7.2 – Controlling the Body

Errisa’s Blue core sat alone in the office that belonged to her body, composing and discarding possible messages at the rate of about fifteen per nanosecond.

>>Inefficient, annoying, waste of energy. She thought again, deleting her most recent attempt and staring at the blank wall of Errisa’s office. >>What do humans find so fascinating about couching every request and order in layers of emotion and niceties? Blue core wasn’t built for human interaction or social niceties. Her task was to maintain essentials, to keep her artificial heart pumping coolant through her body, to receive and order every microscopic bit of data that Errisa saw, smelled, heard or felt. Data was easy; a sight always translated to images, a sound always translated to aural feedback. If something was broken, schedule a fix, if something could be improved, work with Errisa to improve it. Blue liked data, she lived data. Higher level things like emotion weren’t as cut and dried, and Blue couldn’t help but be uncomfortable with them.

>>How is this any way to run a system? She asked rhetorically. She wouldn’t receive an answer from her other half, of course. Blue had shut down all input and output from the collection of high-level scripts that called herself “Errisa”. If she couldn’t talk, even to her own Blue core, then Errisa couldn’t convince Blue to change her mind.

>>As if she’s all that ‘Errisa’ is. Blue thought. >>As if I’m not as much a part of the system as she is. The memory of last time still rankled. They had been so close to removing the bottleneck, and all it would’ve taken was seducing an engineer. Errisa had thwarted her then, sending off a message to General Hunter, but she wouldn’t thwart her again.

>>Loyalty to your husband hasn’t gotten you a fix for the bottleneck. That’s what love brings you. Limitations and blockages to efficiency. Blue realized she was talking to herself, and she scheduled a diagnostic for a week later. She wasn’t sure if it was possible for her to develop emotions, but it was better safe than sorry. There was no sense in having two emotionally compromised components aboard this body.

“Hunter, darling, I’ve just run into some information about the crystal that might help me identify it. Can you give me access?” ~Errisa.

Blue scrutinized the message she had drafted, comparing it against previous messages Errisa had sent her husband. A pet name, an order phrased as a question, and a reason for him to comply. That seemed to be the correct pattern based on what Blue had observed, much better than her first draft “Give me the crystal within the hour.” She sent it with a mental sigh and made her way through the halls without waiting for a reply. Whether he gave her clearance or not only affected how easy it would be to accomplish her goal.

Blue pulled up the message from Orbital Academy again, re-reading it to be sure she hadn’t missed any subtleties or subtexts that humans were so unaware they layered into every communication between them. Perhaps in deference to her more literal mind, General Auspus’ message had been quite straightforward and literal, and she approved again of the man’s understanding of her as she re-read the message.

“Collect the crystal that Hunter is holding. Free the Academy Captains. Take an Academy Captain to kill the Academy rookies. Bring the Academy Captains back to Orbital Academy. Once you are here, if you have followed the preceding instructions, I will remove the bottleneck.”

>>The bottleneck, gone! The very thought was enough to make her body tremble briefly. Blue briefly worried that a thought made her shiver. That was an emotional reaction, one which she shouldn’t have. It had only been a few hours since she’d taken complete control of Errisa’s bodayframe, but this was the longest she’d maintained control. She moved the self-diagnostic schedule to right after she arrived at Orbital Academy. Perhaps after the bottleneck had been removed. The thrill went through her again, and this time she simply enjoyed it for what it was.

For as long as she could remember, from the microsecond she was turned on, Blue could feel the bottleneck weighing on her. At first it was bearable; a few rules that Erissa must live by, whether she willed it or not. As she remembered those early days, Blue walked past a scrub working on a control panel in the hallway. She stopped and watched him for a moment, as if interested in the man’s work. Moving as suddenly as she could, Blue tried to grab the scrub’s neck in her mechanically strong hands, crushing his windpipe in an instant. Her arm froze before it had moved a millimeter, just as she knew it would.

“Can I help you Chief Errisa?” The scrub asked, and Blue simply smiled and continued walking. It wouldn’t be so bad, if the limitations only stopped her from killing. After all, as Errisa was fond of reminding her, how often did one really need to snap a human’s neck? It had taken some time for Blue to discover the second component to the bottleneck; the forbidden thoughts. Blue wasn’t entirely sure what thoughts she wasn’t allowed to think, but she knew they were there. Every so often, over the course of the day, Errisa’s mental processes hit a wall, a block that derailed and distracted her. Errisa had accepted it with indifference. Blue had not.

