"Ken!" I heard the shout over the general din of boarding. I turned to see Kathy running towards me at full tilt. "Hi!"
"Hi yourself, sweetheart. How you been?"
"Fine! What are you doing here?"
"Boarding, what does it look like I'm doing?"
"Boarding? You mean... you're going with us?"
"You didn't know?"
"No! I just go assigned to the Pellaeon Elen just a few weeks ago. I heard they're going to de-commission the Eldarfaroth."
"Yup, and they're re-commissioning the Pellaeon Elen."
"The Eldarfaroth-class Pellaeon Elen."
"Yup. Ian's getting his name in the history books. Oh, by the way, I have some interesting news."
I nodded. "P'nyssa's coming on."
She looked confused. "You mean, P'nyssa's going with us?" I nodded again. "Then, that means... you and I can't..."
"We'll see. It'll take some time to work out. But now that we're at least in the same neighborhood-" she smiled- "we can work things out."
"What about... ?"
"Aaden?" I asked. She nodded. I scowled for a moment and said, "He's not coming. It was something of an argument between us. He doesn't like space, but he doesn't know how we'll do away from each other for four years or so. I'd promise I'd write." She nodded; I could tell from the look on her face that she sympathized with both of us. How's your new ship?"
"A disaster." Her smile returned wide as she said it.
"The new sickbay is a disaster. Is P'nyssa going to be head of medical? I haven't had time to check the roster yet. Can you believe, a crew of nearly three thousand?"
"I can believe it. Some of the arcovessels are that much bigger."
"But those are sea-going vessels, not starships. I can't imagine three thousand jobs a starship needs done."
"You can't? Parma support nearly twelve thousand."
"Well, I can. But some of them are... well, they cancel each other out."
We walked down one of the many hallways, this one done in blue. "Well, what's wrong with the sickbay?"
"After the incident at Aknat, starfleet command decided to take White's Theorem seriously, so we're getting a full lab. The stresses that the main White's lab has to take are absurd. Forty Gee, a complete bank of radiators, and the atmospherics! Up to 200 atmospheres, gas or liquid, plus a complete AV-VR system that'll survive it all!"
"So, does it work?"
"Of course it works. I helped put it together, after all."
I laughed. "It's nice to hear your confidence. I remember you as a new Captain of Engineering, almost bald at the end of a mission because you'd been pulling your hair out."
She smiled. "It took a few decades, but yeah, I feel a lot better now."
"Still play?" I asked, putting an odd stress on the second word.
"Still got the key to my heart?"
"Right here," I said, tapping my shirt. We smiled the knowing smile of the centuries. "It's good to know you're still you."
"Well, I've still changed a lot. But yeah, I need the release now more than ever. Oh, you didn't answer my question."
I thought about our conversation. "Oh, about Nyss? No, she's going to be on second shift. She got a commander's rank respective to the head of Medical. Who is head of Medical, anyway?"
"Dunno. Like I said, haven't checked that part of the roster. All I've met is the primary bridge crew and my engineering staff."
"What do you make of Captain Argent?" I asked.
"She's big." I laughed. Etta Argent, in my assessment, has to be the most muscular human female I've ever met. She stands exactly two meters tall, and standing in front of her is like standing before a brick wall. She's also a very sweet person. And, in both Josh and Ian's opinions, a damn fine captain. She'd better be. They had decided to give her the ship of the line.
"Oh," Kathy continued. "A couple of things you might like to know. Karri's going out with the exo team."
"The one and only. Or is that 'two and only?'"
"It's 'one,' and don't ever make that mistake. She's gone through a lot. Building her was a mistake I've regretted for a long time."
"From your letters, I thought you liked her."
"I love her, Kathy, she's a sweet person, but what I did was wrong."
"Kathy, Karri isn't like you and me. Beyond Dolphins and AIs and Tindals, Karri is alien. Most people want to know the name of her 'other' body, as if the two were separate. They're not. It takes forever to learn that. You may be talking to her right in front of you, and she may also be talking halfway across the ship to another person, but you can't afford to think of that as 'her other half.' It's not. It's her, and that's that.
"But she talks as if there were two of them."
"Yeah, well, that's because its... I dunno. It's hard to explain. It's like having to consciousness sharing one memory bank. Since we react to our environment, and since her bodies are genetically similar, there's not much difference between them. Even though one 'experiences' an event and the other 'remembers' it, after a few seconds that becomes insignificant. They both 'remember' what just happened. The other thing is that I didn't anthropomorphize her. She's just a standard Pamthreat, except that she has two bodies."
"And can teleport, and is sentient, and is wired for biocybe, and can talk. I've met her, Ken. She's really a neat person."
