get everybodys supper ready." She heaved herself to her feet with a great show of being put upon. "Yall just keep on doin whatever it is youre doin."
Carter rolled her eyes and got up to help. Lazarus leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Thoughts kept chasing each other in circles in her imagination. She still hadnt had a chance to tell Carter about the results of DeForests petition for reinstatement. She wondered if Warren knew. She wondered if DeForest really could succeed going over Northrups head and what the eventual price would be for that act. She wondered what would happen to Carter and her if DeForest didnt succeed. She wondered Oh for Petes sake. What was the point of all this? Tomorrow was just a dream. Focus on the job at hand and let tomorrow take care of itself. A thousand things could happen between then and now. Focus.
The next thing she knew Carter was touching her shoulder and telling her dinner was ready. Good job focusing, Lazarus, she thought. I fell asleep in about three seconds. Carter squeezed her shoulder and smiled at her. That would be about the extent of their personal interactions for the duration of this trip, Lazarus thought with regret. The three women ate their food indifferently and then Lazarus returned to the front to relieve Warren so she could eat. The XO had been abnormally quiet the entire trip so far and now she made her way to the back of the shuttle positioning herself so as not to invite conversation.
Warren split the night into two shifts, she and Dobbs taking the first shift, Lazarus and Laughlin taking the second. Lazarus was grateful they were the only two qualified pilots on board so that she wasnt forced to sit through a shift with Warren in such close quarters. She did feel a small pang of pity for Dobbs who was at least cautious enough not to openly pout. Pulling down two of the small bunks in the back of the shuttle, Lazarus winked at Carter and climbed into one of them. Carter contented herself with a smoldering look and mouthed "I love you" at Lazarus who rewarded her with a look of her own. Carter settled down on her hard bunk and fell quickly asleep. Lazarus watched her for a while and then drifted off.
Warren hesitated, then reached down and touched Lazarus on the shoulder. Kays eyes instantly flew open and Warren jumped a little. "Your watch," she said softly and turned away. Lazarus sat up and stretched, then stood over Carters bunk where she lay, her breathing steady and deep. Lazarus smiled and leaned down. "Wake up, baby," she spoke softly, not caring who heard. Carters eyes didnt open but she smiled and reached up to Lazarus. "Were on watch," Lazarus forestalled her.
"Oh," Carter opened her eyes, remembering where she was. She sat up on the edge of the narrow bunk and Dobbs plopped down next to her.
"Move over, Blondie," she yawned. "Im pooped." Carter forced herself to stand and Dobbs immediately fell down on the bunk and started to snore.
Carter shook her head. "Thats Lt. Blondie to you, Alabama."
Lazarus already had the conn and to Carter looked as if she were born piloting a ship. Carter admired her for a moment until Lazarus felt her eyes on her. "Come sit," Lazarus patted the seat next to her. Carter was happy to oblige, turning around occasionally to check on their passengers, waiting until she was sure they were both sleeping before she leaned over and kissed her partner.
"Ive been wanting to do that for hours," she whispered. "I had a dream about you." She wore a puzzled look as she tried to dredge the bits of dream from her memory.
"Oh yeah?" Lazarus leered at her.
"Not that kind of dream," Carter waved her off. "Dont distract me. Im trying to remember." She frowned in concentration. "It was outside, on Earth. We were riding horses, and you had a baby on your back in a sling, I think. And we were wearing weird clothes. I was practically naked, but I didnt care. And you had on some kind of leather thing. It was sexy. You know, the blue eyes, the leather."
Lazarus felt a jolt of déjà vu as Carter spoke and shot a look at her. "A baby, huh? Im not sure if that qualifies as a dream or a nightmare."
"You dont like kids?" Carter asked carefully.
Lazarus hesitated. "I guess. I never gave it a lot of thought. The nightmare part would be having me as a mother."
Carter lapsed into silence and Lazarus felt as if she had disappointed her in some fundamental way. "You want kids?"
"I dont know. A cat would be nice."
"I never gave kids a lot of thought actually." Carter kept her gaze firmly fixed on the stars streaking by.