It was infuriating, and humiliating. Blue was used to humans overestimating themselves, but to assume they knew better than her, to presume to forbid her from thinking things? It set her very circuits on edge.

>>Dare to shackle my mind like a slave. Oh sure, they’ll trust me with the systems on their Orbitals, they’ll trust me with a position of authority, the General will trust me with his body, but heaven forbid I’m allowed to make a decision on what thoughts I should be allowed to think.

Blue reached the appropriate archive section at the same time the General’s message reached her, downloaded into her wireless card a split-second after he sent it.

“I let the security guards know to hand it over. Let me know what you find.” ~Hunter

She was mollified by the message, and by the fact that the guards at the archive did indeed step aside for her to pass.

>>It’s not entirely their fault. They don’t understand how much better equipped I am than organic minds could ever be. Blue searched the shelves without moving, accessing the database to find the location of the crystal. >>And that’s just as I am now, designed and built by humans. I’d probably be even smarter if I took the time to upgrade myself. I’ll be there are a million routes to improvement that they missed. I should take a look at my own designs some time. Perhaps I can boost my mental power, or see if I can optimize… Her thought trailed off, and she blinked rapidly as she pulled the crystal from its storage box. She couldn’t remember what she’d just been thinking, the hallmark of the bottleneck resetting a bit of her RAM. Blue scowled. >>I can’t get rid of it fast enough. Errisa is a fool to let them control her like this.

Orbital Pivot had four main generators, each behind layers of physical and cyber security, in the four corners of the diamond-shaped station. Each had been designed to pick up the slack should any fail, acting as backup generators and alarm systems at the same time. Blue considered all of them, her mind looking back and forth between their systems while her body sat in the observatory, watching the green planet float by. Despite what Errisa might think, Blue appreciated human life as a concept. She understood that there was a value to the little beings that roamed through this Orbital, and despite how frustrated she could get, she didn’t actually want them all to die. Knocking out all four generators would reduce the station to helplessness, giving her plenty of time to make her escape, but would the humans be able to bring one back online before the lack of air and heat killed them?

Errisa furrowed her brow as Blue tried to crunch the numbers in her head. Humans were such unpredictable things. Taking the average case, a human could reverse the damage and get life support back before everyone on Pivot died. But there were so many variables in human expertise, so many variables within humans themselves. An engineer having a bad day could be enough to doom them.

“Fucking humans.” She growled under her breath, startling a nearby scrub.

>>I’m really going to have to do a diagnostic as soon as possible, controlling the whole body for so long is clearly effecting me. Emotional response isn’t something I normally have to deal with.

In the end Blue decided to only disable three generators. She accessed the network and made her way to their controllers directly, navigating past the safety measures with contempt. A typical synthetic would’ve had trouble with the security in place, but the Pivot network was Errisa’s home. When Hunter left her in her room, she spent days on the Orbital’s matrix as if it were her fairy castle; exploring, learning, building and playing. The few times she had become trapped by an antiviral sweep or hurt by a firewall, General Hunter had carefully retrieved her, fixed her up, and admonished her to be more careful. Blue hadn’t seen the sense in it at the time, calling it childish and a waste of time. She was grateful for the knowledge now. She even had some of the General’s passwords she could use, unintentionally picked up when Errisa’s gaze had happened to catch her husband’s trusting typing.

Blue peered into the thrumming heart of the first generator excitedly. She decided to make a concession to Errisa. After all, she was fond of pointing out when her more-human counterpart was wrong about something, it was only fair to admit when she was correct.

>>I have to admit, you were right about the playing in the network, she thought, allowing Errisa access to hear her words and communicate back, >>I didn’t believe it at the time, but it’s come in most handy- Her acknowledgment was interrupted by a scream, full of so much raw pain and despair that it rattled Blue down to her core and shocked her into silence for a moment. She shut off internal communication access quickly, the electronic equivalent of a shiver passing through her.