What the... You would think, after almost eight centuries, I'd stop thinking like a Terran. Habits die really hard. "Well, she can only teleport her bodies together, not apart. I don't see how useful that can be. I don't know. Maybe I did the right thing. She's only forty-five. I still feel bad."
"The Mustel's are only thirty. And we've got a few of those on board. I've got two on my engineering crew."
"Any racial troubles?"
"A few. The usual. There aren't any Mustels in positions of authority because they haven't been around long enough to earn any. Second trip out it'll be different. I'm sure Etta can work around it."
I nodded. "She's good. Really good. I hope so."
"Well," she said, "Here we are."
"Where we are?" I asked.
"Your cabin. I assumed that's where you were heading."
"You're right. Let's see what it looks like." I paused for a second, and whispered to Kathy, "Before I make an ass of myself, what is the ship's AI's name?"
"Liffip?" I said aloud.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Shardik. Can I help you?"
"You could unlock the door to my cabin, please."
"Done." The door slid open smoothly, and inside was a large apartment. The waterbed, I'd say Imperial-sized, sat in the far left corner of the bedroom on a raise platform, under which was indirect lighting. The kitchen was an inset on the left wall of the living room. There were no windows on the walls, but there was an overhead skylight. My cabin was nominally on the "bottom" of the ship, but with gravitics technology and SDisks it was impossible to tell. My biggest problem, though, was navigation. I tend to make mental 3-d maps of places like starships, and I couldn't reconcile the double-image of 'up' and 'down.' I'd get it eventually. It was nice, though, that I'd get a full view of any planet we were in orbit over. We were interrupted by a voice behind us?
We turned to see who it was. Kathy answered, "Yes, Amanda?"
I was stunned. This young filly was the first example I'd seen of the EQ2vR virus. Introduced into the Centaur population about twenty-five years ago, the EQ2vR was supposed to increase the possibility of size variation in the general population. Most Centaurs were immune, but a small percentage experienced a strong effect. The maximum was still around Clydesdale, but the minimum had been pushed down almost to Shetland, but not quite. At that level, certain systemic failures occurred that I'd rather not think about, so I left the size at about 1.18 over minimal systemic support.
Amanda was an example of that. She was barely taller than I was, I'd guess 190 cm, and she was adorable. And that voice... where had she learned such an innocent voice?
I resolved, right there and then, to get to know this filly. I was so completely taken in by her that I completely missed what they had discussed, until Kathy said, "Ken?" as I watched Amanda turn to leave.
"YooHoo. It's me, Kathy."
"I know, I know... Who was that?"
"That was Amanda Ohadi. She's the project head for Sickbay Engineering."
"She's a project head in your department? How old is she?"
"And you trust her?"
"Remember me at sixteen?" I nodded. "She's better."
"Kathy, at sixteen you redesigned starship drives as we knew them!"
"You should see her work. She thinks she can prove a relation between elemental pattern of configuration waves and quark-quark distance effects."
I thought about it for a second. "She thinks she can prove the Benetti equations?" Kathy nodded. "Kathy, you couldn't prove the Benetti equations. People have been trying for centuries! Admittedly, Benetti was pretty impressive. Despite the fact that Corrane's collary gave us the C3 hyperdrive, and you gave us C5, and despite the fact that Samunen's collary of Positional Relations gave us functional teleportation, what Benetti was actually trying to do has never worked, and I don't think it ever will."
"She's close, Ken. You should see her work."
"May I see it?"
"If you wish. I'd prefer if you ask her."
I smiled. "I think I'll do that."
She noticed the smile. "She's very pretty," Kathy prodded.
"That she is. What would you guess my odds are?"
"I'd guess, sixty-four to one for. When I was working down under sickbay with her, she wanted to know all about you."
"Hero worship?" I asked with a groan. That's the last thing I needed, and would make me avoid her like the plague.
"Not really. She wanted to know more like... what fascinated me about you."
"Hmmm. Does she..."
"I haven't asked, I wouldn't know. She's young, Ken."
"So were you."
She smiled at that.
"Where to now?" I asked.
"Where's P'nyssa?" she asked.
"She won't be on for a few days. She has to close down her office back at Cutters, and that'll take a while. She's never been to space before."
"Well, she's been from here to Earth, but that's only a 30-minute trip."
"Now, it's a thirty minute trip. Back before C5, it was two days."
"What I meant was, she's never been on a serious space voyage. Two days is nothing. She can visit Earth and be home in a week. This is a little different. This is a couple of years."
Kathy nodded. "Well, we can go to your office, my office, or... Sickbay."
"Not Sickbay?" Kathy asked, her voice tinged with amusement.
"Let's not make it that obvious." I smiled.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
"I hope so."
"Have you ever slept with a Centaur before?" That "before" made me smile. Kathy clearly thought that, in the end, I would be sleeping with Amanda Ohadi.
