tagSci-Fi & FantasySparrow & Tulip Pt. 08

Sparrow & Tulip Pt. 08


The Ulthira cruiser slowly moved toward the berthing area that extended from the end of the Long Axis station like an old-fashioned TV antenna. The two badly wounded had been transferred by shuttle to the station along with most of their equipment. The whole process was a lot faster than it had been aboard the Aardvark, they were led to a passageway that ended in an airlock.

On the other side they followed more corridors to the center of the "antenna." It was an open shaft and in the center was a large cable carrying a series of tiny platforms with handholds. There were a few Gyr and prefcoria in different uniforms waiting to help them. Vuli demonstrated how the lift worked, stepping across a warning line into the low gravity area and drifting out to the central cable. It was slowly sliding past and she easily grabbed one of the bars beside the platforms and pulled herself onto the step. A few of them had used the system before and helped the others aboard. A few of them didn't like heights and kept their eyes tightly shut as Marisol and Rachel handed them across.

"We could use the passages down, but it would take hours," Betsy explained. "Right now, the cable moving very slowly, you should see it during an launch drill."

Theo looked down the endless shaft and swallowed. "No thanks."

Marisol stepped across the line and into the microgravity. "Come out here and look down the shaft, tell yourself it's horizontal instead of vertical."

Theo was doubtful but pushed himself out. There was a slight tug of gravity as he grabbed the handholds and his head swam a little as up and down switched around. Emma followed him and landed on the station behind his.

"Don't worry about falling into any of the hatches," she said. "The gravity field ends around your chest, just enough to convince your inner ear that you're standing upright."

Theo watched one of the hatches go past underfoot. There were some curious prefcoria watching them go past and he swallowed against a sudden rush of saliva in his mouth and kept his eyes ahead for the rest of the trip to the station.

"How do you get off?" he called, finally seeing a bulkhead in front of him.

"It's very easy, just follow me," Betsy said in front of him.

Yellow lights flashed as they slowly crossed a boundary and Betsy pushed herself over to a platform and ladder sticking out from the wall.

"Don't think about it," Emma said from behind him. "Just go."

Theo couldn't help but think about it but pushed himself off. He was pulled toward the platform and by the time his feet touched the ladder, gravity was once again underneath his feet. He climbed into the passageway, Betsy helping him up. There was a short passageway that ended in a large open hatch.

"Brass waiting out there," Marisol said quietly.

Theo nodded and got out of the way as Emma climbed up the ladder. When they had everyone off, there was a siren and the cable began to speed up.

"We are in a main passage to the Habitat," Vuli said. "Soon this passage will be congested."

Theo took the hint and led the team down to the lock. As they stepped into the open area beyond, Theo saw Kawehi and Teydora waiting.

"Wait, wasn't she on Alnatic too?" Emma whispered.

Theo nodded as they walked across to the welcoming party. He suddenly couldn't remember if he was supposed to salute or something else official but Kawehi solved the problem by walking out to meet them. She looked in Theo's eyes as she shook his hand.

"Welcome home, Lieutenant."

Theo's head was spinning. He wanted her arms around him, wanted her to tell him it was okay. At the same time, he wanted to punch her in the mouth for sending them out there... "Thank you, Captain. I have some walking casualties that need to go to medical."

She nodded over her shoulder. "There's a medical team waiting for them over there. How are you?"

Theo shrugged slightly, still having no idea what to say. Kawehi squeezed his hand gently before she let go.

"What else do you need?"

"A shower and some strong coffee," Theo said.

She smiled slightly. "It's three in the morning Terra time. Let's get your team set up with some bunks instead."

Theo looked over his shoulder. Marisol and the rest were waiting a few steps back.

"I want to congratulate all of you on the outstanding work you did," Kawehi announced. "We'll wait until we're back on Earth for and of the official debriefs. The flight home will arrive in thirty-six hours. Please don't tear up the place in the meantime."

There were some smiles but they all looked tired. The Ulthira had done their best to make things comfortable but everyone had been too wired to relax much. A Gyr appeared, handing out interactive maps of the station. Marisol glanced at Theo and raised her eyebrow fractionally. Surprised that she wasn't asking Kawehi, he nodded and they headed for their rooms.

The maps lead them to a large octagonal room with a large number of doors. In the middle of the room was comfortable furniture and what looked like a bar.