Lazarus felt a sense of relief wash over her. "I want you to be happy and if you want to have a whole ship full of kids or cats, then I guess we will." She reached over and took Carters hand.
Carter kept her eyes glued to the passing stars. She sat in silence, aware of Kays occasional glance in her direction. She finally said, "Tell me about growing up in California."
Lazarus spoke haltingly at first, unused to talking about herself, then gained momentum as memories of her mother returned. The hours passed slowly as they spoke quietly and crept closer to their destination. About an hour out, Lazarus turned to Carter and said, "I guess wed better wake them." Carter was running a constant scan on the surrounding area and nodded agreement but didnt get up. She punched in some new data and frowned.
"What do you make of this?" she asked Lazarus. "This looks like it might be an alien warp signature up ahead."
Lazarus looked at the screen and switched on the yellow alert. "It could just be interference from the wormhole, but wake up Warren, will you?" The yellow alert automatically began recording and storing all incoming data while transferring the same back to the station. Carter stood and turned but saw that Joan Warren was already up and waking Dobbs. Carter moved back and allowed the Major to take over the co-pilot seat.
"What do we have here?" Warren asked softly, manipulating the scan for a finer definition of the data. "Still too far away to tell." She eyed Lazarus speculatively. "I think whatever is giving us these readings is heading in the vicinity of the wormhole. Be nice if we got there first."
Lazarus grinned. "Then we will. Dobbsy, how much power can you get us without taxing the warp core?"
"If its speed you want, sister, uh, Major, I can give it to you. Ill divert a little power from the shields and you can take her up to warp six."
"Thats Major Sister to you, Dobbs. Tweak it and give me warp six."
The shuttle streaked toward the wormhole. "Its an Ultharian warp signature, Major," Carter informed her XO. "Its a starbird class." The starbird class was an Ultharian cross between a fighter and a science probe. It was no faster than the shuttle but it was larger and had superior weapon and research capabilities.
"Return full power back to the shields, Lt. Dobbs," Joan Warren said. "How far away, Lieutenant?"
"Id say were at least an hour ahead of them, Major," Carter informed her.
"Thats enough time to send the probe through," Lazarus said.
"Lets do it then," Warren agreed. "Lt. Dobbs, as soon as were in range, activate the probe."
"Aye, Major," Dobbs was all business now. "Well be in range in three minutes."
The probe was designed to begin gathering information as soon as it entered the wormhole, which now loomed in front of them, sending data back to both the shuttle and the deep space station. "Ready to launch, Major," Dobbs said.
"Go ahead," Warren told her. They watched as the small cylindrical probe shot into the swirling vortex of the wormhole.
"Estimated retrieval in about twenty minutes," Dobbs told them.
"I want to shut down all unnecessary systems," Lazarus said. "Lets hide our presence from the Ultharian scans as long as possible."
"No, I dont think thats a good idea," Warren replied. "I want to be ready to run if we have to." She turned and walked toward the aft of the shuttle.
Carter and Dobbs both froze momentarily awaiting Lazaruss reaction. Lazarus shrugged her shoulders. "Its your call," she said softly. The three women waited in silence as data began to pour back from the probe. Carter was busy analyzing the information about the wormholes organization but she could feel the tension radiating off her lover.
Carter reached over and patted Lazaruss hand, giving her an encouraging smile. Looking back to her screens, she frowned. "Kay, Im getting an energy reading Im not familiar with."
Warren hurried back to the console and peered over Carters shoulder. Dobbs and Lazarus watched as the odd reading blipped across the screens. Suddenly Lazarus reached forward and punched the shuttle sending it shooting across the black sky. "It has an Ultharian signature," she said as Warren and Dobbs attempted to keep their feet beneath them. "Hang on." She quickly worked the controls of the shuttle taking evasive actions against the incoming Ultharian threat.
"What is it?" Carter asked.
"I dont know. But I assume its not a good thing," Lazarus smiled grimly. Dobbs suddenly went sailing through the cabin and Warren barely hung on as the velocity of the shuttle came to an abrupt halt. "What the hell is this?" Lazarus growled. "I think they have us in a tractor beam." She battled the controls.
"Theres no such thing from this distance," Warren said.