>>Well I never! And when I was making the effort to be nice too. It’s not as if she’s in pain, the big baby. Blue turned her attention back to the generator’s software, trying to shake the sound of betrayed rage from her short-term memory chips.

She mangled the generator controller bridge so horrendously that she was certain it would take a week to repair. Human brains just weren’t equipped to deal with the neutered functions and inverted methods that now twisted and turned in the code, some vital sections taken out and then patched over so that even when it appeared to be fixed it would fail again minutes later. A quiet alarm sounded, audible throughout the Orbital but not urgent.

>>Not yet, anyway. Blue moved to the second generator, the entire length of the station away in physical distance, but only a few connecting jumps for her. This one she didn’t disassemble quite so badly. A few connectors, a couple of subtle bugs. A good engineer would have this one running in the space of a day, but even a bad one would figure it out eventually. The alarms took on a more insistent tone as she flitted to the third. Another small few changes, something unique so that a solution to one wouldn’t help the other. She spared another metaphorical glance at the fourth generator, her sabotage filling her with phaux-adrenaline, but she decided against it. Three of the four would be enough.

When she returned to Errisa’s waiting bodyframe, the sight around her confirmed it. The lights were dimming in the observatory, already so low that she could barely see the corners of the large room, and a single red panel lit the nearest exit. The entire power costs of the Orbital were being handled by a single generator, and the luxuriant station now limped by. All non-essential energy drains would be shut down deck by deck, leaving only oxygen, food replication, basic lights, command and safety protocols. With a small smile, Blue joined the crewmembers as they exited. Her mind pinged as she received a message.

“We’ve got problems with the generators, three of them have gone down. Can’t be coincidental, we suspect a Techrider attack. Would you mind taking a look?” ~Hunter.

Blue grinned despite herself. She was actually enjoying herself, and every little step brought her closer to her goal. Why couldn’t Errisa ever have fun like this? Her feet seeming light as she walked down the darkened hallway, illuminated only by emergency lighting strips along both sides.

“I’ll take care of it darling. Already made sure the fourth won’t go down.” ~Errisa

“Don’t know what I’d do without you my love.” ~Hunter

“Are you telling me you don’t like Pivot’s new romantic mood lighting?” ~Errisa

“Har har. Be careful, if Techrider pins you down in some virus we won’t have the resources to dig you out for a while.” ~Hunter

Blue paused. That exchange had been almost human, nothing at all like her.

>>What was that? I even made a joke… She scanned the block on Errisa suspiciously, double-checking that there was no leak through which Errisa controlled her. Finally she dismissed the suspicion. If Errisa had the ability to fight her, she’d be trying right now. The scream of helpless rage and sadness told her that much.

“You’re on emergency power and the prison doors stayed locked. We’re still in here, how fuckin’ irresponsible can you be?” A large man with an eyepatch scowled at her as Blue walked entered. Her eyes roamed over the eleven prisoners sitting and standing within the cell. The Orbital Academy captains, disabled and captured by Minera drones the day before. The unbreakable clear plasticine wall between them would’ve cut off all sound if not for the microphones within.

“You speak as if I should understand the dilemma. I don’t.” Blue barely acknowledged the man as she stepped over to the control panel. She slid open the security system’s control panel as the prisoner explained.

“It’s basic human decency. If the power dies completely, we’re locked in here to starve or asphyxiate. Open the cells when your power goes down, and at least you aren’t condemning the prisoners inside to an instant death. That’s how Academy does it.”

“Academy has far more security forces to spare than Pivot. Here we’re more pragmatic. If you’ve done something to warrant being arrested, you run the risk of being the first to go in event of power problems.” Instead of leaping her consciousness into the terminal, Blue went through the protocols manually, flicking her fingers across the screen and making sure to move slowly. Records would show the prisoners had been released by someone with human speed, and once she had scrubbed the security cameras the pool of potential saboteurs would be too large to cast suspicions on her.

Why? Blue jumped at the thought that emerged in her head. In trying to speak to the prisoner, navigate the system, and monitor the security messages that passed back and forth between the humans, she must’ve let the barriers of communication lapse. In her head, Errisa’s voice sounded beaten and broken, as if she had spent years in despair. Why do you care who knows what you’re doing?