"This cluster is a VIP area," Kawehi said. "There's food and so on in the lounge there. Your names are on the doors to your rooms."

"If any of you insomniacs wander off, make sure you have a map," Theo told the team. "Also, these rooms are equipped with electric lights. Let's not panic the station AI by lighting candles."

"Cooking fires are out of the question," Marisol added.

There was a tired laugh and people began finding their rooms. The Xero'pah sat down in the center of the room. Theo didn't know if they had rooms and was too weary to worry about it. And he still needed to talk to Kawehi.

"Can I trust you to get some sleep?" Marisol asked Theo. "Or I should I just take your tablet away now?"

"Captain, I need to speak with you first," Theo said. "This is urgent. Somewhere private the three of us can talk."

Both of them looked at him curiously.

"Okay," Kawehi said. "Is this an immediate problem?"

"It could be. I've been putting pieces together since we left Alnatic and I don't like what I'm seeing."

Kawehi glanced at the Xero'pah sitting together and raised an eyebrow at Theo.

"Do you trust her?" Theo asked.

Kawehi looked thoughtful. "Yes, further than I'd trust most Xero'pah."

Theo nodded and Kawehi went over to whisper in Teydora's ear.

"What's going on?" Marisol asked Theo quietly.

Theo looked at her. "Something occurred to me on the ride back here. I would have brought it up with you but I didn't know how secure the berthing area was."

Marisol nodded. "Yeah, good thinking."

"There's a privacy generator in the room next door," Kawehi said, coming back with Teydora.

The room contained a large table and a screen but nothing else. Teydora opened a panel near the door and did something to the control panel. Theo felt his skin tingle slightly. There was a hiss of white noise that didn't seem very loud until he realized he couldn't hear anyone talking unless he was standing within a meter of them.

"Okay, Theo," Kawehi said. "What's wrong?"

"I strongly believe that there are at least two moles in the Commonwealth. They're probably high rank."

Kawehi frowned but Teydora just looked curious. "Tell me how you came to this conclusion," she asked.

"The city on Alnatic, I'm assuming it's a big deal?"

Teydora nodded. "As you'll find out, that's something of an understatement."

"Vuli said the Gyr surveyed the planet for a long time but never found the city. She was very embarrassed about it, so I assume the Gyr surveys are usually thorough."

She nodded. "Like everything else they do."

"The material the buildings are made of seem to absorb or block radio as well as other wavelengths we tried. So, obviously the Gyr scans wouldn't find it. Other than being annoyed that it was in the way of my mission, I didn't think about it after that."

"Annoyed," Kawehi said.

Marisol nodded. "Don't get between him and a mission objective."

"It was an important mission," Theo said. "While I was working on my report on the flight back, I went over some of our aerial pics. The streets were laid out to form a shape, one that frightened Vuli. She had some memory of it being a warning to stay away."

Teydora nodded. "There are stories of forbidden worlds, places only the Founders were allowed. They were always marked with warning signs to keep ships away."

"Then how could a centuries long survey miss it?" Theo asked. "Vuli also mentioned that she didn't know who had worked on that area of the continent. She also said that the survey team was less than a hundred Gyr living on one ship in close quarters. Another statement Vuli made was that the Gyr have a difficult time keeping secrets from each other. From that I assume that none of them worked in that area. But at least one of the Gyr did see it and had some way to keep everyone else away from it. Find the individual that can keep a secret from the rest of the Gyr and that's your mole."

"You said there are two. Where does the other traitor come in?" Teydora asked.

"Someone else had to relay the information to the Bugs. The Gyr that discovered it couldn't leave. Survey teams had to be kept out of the area without anyone noticing. The find had to be leaked to the Dominion by another agent. They were probably already in contact, this wasn't that long ago so the war was already being fought. I think they've been in contact for a long time, there's probably more than just this instance."

"Why do you say that?" Kawehi asked.

"It was their ships. It's easy for a ship to be lost in jump space, unless there's an arrival beacon, correct?"

"Something happens to them," Teydora said. "As high as thirty percent over long distance."

"Otsihl, the Kelthoi commander, told me that he'd lost 650 of his warriors when Marcus took out the cargo ship. He knew all of the officers by name. And he was upset that they'd died outside of a battle. But he never mentioned losing any on the transit, never mentioned other ships."