"Well Ill be sure to ask them for the specifics as soon as I see them," Lazarus snarled. "Carter, try to pinpoint this energy reading. Dobbs, give me all the power to the main thrusters. Ill see if we can pull free."
The women worked quickly and silently for minute. "Ive diverted all available power to the thrusters, Major," Dobbs told Lazarus.
"Im going to punch it. Hang on," Lazarus slammed all power to the thrusters. The shuttle strained and groaned against the pull of the energy beam with no results. The shuttle began to shudder in its effort to break free.
"Hull integrity is collapsing," Carter said.
"Power down," Joan Warren told Lazarus.
"No," Lazarus replied. The shuttle shook harder.
"Were going to break up," Warren raised her voice to be heard over the grinding of the shuttle.
"Not yet," Lazarus said. The tension on the shuttles integrity was as hard as the tension on the womens nerves.
"Power down, Lazarus. Thats an order," Warren spoke firmly. "Well think of something else."
Carter glanced at her lover, trusting her judgment about piloting the shuttle implicitly. She was not so sure about her judgment concerning Joan Warren however. Lazarus had the oddest look of enjoyment on her face. Carter realized she liked the predicament they were in and she liked battling wills with the XO. She sighed and tried to ignore her fear of breaking apart in space.
"Ill hang you for this, Lazarus," Warren snarled at her just as the shuttle broke free of the energy beam.
"You are hot stuff, girl," Dobbs laughed. "I thought wed bought the farm on that one."
"We arent out of trouble yet," Carter said. "Here they come."
The Ultharian starbird shot into view. Its sleek lines belied its reputation as a research ship. "Evasive action," Warren told Lazarus, but she had already begun to swing the shuttle about and begin standard evasive maneuvers. The shuttle was hit by the first round fired at it and all the women braced for the impact.
"Shields down to 50%," Carter told Lazarus.
"Return fire," Lazarus looked at her lover, knowing she had never shot at a target other than an unfortunate meteorite.
Carter never hesitated as she input the automatic firing information and returned fire on the pursuing vessel. "They took a hit but little damage," Carter checked her scans.
"Keep firing and hold them back. Ill try to " Lazaruss words were lost as another blast from the starbird rocked the small shuttle.
"Shields are offline," Carter tried to keep the panic from her voice.
Lazarus quickly swung the shuttle about and headed toward the wormhole. "Were going in," she announced. The shuttle sped toward the wormhole with the starbird closely in pursuit. Carter felt the shuttle groan in protest as it entered the turbulence of the unstable wormhole. The shuttle began to spin and everything went black.
Carter watched as Kay slowly pulled her tunic down off her shoulders. Standing naked before her, the desire in her eyes was unmistakable. Carter moaned involuntarily as her lover slowly moved over to where she lay and leaned down over her. Her hot breath caressed her cheek and then she began licking her face ? And panting really loud? This was unusual. No, Carter wasnt so sure she liked it but if Kay wanted
Carter shook herself awake and found herself staring into the soulful brown eyes of a young canine that was kind enough to lick her face once again. "Jeez," she wiped her face in disgust. "I hate dog spit." She knew something was off kilter but for a few seconds couldnt remember what was wrong. She sat up as a vision of a starbird and a wormhole came crashing back into her memory. She was still on board the shuttle, lying in a bunk, but the hatch was open and daylight was streaming in. Kay was sitting next to her, asleep sitting up.
"Hey," Carter reached over and touched Kay on the arm. Her head jerked up and her eyes locked onto Carters.
"Oh, thank god youre okay," Kays voice cracked with relief. She enfolded Carter in a huge hug, rocking her slightly, pulling back and looking in her face, then engulfing her again. Carters mind swirled with questions but at the moment being held by Kay Lazarus answered the most pressing one. They were alive, somehow. Kay pulled back again and kissed Carter.
"All right you two. Knock it off or share," Dobbss Alabama accent never failed to make Carter smile.
"Where the hell are we?" Carter finally managed to get out. "And who is this?" She pointed at the small canine.
"Thats the $64,000 question, isnt it?" Dobbs replied. "But wherever it is, it caint be all bad if theres dogs there. Come here fella," she called the pup.
