Thursday, June 02, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Twenty-Three

2701. – 119 Tauri; CFV-B Pallas

I sat in the co-pilot’s seat of the reconnaissance shuttle Nausicaa alongside Kat, assisting her with the pre-flight procedure. The shuttle was fully fuelled and there was enough food and water on board to last five months, which was more than enough for the trip to μ Gemini. Nausicaa was fast enough to make the trip in a little over ten weeks, so this gave Kat the time to have a checkup at the starbase, get some medical advice and then make a decision as to whether to press on back to Earth and have the twins there, or not risk the trip and wait the final few weeks until she reached full term at μ Gemini. I had programmed the navigation computer to plot the stardrive jump and was bringing the stardrive engines online, letting the field emitters charge from the fusion reactor. Like the fusion reactor on board Pallas, it was a multi-core design that used the waste products from one fusion stage as fuel for the next, with the ultimate waste products being nitrogen and oxygen. The design had taken nearly 300 years to perfect and miniaturise to a scale that could be used on a ship as small as Nausicaa, but the advantages were obvious: as long as the fusion reactor had enough fuel to run, the crew would always have something close to an Earth-standard atmosphere to breathe. It allowed small vessels like Nausicaa to carry out extended operations without devoting large amounts of the internal volume of the ship to the storage of consumables for its crew, though the shuttle did still have an emergency reserve supply of oxygen in tanks that were good for 72 hours in the unlikely event of a reactor failure.

Kat looked calm as she caressed the haptic control board in front of the pilot’s seat, testing the thrust vectoring on the shuttle’s powerful ion engines. Unlike the similar thrusters fitted to Siren interceptors and Erinyes bombers, Nausicaa’s realspace engines were limited to a maximum acceleration of 5g. They were capable of more than triple that, but had to be restricted for the safety of the crew. The single-seater interceptors and bombers had their cockpits filled with a thick aerogel that matched the density of the human body to allow their pilots to better cope with accelerations of up to 30g, but that wasn’t practical for a ship the size of Nausicaa. Besides, the recon shuttle was unarmed and wasn’t intended for combat. Instead it had an ECM suite that rivalled a Wild Weasel corvette and the vessel was made from stealth materials to help it avoid detection and the trouble that came along with it. Kat ran a diagnostic on the life support systems and sat back in her seat when it came back clean.

“I guess this is it, then.” Kat turned to me, pursing her lips unhappily.
“I guess it is.” I tried to give her an encouraging smile, but I was just as sad as she was. Kat had already made a tearful farewell to the senior officers on the bridge, including a particularly emotional goodbye to Chief Watson, who had been reduced uncharacteristically to tears.
“The next time you see me I’m going to have hair like a tramp, eyes like a drug addict and smell like a slurry pit.”
“And I’m not going to care. As long as you're safe, that’s all I care about.”
“You be careful out there.” Kat reached over and grabbed my hand.
“Careful is my second middle name.”
“Fearghas Urquhart Careful Kincaid. Your parents must have had a strange sense of humour.”
“Mum does. Dad didn’t even twig.”
“So that’s where you get it from.”
“You can blame her when you get to Aviemore.”
“Oh, I will. It’ll be good to see Sorcha again.” Kat still got on well with my Mum, despite the divorce and Mum's Roman Catholic sensibilities.
“I’m going to miss you, Kat.”
“Me too. I’ll send you a message when I reach μ Gemini and let you know how everything’s going.”
“Thanks, I’d appreciate that.” I gave Kat a bear hug and kissed her cheek. She grabbed me back and held me for five minutes before letting go.
“Go on, get out. Before I kidnap you and take you with me.” Kat fired up the shuttle’s ion engines, blinking and wiping away tears, swatting the droplets away from her face as they formed shimmering beads at the corners of her eyes in the zero gravity.
“I love you, Kat.”
“I love you too, Gus.” She gave me one last kiss. “I’ll see you soon.”

