"Were you followed?" asked Josh Rosen. He was in Security, but he was mighty insecure all the same.
Chip Masterson – the Tactical Officer – shook his head. The door to the unused lab they were in swished open, and they both held their breaths. It was a young brunette who cautiously entered. The door slid closed. "Lucy, good," Chip said, kissing her. "How'd you swing it?"
"I said I was looking for old science equipment. You know she hates science, so she doesn't care," Lucy Stone replied. "It does pay to be the Science Officer sometimes – the Empress doesn't think any of it matters. I'll never be more than an Ensign unless I knife a lot of people. You, for instance," she said to Chip. "Not that I would, of course."
"Heh, thanks," Chip replied.
The door slid open again, and they all ducked. A tall guy entered, with a slight man who was very good-looking. The taller one hit the wall control to get the door to slide closed faster, and then locked it. He turned to them. "Okay, looks like we're all here."
"Right, Aidan," said the good-looking one.
"What about Ramirez?" inquired Josh.
"Too risky," said Aidan, "Chief Engineer or not, he's still being watched closely. I hear Torres put Hodgkins on to watch him."
"Hodgkins is like a rabid Rottweiler," confirmed Chip. "So you're joining our little cabal, Andy?" he asked the good-looking guy.
"Definitely. Just watching what's been happening to everyone, you know. Empress Hoshi seems to think that the only women who can be on board are her or, well, not too many others. I know you're kept here because you're really good," he said to Lucy. "Same with Shelby Pike and Melissa Madden. After that, there aren't too many. Porter, yeah. Brodsky, Socorro, gals like that. The regular human population is already, what, seventy-five percent male? But here, it's closer to ninety."
"You recommended me for this damned job, remember?" Lucy asked. "I'd be on Tellar, or something, and at least away from here."
"At the time," Andy said, "I was hoping to, you know, rekindle something. Er, no offense, Chip."
Masterson looked at them askance. "Let's get back to the topic at hand."
"Right," Aidan said, "getting away, and getting our kids away."
There were nods all around. "You're smart guys," Josh asked, "why the hell didja have kids with the Empress?"
"You gotta understand," Aidan said, "It's not like we had a whole helluva lotta choice in the matter. You get called into the Ready Room – Chip, you can confirm this – and she makes eyes at you. And then she hauls out the dagger, and you realize she's not kidding. You do the deed, and as often as necessary. She gets pregnant, and then she moves on. When she got pregnant with Arashi, it was kinda touch and go there and she wasn't sure, and both Torres and Ramirez were hanging around. That's why nobody knows who that kid's father really is. And Torres blocks anyone trying to figure out."
"Why? Why would he wanna be on the hook like that?" Lucy asked.
"He's a true believer," Josh said, "Once he got put in charge of Security – you know, when Hayes escaped to that planet and Haddon got killed?" Chip cringed a little, and Lucy took his hand. Deborah Haddon had been his girl before her, and Chip had had to recover her body. "Yeah, well Torres got some power. He's Head of Security and all that, and he kinda likes things that way. If it's ever found out that Arashi Sato is really Frank Ramirez's kid and not his, José Torres loses his status. And he doesn't like that."
"It's kinda the perfect plan, when you think about it," Aidan remarked. "She comes onto the men on the senior staff. We do the deed. And there really is something in it for us."
"A royal roll in the hay?" Lucy asked, wrinkling her nose.
"Not just that," Chip confirmed. "It's a bit of security. She had Aidan's kid second – Kira. Aidan may have been busted from Tactical to babysitting duties, but he gets to stay alive because he's needed. And it's also because of Kira's very existence. That boy is an insurance policy in a lot of ways. Long as he remains alive, Hoshi's hard-pressed to want to kill Aidan, no matter what. I mean, do something really bad, and she won't stand on ceremony."
"Oh, like this?" Lucy asked. "And honestly, Chip, is this why she's had twins with you?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "Not my finest hour. But the existence of Takara and Takeo means, for Hoshi, that she figures that I won't take potshots at the mother of my children."
"And Jun?" Lucy asked. "That one didn't go as planned, I take it."
"It did not. That guy Daniels was outta here like a flash. Reports said he was killed in some nasty shuttle crash on Daranaea," Josh stated. "So the first born is kind of a cypher, but in a different way from Arashi."
"Got it," Lucy said, "and now she's having Mayweather's kid."
"Right," Aidan said, "I gotta figure this is the last one, at least for a while. This'll be her sixth in five years. 2156 to now 2161 – these have been busy years for a round-heeled Empress. But I am thinking things aren't, you know, springing back like they used to."
"So this is the opportunity," Josh said, "the five of us, the three kids and I'm guessing we find some likely planet, or something."
"I don't know our real course unless I overhear it on the Bridge," Lucy said. Chip's nod confirmed that. "But I do sometimes hear about a few advance plans. And she's got this idea now; she wants me to work on it with the Vulcan slaves."
"Oh?" Aidan inquired.
"She knows the Defiant is from another universe. And it's a good century and a half ahead of us. So she's got it in her head that she can get another ship just like it if she can get her hooks into the, well, we've been referring to it as the other side of the pond," she said.
"How's she trying to do that?" Aidan asked.
"She wants Tactical involved, too," Chip said. "She thinks if we attune the main phaser bank to a radiation band of twenty-one centimeters, and we blast a hole out in space, it'll blast a hole over to the other side."
"Twenty-one what?" asked Josh.
"It's almost a valid idea," Andy conceded, "'Cause that's how the Defiant itself registers, right?"
"Right," Lucy confirmed. "If she succeeds, maybe we could go to the other side. Maybe that other side is better."
"Can't be any worse than here," Josh said.
"There's a flaw in her reasoning," Andy said, "She's not taking into account that there might be a time differential. Maybe the Defiant is a century and a half or so ahead because it's also a century and a half ahead in time. There are a few clues around. The database may be shot to hell, but there are things like the dedication plaque, and it's from later."
"'Sides," Aidan said, Tactical thinking on his mind, "Even assuming she gets through to the right time period, I bet the Defiant wasn't unique. So she goes in with her one ship, and it gets blasted outta the air by fifty other ships 'cause there are hundreds of others and this is nothing special. So if we go over, we'd better be surrendering."
They all thought for a moment. "Look, I better go soon. Someone's bound to need a diaper change," Aidan said, "We'll meet more later, right? Be cautious, okay? Be prudent. Don't trust anybody but us five, okay? Ramirez is getting watched too closely, sorry to say, so don't get him involved."
"Right," Andy said. He got the door opened and checked around, and then allowed it to close again. "Coast is clear. I better get back to guarding the Armory anyway. This was good idea – New Year's Day – but we won't have quite so many hung over crew members tomorrow or the next day."
"Hmm," Chip said, "The South American Pistoleros are playing the Ganymede Hunters in two days. We'll have the game on the viewer of course. Let's see if we can make sure the synthbeer flows a little more freely than usual, all right? Then we can get together the following morning, just like this."
"I gotta go," Josh said, "I'll go work on the slaves at the mess hall. Convince 'em to pour extra on Game Night, okay?"
Lucy rooted around in a storage bin. "Here, I'll take this with me as a pretext." It was a medical scanner. "Same time in three days, right?"
Everyone left but her and Chip. They kissed again. "Be patient, be prudent," he said. "This can't last forever. And then we'll be gone, with the kids, and we can be together openly." She nodded and kissed him again, and then left for the Bridge, the frying pan to the fire.