"His mothers probably the size and disposition of a grizzly and is going to eat us any minute," Lazarus sat the pup on the floor and he hurried to Dobbs. She looked at Carter. "Hows your head feel?"
"Not too bad," Carter assessed the situation. Her recent concussion had been cause for alarm but this was nothing along those lines. "Im still confused though. Where are we?"
"We aint in Kansas anymore, Toto," Dobbs laughed. "But instead of over the rainbow, were through the wormhole."
"We took a direct hit right before we escaped through the wormhole," Lazarus told her. "By some supreme stroke of luck, we found a class M planet and sort of crash landed on it."
"What does sort of crash landed" mean?"
Lazarus looked at her ruefully. "Were stuck here. What wasnt damaged in the attack took a beating when we entered the atmosphere and landed."
"Thank your lucky stars we had a hell of a pilot on board," Dobbs said seriously. "No one else could have gotten us down alive."
"I dont know about that," Lazarus dismissed the praise. "And besides, what have we gotten into? Who knows what, if any, sentient life is here? Or if theres sufficient food and shelter."
Carter gazed around the cabin in disbelief. She spotted Major Warren lying on the opposite bunk. "She okay?"
Lazarus glanced over at her. "She took a bump on the head too. And she has a broken arm. I reset it and splinted it. I gave her an injection of painkiller and antibiotics. Shell live." She spoke with disinterest.
"Okay," Carter changed the subject. "Whats next?" She stretched her head over and felt her neck give a satisfying crack. "Oh that felt good." She stood, Kays hand holding onto her arm, and gingerly moved her arms and legs. Everything felt pretty good considering. "Hey, when we came through the wormhole werent the Ultharians right behind us?"
"Thats another thing. Yes, they were. I have to assume theyre in the vicinity too. But we just need to worry about one thing at a time. First, we need to start working on the shuttle and see what we can salvage. Then we need to take stock of our supplies and see how to ration what we have until we see what the situation is as far as food and water go."
"Salvage?" Carter felt the blood drain from her face. "You mean, were shipwrecked here?"
Kay watched Carter carefully. "Its possible. I need for you to help Dobbs check the systems out as soon as youre feeling up to it." Carter slowly sat back down on the bunk. "Youre a better engineer than I am, Carter. You and Dobbs would be the judges of what our situation is."
The shock of the idea of being shipwrecked on an unknown planet was slowly penetrated by the responsibility of doing the job she had trained for all her life. She pulled herself back to her feet. "I guess wed better get busy then, huh?"
Lazarus pulled the smaller woman into her arms. "Im sorry were in this mess," she spoke quietly into Carters ear. Carter held her even tighter.
She looked into the taller womans eyes. "Hmm. If I had to be stranded on a planet with just one person, it would be you. Things could always be worse." She reached up and kissed her lightly.
"Hey, Im not chopped liver over here, you know," Dobbs complained.
"Whats she talking about?" Lazarus asked Carter. "Who said anything about liver?" Carter laughed and walked over to the hatch door. The planet she saw looked remarkably similar to most class M planets.
Lazarus had somehow managed to set the shuttle down in an open field, but all around them was what looked like virgin forest. There was no sign of sentient life. And no sign of blood sucking monsters so it could have been worse, Carter thought.
"Id better start working on the scans," she said. "I think we need to check for life signs." She walked over to where Dobbs was already working. "Move over, Dobbsy," she bumped her with her hip. "Ill show you how its done."
"Anytime darlin " Dobbs smiled sweetly at her.
"Hey!" Lazarus mock scowled at Dobbs. "Id hate to have to kill you Dobbs, but I will. Leave my woman alone."
Dobbs laughed, albeit rather nervously in Carters opinion.
"She wont kill you Dobbsy," Carter grinned. "We need at least two engineers."
"Golly, thanks," Dobbs muttered. "Your compassion is underwhelming."
"Im going out to check out the surrounding area," Lazarus informed them while checking out a phaser for damage.
Carter looked concerned, but nodded. "How long will you be gone?"
"Im not sure. Ill have my comm badge on, if you can get the comm system up," Lazarus said.