Kat waited until I had walked to the side of the shuttlebay before activating Nausicaa’s reaction control thrusters, bringing the craft to a hover two metres over the deck. She gave me a wave through the window of the cockpit and inched the shuttle towards the airlock. The inner hatch of the airlock sealed itself behind Nausicaa, and a few seconds later, the light above the airlock turned from green to red to indicate that the outer door was open.

CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Pallas, this is Nausicaa. I’m clear of the bay. Jumping in two minutes.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Acknowledged. Clear skies and safe trip, Nausicaa.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Thanks Pallas, and good hunting. See you back at the nest. Nausicaa out.}-

Both Kat and Nausicaa were gone by the time I reached the command deck.

“Admiral on the bridge.” Robson announced, standing up from the CO’s chair as I stepped from the lift.
“As you were, Number One. Carry on.” I noticed Robson try to suppress his surprise, as it was the first time I’d called him Number One. Surprise quickly gave way to satisfaction, and Robson looked both relaxed and happy as he retook his place in the central command chair.

I glanced around the bridge before heading to the Ready Room. Superficially, nothing had changed. Pallas was still the same ship it had always been, crewed by the best men and women in the Hyades fleet, but with Kat’s departure the ship felt emptier somehow. It was if Pallas had lost a tiny, yet vital piece of its soul. I tried to shrug off the sensation and returned to my desk to catch up on the latest intelligence reports from Fleet.

Just before noon, I returned to my stateroom for a break, realising that I needed to do something very important. I sat at my terminal and opened a call to Malia on Starbase Hera. The FTL comms network would have a time delay of a few seconds at this distance, but not enough to make conversation impossible. Malia acknowledged the call after less than ten seconds.

"Hey, gorgeous. Merry Christmas." Malia said, leaning forward to the camera on her terminal to give it a kiss.
"Hey, sexy. Merry Christmas to you, too." I returned the virtual kiss, having to wipe the moisture off the camera lens afterwards with my sleeve. "How are you?"
"My tits hurt, my back aches and I need to pee every hour, but other than that, fine." Malia smiled ironically.
"If it's any consolation, you look radiant."
"It would be more of a consolation if you weren't telling me that from hundreds of light years away."
"I know, and I'm sorry that they've extended my tour. I would have wanted to be there for the birth."
"You can't blame me for feeling a little bit abandoned."
"I don't. But you don't have to be alone. I'm sure Sorcha would love to have you in Aviemore. She's got plenty of experience with grandkids, too."
"I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with that. We've never even met."
"She'll adore you. And I know that she'd want to help. My sisters said they wouldn't have survived those first few weeks without her when they had their first babies."
"I'll think about it. Do you have any idea yet when you'll be back?"
"We've been ordered out a lot further than usual. It might be up to another eight months."
"Eight months!"
"I'm sorry. This is the downside of getting involved with sailors."
"This is why I usually just leave it after one night. Damn you for being special." Malia said, a sly grin touching her lips. "If I didn't love you..."
"I love you, too. It's difficult for me as well, you know. I hate not being there for you."
"You'll have to make it up to me when you get back."
"I will. I promise." I said, touching her image on the screen.

We exchanged Christmas presents, Malia giving me a sensuous strip tease to show me how her baby bump was growing, while I told her in vividly explicit terms what I'd like to do to her on our first night back together. Malia lay down in full view on the bed, following the instructions I gave her until she arched her back and reached a juddering climax, punctuated by several loud, high-pitched cries of release, her feet involuntarily kicking the covers off the mattress.

"Feel better now?" I asked her, my own breath taken away just from watching her.
"Oh, Gus... I suppose it'll have to do until you get back." Malia turned on her side, looking back at me on her terminal screen, her exotic features glowing with a satisfied smile. "I love you."
"I love you, too. I'll message you every day we're not in transit."
"Gus, stay safe."
"I'll be back before you know it."
"I'll hold you to that. And then I'll hold you to this." Malia said, running her hands seductively down her chest, belly, hips and thighs.
"I can't wait." I replied, grinning.
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