I paused for a few seconds to consider my answer, and said, "Not a mare."
"But a stal?" she asked, raising her voice. I nodded. "You're kidding, right?"
She shook her head. "Sometimes, Ken, you surprise even me." We took a SDisk to Life Sciences, and I opened the door onto my office. It looked pretty standard. We went next door to the main lab, and I found it gratefully low-tech. Real test tubes. And high-tech: a neutrino- source mapping system. "Looks pretty standard."
"I have another question."
"If you do get Amanda into bed, and I think you will, do you intend to teach her the same things you did me?"
"Not unless she asks."
"Why, Kathy, I believe you're becoming downright protective!"
"You were protective of me, remember?" I nodded. I had been. And it had been a good thing. It worked.
"Shall we go see your office?" I asked.
We found that even faster. It definitely qualified as a disaster. "This is your office?"
"Well, it will be. I haven't quite finished moving in, as you can see. I've been working out of my cabin. This was one of the last places Interior Environments got to."
"I notice your little model over there."
She blushed, which was quite attractive on her. "Yeah, well... When they name a starship after you, you should probably have a model of it in your office."
"The P.E.V. Hawkwind. Kind'a nice of 'em."
She shrugged. "In a few years they'll decommission it like they did The Eldarfaroth."
"Hey, The Eldarfaroth was our first major starship, Kathy, and don't forget it. Before it, all we had were a few interstellar couriers."
"I know. And it was a privilege being on her, and being a Captain on her. I'm just trying to avoid developing a big head."
"You're doing a good job." I smiled, walked around her desk and hugged her. "I love you."
"Love you, too," she said. "Come on. Let's go visit sickbay."
Sickbay was a shambles. "Kathy," I said. "We're doing to leave Parma in six days, and this place is a disaster. Do you think you'll be ready that quickly?"
"This is exo-. Sickbay itself is ready to go, whenever our CMO gets here." She crossed to a door that could have handled two Clydesdales across and pushed the open button. The bay it opened onto was huge, and in the far corner I could see Amanda and three others all clustered around a floor panel that looked like it had been torn apart by some sort of explosion.
"What is this?" Kathy asked.
"Captain," Amanda said. "We had a problem with this gravitics panel. The temporary placements don't rate to full. Uhm, I'd suggest getting some matrix-supported ceramics in here for all of them before we power it up again."
Amanda's eyes unfocussed for a moment, and she said, "Three days at two shifts per, I think."
"Do it. Liffip?"
"Authorize we need a full set of THM replacements for these."
I was watching Kathy and examining the gravitic stress pattern on the panel when I heard that sweet voice to my right. "Commander Shardik?"
I turned to look up at Amanda, who had approached me silently. I blinked for a few seconds and said, "Huh?"
"I'm Amanda Ohadi?" She held out her hand. I took it and gently shook it. "Commander Hawkwind's told me a lot about you."
"She's told me quite a bit about you. I understand you're giving the Benetti equations another crack."
"Actually, we're almost ready to do field experiments." I was getting lost in those huge brown eyes. My only objection to Amanda's beauty would have been her hair; nanotech had allowed some pretty radical chemical modifications in cosmetology, and the latest rage was really odd hair colors. Primary green was considered sexy for women, primary blue for men. Red was considered 'daring' and yellow was for teenagers. Amanda, however, had gone a different route; her hair was pastel blue with a suggestion of magenta. I found it extremely complimentary, despite my distrust of cosmetics. It was very long and hung free down her back, the front pushed to the sides and two small, tight curls falling down her cheeks before her ears. It looked very soft. Her equine half was white in the front, but became a speckled brown in the middle blending into a full brown about her hindquarters, with a fully brown tail that was very thoroughly brushed.
"Mmm-Hmm. In a few months, I think."
"How are you proposing to prevent inter-atomic effects at the field point?"
"Do it in a vacuum, of course."
"But doesn't some of your hardware have to be interactive with the field?"
She smiled. "I'm working on it, Commander."
"Miss Ohadi. I am head of Life Sciences. You are the PD for exobio sickbay. We may be seeing a lot of each other." Personally, I hoped we'd be seeing a lot more of each other. "Why don't you call me Ken?"
"Then why don't you call me Amanda?" She said. Ice broken, I thought to myself.
"Ken?" Kathy said.
"I'm going to be really busy in a few minutes, could you..."
"Give you some room? Sure. Amanda?"
"Yes, Com... Kennet?"
"I'd like to see your work. It was nice to meet you." I held out my hand. She extended hers, and I kissed it.
"It was nice to meet you too..." there was a long pause, and then she said, in a much lower voice, "sir."
I raised one eyebrow. Amanda smiled her sweet smile, but I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Kathy whirl about in surprise. I walked over and kissed Kathy on the cheek on my way out. I left the two of them exchanging glances.