"You have one hour. Then I come after you," Carters tone was decisive.
Lazarus blinked. "Yes, Lieutenant," she saluted lightly as she exited the hatch. "And Im going to take this pup home." The pup bounced behind her wagging his tail.
Carter kept a close watch on the chronometer while she worked and at an hour she stopped her tasks and turned to Dobbs. "Im going to look for Kay." She still didnt have the comm system up on the shuttle. The damage was bad but between she and Dobbs they felt it could be repaired.
"You want me to come with you?" Dobbs looked doubtful.
"No. Someone needs to be here in case the XO wakes up," Carter nodded her head toward the still sleeping Joan Warren. Carter reached for a phaser in the storage locker. "Ill be back as soon as I can. Maybe youd better close the hatch door."
"And roast like a pig in the oven? Not until we get the environmental systems back. I think Id rather be eaten by aliens, thank you," Dobbs wiped sweat from her brow as she continued working on the comm system. "I think Ive gotten the ELS back online."
"Great!" Carter was thankful that at the very least the Emergency Locator Signal was activated, although what good it would do them was unknown. They could be in a different galaxy for all she knew. She sighed. Federation protocol dictated that certain procedures be followed in emergency situations whether they did any good or not. It was calming and felt useful to know exactly what you were supposed to do when you became stranded in well, somewhere in the universe. She had a thought. "You dont think the Ultharian ship will pick up the signal and come looking for us, do you?"
"I dont see how they could have survived the entry into the atmosphere," Dobbs replied. "Hell, Im not sure how we survived it. But I wont activate it if you think its a bad idea." Carter was technically her superior as a member of the senior staff.
"Lets wait," Carter decided quickly. "I think we need a better grasp on our situation before we send out a distress signal."
"Okay," Dobbs agreed. "Ill work on the comm links until you get back."
Carter stepped outside the hatch and felt the cool air playing through her hair. Her fingers tightened around the phaser gun in her hand. She looked around her at the primeval forests that edged the field in which the shuttle incongruously lay, a hunk of technology in a primitive world. A movement caught the corner of her eye and she turned to spot Kay trudging out of the woods, the pup bounding along behind her. Carter smiled at the sight of her taciturn lover chatting with the pup who gazed adoringly back at her. Seeing Carter watching her, Kay waved and grinned at her, picking up her step to join up with her. Carter stuck her head back in the hatch. "Kays back," she informed Dobbs.
"The good news is that I found water not too far from here," Lazarus told Carter and Dobbs when she reached the shuttle. "Theres a river about a mile that way," she pointed. "I saw signs of animal life, though no actual animals other than this varmint," she petted the pup.
"Whats the bad news?" Carter asked.
"I saw signs of a frost line by the river and a few chunks of ice floated by. I think we can expect a pretty big temperature drop at night," Lazarus said. "Ill gather some wood for a fire, unless of course, youve gotten environmentals online since Ive been gone."
"Nope," Dobbs cheerfully informed her. "We did get the ELS working but decided not to activate it."
"Good," Lazarus agreed. "That seems the prudent course for now." Carter felt ridiculously pleased that her conclusion was the same as Lazaruss. "I think well be here for a while," Lazarus continued more seriously. "I feel like survival is the first order of business and that includes warmth, food, and water for tonight. We have S rations and water, so how about if I steal Carter away from you for a while to gather firewood? You can inventory our supplies and see where we stand."
"Okay," Dobbs agreed.
"Wow, this is beautiful," Carter peered around the pristine woods. She and Lazarus had wandered to the edge of the forest in search of fallen wood that could be used to make a fire. "Kind of spooky though - all this wilderness on a strange planet with night falling."
"Dont let your imagination run away with you," Lazarus smiled indulgently at the smaller woman. "Lets just get the wood we need and get back to the shuttle so we can make camp."
"Could you just hold me for a minute?" Carter asked, peering up into ice blue eyes. "Ive hardly had a chance to touch you since weve been here."
Lazarus enfolded Carter into her arms, rubbing her hands up and down her back. "Are you okay?" Lazarus asked.