"How well did you know this Kelthoi?"

"Pretty well. We had some long talks about the philosophy of command. And we played chess together."


Theo looked embarrassed. "Yeah, I wanted to keep everyone occupied. We tried soccer but they're three meters tall and have four legs. Someone tried chess and they really got into it. Anyway, if the Dominion was jumping blind, they would have sent more ships, right? They must have an arrival beacon somewhere between Alnatic and wherever they came from."

"More than one, the beacons have a finite radius," Teydora said. "And it does take a long time to get a Slingshot network in place if you want to keep it a secret."

She tapped her chin with a long finger, looking at each of them. The cornea of her eyes seemed much too large. At the moment they were green, but when she had met them an hour ago, they had looked silver. And Theo was sure that they'd been coal black on Alnatic In the middle of each was a pupil that seemed to shift between different shapes. The effect was disquieting but not unpleasant. Theo had a hard time looking away from her.

"I am sorely tempted to hide all three of you. Somewhere far away," she finally said. "But I need your talents right now, so that won't work. Who else have you talked about this with?"

"No one, it's too dangerous."

"You're beginning to impress me, Lieutenant. This isn't the first incident with suspicious activity, but perhaps someone made a mistake this time. As you probably guessed, this is a very delicate matter and must be handled carefully. I will need your help later, but for now I want complete silence about this. Understood?"

After the meeting with Teydora, Marisol and Kawehi headed for Marisol's room, talking about the mission.

"What did you think of the team in general?" Kawehi asked as Marisol unlaced her boots.

"I'm guessing the mix of talents was an experiment? The integration was nearly perfect. I wasn't sure about having Pioneers on the team but they were a good addition. The skill sets meshed very well and they worked their butts off."

Kawehi smiled. "Good. Are you going straight to bed?"

"Let me get a shower, it'll wake me up a little."

"You should take this gentleman with you," Kawehi said, holding out a bottle of E. H. Taylor bourbon.

"I think I love you," Marisol said. "Want to come in and make it a threesome?"

Kawehi quickly started unbuttoning her shirt and Marisol laughed as she went to turn the water on.

Half an hour later both women were on the bed wrapped in towels. Kawehi was sitting against the headboard while Marisol laid flat on her back, using post-hypnotic suggestions to relax her knotted muscles.

"What did you think of Theo's leadership?"

Marisol stretched once more and took a deep breath before answering.

"He had the usual mother-hen reaction when we landed, but Emma helped by forcing him to sleep. I'm not sure anyone else could. It reminded me over another green lieutenant her first time out."

"I don't know who you're talking about," Kawehi said.

"Oh, I'm sure you don't. He did very well otherwise, I was impressed. I didn't agree with every decision he made, but most of them worked out. I assume you already downloaded his report?"

"Teydora's people did that for me, I've read most of it already. It's kind of heartbreaking, his narration of events changes after the casualties."

"How so?" Marisol asked, pointing at the bottle of bourbon beside Kawehi.

Kawehi handed it to her. "It starts off sounding very much like Theo, a little humorous and very conversational with a lot of insights. After the first attack, it becomes very clinical and by-the-book. Still a good report but his heart wasn't in it anymore. It's never easy losing friends."

Marisol took a swallow of bourbon and coughed slightly. "Were you aware that one of the Ta'avi dead was his lover? Imae?"

Kawehi closed her eyes. "No, I didn't. After seeing him interact with Ayr, I assumed they would make a connection actually."

Marisol smiled slightly. "If the rumors are right, it was actually both of them at once."

Kawehi looked down at her and Marisol nodded.

"They hardly looked at each other in arrival though," Kawehi said. "Does she blame him?"

"I don't think so. They're friendly but the neon "we're fucking" signs over their heads are definitely dark."

Kawehi sighed. "That poor kid."

Marisol sat up and looked at her. "I know what he was like when he got here, but you have to stop thinking of him as a kid. He was worried about the team more than his own life and acted accordingly. Then he walked out to meet the Kelthoi without a second thought. Even Emma was second guessing that plan but he was as calm as ever. I don't care how old he is, Theo is a man."

Kawehi looked surprised. "Thank you. I didn't realize what I was doing."

"You're welcome. There's one other thing."

"What's that?"

Marisol flipped her towel open. "You owe me a backrub."