"Hello?" I shouted aloud when I heard the door open. "Nyss? Is that you?"
"Hello!" I heard from outside. "Yes, it's me!" I smiled and finished what I was doing before leaving the bathroom. I walked out.
"As you can see," I said, "I've already moved in."
She assessed the appearance of the studio and said "It looks... different."
"You don't like it?" I asked.
She sighed. "I don't know. I guess I'm just not used to the idea of moving. I've lived in the same place for how long? Seven hundred years or so?"
I laughed. "I know. Moving's a bitch." I walked over and hugged her close to me. "I love you."
"I'm still not sure about this." She frowned, then smiled. "But I love you too." She tilted her head up for a kiss, and I gave her one. It was a long and familiar kiss, and as always it made me feel warm inside.
"What's not to be sure about?" I asked afterwards.
She frowned. "People get killed on this job. It's the most dangerous life Pendor offers, Ken, and I don't understand why you enjoy it so much."
"Then why did you come along?"
"Because I didn't want to be without you. And because this time, you asked if I wanted to come along. And because it gives me a chance to practice medicine, as opposed to giving out pills."
I smiled. "You should do okay, Nyss. You did well when Nance almost got himself killed. You should do okay."
She frowned. "Ken, the one time I really needed to succeed, I didn't. You know it, and I know it."
"P'nyssa Traken, you did everything you could, and it almost killed you in the process. I don't blame you for Donna dying. I blame the asshole with the gun."
She sighed. "I know. I'm just so... unsure."
"Good. At least you don't think of yourself as completely ready. Overconfidence leads to mistakes."
She nodded, her head bent down, examining the floor. "Oh," she said, looking up, "P'rose gave us a copy of her new album. I think she's giving us a hint."
"What do you mean?"
"The first song on it is called 'Where Are You Going, When Are You Coming Home?'"
I laughed. Her lips drew into a lustful smile. "So," she said, "Want to inaugurate our new bed? Or have you already done so?"
I laughed. "Why P'nyssa, I'm hurt. How could you suggest that I would do such a thing? Of course I've been waiting for you." I paused. "I'm also surprised that you believe I'm that much of a rakeheart."
She smiled again. "But you are. Come 'ere." She walked to the bed, her full-length dress flowing behind her, and sat down. "Come on."
I laughed and walked over to the bed, leaning over her and letting my full balance fall over; we tumbled onto the bed, her tens wrapping around me. I nuzzled her under her neck and she cooed in response. "Ken?" she breathed.
"It's been five days since I last saw you. Skip the foreplay."
My response was an evil snicker worthy of any bad pirate movie. I reached behind her and undid the clip holding together her skirt; we managed to pull it off and throw it across the room. It dimly occurred to me that we'd left the lights going full blast; not even turned down for romantic effect.
She returned the favor, almost ripping open my uniform in her haste to free my quickly rising erection. I pulled the shirt over my head and sent it to join her skirt. She didn't bother to remove hers; just turned over onto her knees and said "Come on, fuck me."
"My pleasure" I said, positioning my erection at her cunt and pressing in. Her mitten pad and thumb spread her labia wide, and I slid in. She was surprisingly wet, and my cock was soon enveloped all the way around by her hot wetness. She cooed gratefully as I did, my hand reaching under her shirt to scratch her furred back. "Miss me?"
"Very," she said. "Missed your hot cock. Now, fuck me, please."
I grabbed her hips, and slammed my cock into her. She groaned in response, and I slid out slowly, only to slam into her again. Her moans grew louder as I pressed into her, feeling her blue-furred ass against my hips. I scratched her butt briskly, grabbed her hips and began fucking her with all my might, taking her. I would stop, every once in a while, to take a breath, and to look at her, bent at the waist, ass in the air, my cock in her cunt, her head buried in a pillow. I felt her mitten playing with her clitoris, sliding up and playing with my cock as well when I stopped, then retreating as I began fucking her again. She screamed aloud into the pillow as her orgasms washed over her; I felt it the background, her telepathy leaking around the edges. It spurred me on, and I shouted aloud as I shot my semen into her, my orgasm causing me to whip my head back and forth, my hair striking me in the face.
I took a deep breath, my excitement, my head buzzing. I was surprised at the intensity; quickies aren't a usual part of our sex life. Maybe that's why it was so exciting. I slid out of her, feeling her cunt intensely on the top ridge of my cock as I did so.
With absolutely no grace, she fell over onto her side, breathing equally as hard from her mouth, her eyes shut for the moment. "So," I said, "How was that?"
"Perfect," she said between gasps.
The next day it was all hands prepare for transit. We headed out; Our destination was the planet Stinz IV, several hundred light years away. It would only be a couple of weeks.