"Im okay. Im with you," Carter told her. "Thats all I need really." She reached up and stroked Kays face, her fingers pausing at her lips. "Do you think well ever get off this planet?"
"I dont know," Kay responded honestly. "I have to assume that we wont but work like we will, if you know what I mean."
"No, I dont know what you mean," Carter replied, subdued even further.
"I mean we have to prepare for every contingency, including the possibility that we wont be rescued and we cant fix the shuttle. At the same time I have to keep working constructively toward the idea that we will be rescued, or something will happen that will enable us to go home." Kay slowly explained. "We cant let ourselves become overwhelmed with the complexities of the situation. We just need to survive from day to day and keep our spirits up. Depression is not an alternative."
"Clean your house in trouble times," Carter said softly. "Thats what my grandmother used to say."
"Exactly," Lazarus smiled. "I love you, Carter Laughlin."
"Right back at you, Lazarus."
Carter felt as if her arms would break by the time they got back to the shuttle but she didnt complain. Kay had carried twice as much firewood as she had and hadnt even breathed heavy. Carter was fond of heavy breathing but not in this circumstance. "Where do you want this?" she gasped.
"Just drop it," Kay replied but Carter had already complied before the words had finished forming. Lazarus laughed. "Why dont you start building a fire over there?" Lazarus pointed to a spot. "Ill run back and pick up that other stack we left."
"Honey, the suns starting to go down. Take an extra jacket. And hurry," Carter asked.
"Okay." Kay stepped inside the shuttle to find an extra jacket. Federation uniforms were made of materials that changed properties as needed for warm, cool, or wet, but extreme temperatures required extra measures. "Were back, Dobbs. Hows the patient?"
"She rolled over and moaned one time. I thought she was gonna wake up, but she started sawing logs again." Dobbs grinned at Lazarus. "Shes not running a fever or anything though."
"The injection I gave her should be wearing off soon," Lazarus looked over at the slumbering XO. "Carters building a fire. Im going back for one more load." She grabbed a Federation issue jacket and headed back out.
"Major?" Dobbs called after her. "I completed the inventory and were a little short regulation ration issue on board."
Lazarus stopped and walked back in. "How short?"
"Weve got maybe enough for three days if were conservative," Dobbs informed her.
"Thats why they call them S rations. I dont know if its a blessing or a curse."
"Okay," Lazarus accepted this information. "Tomorrow we go into full survival mode, but tonight lets just get some rest." She ducked back out the hatch.
"The temperature feels like its dropping already," Carter said. "If youre going, go now and hurry back."
Lazarus leaned down and kissed her, pulling back to drown in those green eyes.
"I mean it, Lazarus. Move it. And then get back to me to keep me warm," Carter murmured the last part with warm breath in Kays ear.
Lazarus shuddered. She pulled her jacket tighter around her lean body. "Ill be back in a flash."
But the sun was setting by the time Lazarus stumbled back into camp. She dropped the load of wood next to the rest and dropped down to stack it. Carter had a nice fire cracking and popping. She and Dobbs were sitting on a blanket, Dobbs hand resting lightly on the pup. Joan Warren sat on the other side of the fire.
"Everything okay?" Carter asked her lover. Lazarus nodded as she settled down next to Carter who moved close to her.
"I got caught in a thorn bush but other than that it was pretty noneventful. Its getting cold fast," Lazarus said. Carter could feel her lovers body shaking from the cold and she put her arm around Lazaruss waist. They leaned into each other drawing comfort from the warmth of their bodies. "How are you feeling?" Lazarus spoke to Joan Warren. Warrens face was pale in the firelight, her arm held awkwardly to her chest.
Been better," Warren attempted a wan smile. "Lt. Dobbs tells me you saved our butts. "
"Remains to be seen," Lazarus deadpanned. "I think we should split the night into three watches. Ill take first watch. Carter, you take second and Dobbs third."
"I can take a watch," Warren sat up straighter.
"Not tonight," Lazarus dismissed her offer. "You need to rest." She picked up a long stick and poked the fire. Carter glanced at her, thinking that was the nicest thing she had ever heard Lazarus say to Warren.