Kawehi smiled, looking at the other woman's dark nipples and hard stomach. "I do? I don't remember that."

Marisol pulled the edge of Kawehi's towel and it fell open as it slid down her back.

"Oh, that kind of backrub."

Marisol smiled and rolled onto her stomach. There was the snap of a cap and Marisol shivered as a line of something cool was poured down her spine. Kawehi poured more of it on herself and told Marisol to close her eyes.

"What are you doing? That's way too much."

"That's what you think," Kawehi said, climbing onto the bed.

Marisol sighed as two breasts were slid along her oily back. She could smell coconut and stretched as Kawehi slid her oily body over hers.

"I'm glad you're back," Kawehi whispered in her ear.

Goosebumps stood up on Marisol's arms as the breath tickled her ear. The bourbon on Kawehi's breath made a very pleasant counterpoint to the coconut. Marisol tried to turn over but Kawehi held her in place.

"I'm not done yet."

Marisol moaned as Kawehi slid her body over her back. Kawehi spread her legs, straddling the other woman's lower back. She kept her breasts moving over Marisol's skin as she used her hands to gently rub along her shoulders.

"How is that?" Kawehi softly asked.

The only answer was Marisol's deep slow breathing. Kawehi leaned over and gave Marisol a lingering kiss on the cheek. Marisol half smiled but didn't open her eyes. Kawehi smiled and shook her head as she climbed off the other woman. She gently pulled the sheet over Marisol before wiping the oil off her own body. As much as she wanted to crawl in beside her friend, there was something else she had to do first.

Emma came down the passageway after checking on Holm and the others. He was indignant they wouldn't discharge him go and even got a little hostile when they said Emma couldn't stay. All of the others had already fallen asleep and Emma had tried not to laugh as she watched Holm struggle to keep his eyes open. Finally, he'd fallen asleep and she got up to leave. On the way out, one of the techs had said that they'd be releasing everyone the day after tomorrow. Emma promised to tell "the commander" and headed for their rooms.

She got lost once, but finally found her room. Theo was next door to her but his door was closed. Emma was getting more and more concerned about him. He'd been near his breaking point on Alnatic and she thought he'd start to recover once they were gone. Instead he'd started to withdraw into himself, seeming to almost run on auto-pilot. He was tired, they all were. But he'd been tired before and bounced back quickly. Of course, this was more than just fatigue. Emma had hoped Ayr could help him but something had happened between the two of them. They were friends but the spark that had been obvious before was gone now. As much as he'd blundered around saying it, Holm was right. Theo really did have rotten luck with women.

There was a single tap at her door followed immediately by more taps and then thudding. Emma frowned. She'd been getting undressed and was down to a bra and panties.

Hell with it, whoever it is should know better.

Emma opened the door. Rachel and Jonesy were in the hallway. Both their faces were flushed and they were leaning on each other.

"Hubba hubba," Jonesy said and Rachel elbowed him hard in the ribs.

"Ignore this asshole," she said. "Can we come in?"

Emma stood back and they came in. Jonesy slouched on the office chair and Rachel collapsed onto Emma's bed.

"Look, if you guys are here looking for a threesome..." Emma started to say.

Rachel started laughing and Jonesy sat up and looked at her owlishly. "What're you talking about? We are here on behalf of our glorious and esteemed commander. Have you seen him?"

Emma shook her head. "I just got back from medical. He said something about finishing up the reports before tomorrow and closed his door."

"Well, it's open now. Make yourself presentable and come see," Jonesy said.

Rachel closed one eye and squinted at him. "You saying my girl ain't presentable without clothes on?"

Jonesy staggered upright. "Not that dumb or drunk. Come on."

"He's getting smarter," Rachel said, struggling to sit up. "Ooh, maybe I better stay here."

Emma rolled her eyes as she pulled a pair of shorts on. Rachel's eyes were already closed when she pulled the door shut behind her.

"How much have you two had?" she asked Jonesy.

"If you must know, we were killing this bottle of vodka. Fatigue is an issue I believe. But I thought she needed to grieve about Marcus."

Emma stopped and took the bottle Jonesy was waving around. "And how did that go?"

Jonesy shrugged. "She said she didn't care. And I don't think she did. But weren't they together? He kept touching her butt."

"Don't remind me. Rachel plays it close to the vest, I'll talk to her when we get home."

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