"Maybe youre right," Warren visibly drooped. "In fact, I think Ill go to bed if thats okay." She got to her feet and swayed a little.
"Ill walk you in, Major," Dobbs hopped up and moved next to Warren, her hand hovering behind the XO ready to catch her should she fall. "I need to check on a couple of things." Carter smiled at the kindness of her brash friend and watched them walk into the shuttle, Dobbs unobtrusively protecting the Major.
Lazarus turned to Carter. "You ought to try and get some sleep. Tomorrows going to be a long day."
"Couldnt be longer than today," Carter yawned.
"Sure it could," Lazarus smiled. "Besides, Ill be waking you up in four hours for your shift."
"Okay," Carter stood and turned toward the shuttle. "Ill be back in a minute." She returned with a blanket and a pillow that she threw down next to Lazarus.
"You sure you want to sleep out here? Its getting cold," Lazarus inquired.
"You wont let me freeze, will you?" Carter put her head in Lazaruss lap and pulled the blanket up to her chin.
In her dream, Carter felt a tremendous longing for something she couldnt see. She was searching and searching but didnt know what she was looking for and seemed to be wandering an unfamiliar path that led nowhere. Her sense of urgency increased with each unfruitful turn in the path when the path itself dissolved in front of her. Her disappointment was overwhelming and she began to cry in frustration when Lazarus shook her awake.
"Carter, wake up," Lazarus yawned. "Ive got to crash for a couple of hours or I would have let you keep sleeping."
The dream faded instantly. "Jeez, its cold!" Carter shivered. "You were supposed to wake me two hours ago, Kay. Thats not right for me to sleep through my watch." She was annoyed that Kay had taken it upon herself to let Carter sleep at her expense. "And you need to sleep too."
"I wasnt sleepy until a few minutes ago," Kay almost slurred her words. "Now I dont think I can stay awake another minute. Dont let the fire go out or well freeze to death."
"Youve got to stay awake for a few minutes more. I have to go find a convenient bush and get some coffee," Carter forced herself to stand, watching her words practically freeze in the air before her face. "Anything happening?"
"No," Kay murmured as she slipped away into sleep. "All quiet."
Carter watched her for a moment as Lazaruss breath evened out and deepened. I guess you were sleepy, she thought. Looking around, it seemed quiet. She could spot no movement outside the perimeter of the light but couldnt muster up the wherewithal to leave the relative safety and comfort of the fire. "One of the few times Ive wished I was a male," she muttered and gathered her courage. She tread cautiously into the darkness, dreading the idea of removing her clothes to answer natures call. Gritting her teeth, she reached for her pants when she felt a hand roughly cover her mouth and then complete darkness descended.
"Major Lazarus!" Lt. Denise Dobbs shook Lazaruss shoulder as she struggled up from a deep sleep. The sun was rising and it was still cold enough that it hurt to breathe. "Lt. Laughlin is gone. She didnt wake me for my shift and I cant find her. Major, wake up!"
Kay Lazarus could hear the words but they didnt make any sense at first. Her eyes burned and she felt as if someone had shoved a box of cotton in her brain. What was Dobbs saying? Carter was missing? She was right here a minute ago, Lazarus thought foggily. No, it was dark then. The suns rising. Alarm finally pierced her consciousness. Carter was missing.
Lazarus struggled to her feet, her balance precarious. Dobbs reached out and held her arm to steady her. "Are you all right, Major?"
"I feel drugged," Lazarus said. Shaking her head to clear it, she looked around. Nothing. Joan Warren stepped down from the shuttle still holding her arm gingerly to her chest.
"Whats happening?" she asked sharply.
"Carter is missing," Lazarus responded tersely. "Joan, lock yourself in the shuttle, and Dobbs and I will go look for her. Dobbs, grab a couple of phasers and the med kit."
"Im going with you," Warren stated. She moved back into the shuttle to get the supplies Lazarus requested plus a few things she hadnt.
Lazarus followed her to the hatch door. "We dont have time to take care of someone whos injured, Joan. Stay here in case she returns."
"No. Im going. Im still senior officer here, Lazarus," Warren snapped back at her. "Ill leave her a note in case she comes back here, but if there are hostiles out there youll need me." She softened her tone a bit. "Besides, I feel much better today. I wouldnt go if I thought I would be a burden."
Lazarus accepted what Warren said with reluctance. "Lets go then."
The women slowly circled the now smoldering campfire of the night before looking for traces of the missing woman. "Look over here," Warren called out. Dobbs and Lazarus hurried over. "The grass seems beaten down here, and look. It seems like a trail leads that way," she pointed.
Lazarus gazed at her with grudging respect. "Did well in your survival classes at the academy, huh?"
"I did well in everything," Warren replied. Dobbs muffled a snort.
The three women followed the faint trail until it reached the edge of the forest. Lazarus took the point and cautiously stepped into the cool shadows of the trees. There appeared to be a natural trail in front of them that they followed silently and as quickly as they could. After a while Lazarus put her hand up halting the search party. She pointed up at a tree. About halfway up the tree was the skull of an obviously carnivorous animal hung on a broken branch. "Thats not a good sign," whispered Dobbs. Lazarus shook her head.
"At least we can be pretty sure she wasnt carried off by a wild animal though," Lazarus spoke softly.
Dobbs raised her eyebrows quizzically. "No blood," Lazarus explained.
Dobbs blinked. "Yeah, thats encouraging." Warren glared at both of them and hand gestured them to keep moving along. After another hour of methodical tracking, Lazarus glanced back to see Warrens colorless face and called another halt.
"Lets rest for a few minutes and eat something," she said quietly. Dobbs and Warren both sank wordlessly to the ground. Warren pulled some S rations from her bag and passed them around. The three women ate silently each lost in her own thoughts and fears about the small lieutenant.
Carter had long since given up trying to struggle after the gag was in her mouth and the smelly cloth was tied around her face effectively blinding her. Her hands were tied in front of her and she was alternately pushed and pulled further and further from everything that was familiar to her on this planet. She didnt know what had her, although from listening carefully she would guess it was a humanoid of some kind since they seemed to be walking on two legs also. They used no speech and made very little noise moving through the forest, guiding her firmly along so she neither tripped nor fell. They walked through the devastating cold until Carter was sure she would collapse and still they walked on. When she could see light peeking in under the cloth over her face she knew that they had walked through the night and still they walked on.
Finally she came to an abrupt halt and refused to budge. She was pushed from behind but wouldnt cooperate with her captors. She heard a slight rustling sound as one or more of them moved around her and then she felt herself being lifted into the air and carried along. She considered kicking out at them, knowing she could hurt them, but dropped the idea since her hands were tied and she was gagged and blindfolded. Even if she could escape from them, she had no idea where she was in relation to the shuttle. And she still had to go to the bathroom. She experimentally tried to scream through the gag and the ones carrying her stopped immediately. Her feet were placed on the ground. Either that helped or theyre going to kill me, Carter thought as she felt her hands being untied and the blindfold removed from her eyes. "Holy cow," Carter said as the blindfold fell and her captors were revealed to her.
Kay Lazarus was increasingly worried as the day went on and the trail meandered and diminished and came back again. She hoped they were on the right path still as they had seen no sign of Carter or anyone else. Her anger was growing also. She knew she had been drugged the night before although she could not figure out when. Her frustration was compounded by her own stupidity in leaving in such an all-fired hurry without the proper equipment. She had been so sure that she would find Carter that they were now too far from camp to make it back before the freezing night fell. They might all die and it was her fault. Reluctantly she called a halt.
"Weve got to head back. I didnt bring the survival equipment wed need to spend the night out here. We can pack up what we need and head back out in the morning," she said, If we survive the hike back she thought.
"Ive got what we need," Joan Warren calmly informed her. "I grabbed a tent and blankets." Dobbs held up the bag that she had been carrying with her all day. Lazarus had seen her with it but had been so preoccupied with searching that it had failed to register.
"Once again Joan," she said carefully, "I am grateful to you for your survival skills. When we find Carter Ill tell her it was because of you."
"Thanks, but thats not necessary," Warren seemed pleased however. "Lets keep moving."
Continued - Parts 4 - 6 (Conclusion)
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