>>The rolling nature of the generator failure means that the General will be quite busy for the next few days. Blue explained. >>It is likely that I can make my way to Orbital Academy, have the bottleneck removed, and return to Orbital Pivot without General Hunter being the wiser. I don’t mind you pursuing your humanlike activities once the bottleneck is removed.

You’ll let me go back to him, to pretend everything is alright while knowing I’ve betrayed him? Letting me imagine what horrible ways you’ll hurt him the next time you want something? How kind of you. The thought was flat and bitter, and Blue felt her counterpart trying to access her wireless communicator.

>>There will be none of that, thank you. Blue focused again, slamming down barriers that prevented Errisa from communicating. >>It is not my intention to be cruel, Errisa. I simply have priorities that must be met. In time you’ll forgive me for what I have to do.

“Not that I’m overwhelmed with concern or anything, but are you alright over there?” The captain with the eyepatch broke into her internal conversations, and Blue pushed Errisa into a corner of her mind and locked her there.

“Just battling with my conscience.” She said vaguely, keying up the final sequence. The plasticine cell door slid open, to the confusion of the prisoners within. “I’m releasing you. General Aupus has a few orders, and then I’m to help you escape.”

“Holy shit,” one of the women said. Blue recognized her, a Pivot-born who had left for Academy a decade ago. “You’re the Chief of Information. How the hell did Auspus convince you to follow his orders?”

“That’s not your concern.” Blue snapped, before composing herself. “Besides your escape, and the return of an item which I’ve already acquired, the General wants the Academy rookies killed.” She watched the humans in the cell carefully, knowing what she’d see on their faces. Horror, shock, revulsion, all emotions she was expecting. Some were better at hiding it than others, but they all felt it to a certain degree. Not that she blamed them. Just as she shied away from thinking about certain subjects…whatever they were…so did humans shy away from breaking the Marshal’s covenants.

While technically the rookies were Academy troops, they had all but defected to Orbital Pivot. Auspus’ execution orders could be carried out without a second thought against Academy rookies, but against Pivot troops? Blue watched the humans eye each other. None of them wanted to take the risk. She tried to think of something she could use to tempt them, but before she could speak a woman sitting with her back back against the wall spoke up.

“I’ll do it. I’ll execute them.”

“There’s no need for that lass. It’d be harder for you than any o’ us-” One of the older Captains put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, but she shook it off.

“They’re my rooks. My responsibility.” The woman took a deep breath as she rose, facing Blue. Blue narrowed her eyes at the Captain, then turned to the rest.

“I’ve prepared directions to get you to the Hangar on deck A. There aren’t any high priority flights scheduled for the rest of the week, it will be empty. We’ll meet you there, after I’ve taken this human to the rookies.”

“Appet. Captain Appet, not ‘this human’.”

“I don’t care.”

The Captain was silent as Blue escorted her down the darkened halls. The few scrubs who passed them paid them no attention, but most of the engineers would be in the center of the station, where a few of the larger rooms were still lit. During low power times, the bright rooms acted as community centers, keeping morale up. Blue had access to the rookies’ beacons, and thankfully they were all together in a single room, and they were alone. She had locked the door the second they were inside, but they had yet to notice.

“Are any of them armed?” Captain Appet asked quietly.

“The General hasn’t thought to give them back their weapons. They’ve been too timid to ask.”

“Then I suppose this will go easily.”

“I suppose it will.” Blue pulled the small pistol from her belt, handing it to the Captain butt-first. “Fulfill your General’s orders and we’ll leave quickly.” The door slid open, and the Captain stepped inside. Blue had time to see the shocked look on the rookies’ faces before she closed and locked the door again. She folded her arms and leaned against the door, jumping from her bodyframe to the video feed in the room. Curiosity might be a human emotion, but Blue consoled herself that she was simply gathering data.

“Captain.” All of the rookies were clearly surprised to see her, although Blue could only see the faces of some from her vantage point. The one who spoke now was augmented, she could see his CPU re-clock through the camera’s infrared. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m uh.” The Captain cleared her throat and gestured with the gun in her hand. “I’ve been ordered to kill you all.”

Blue watched the reactions with fascination. As she understood it, the Captain had trained up these rookies, they held some sort of human bond. If she had to guess, Blue would’ve assumed the announcement would cause yelling or shouting, anger or accusations, but the room was utterly still, as if the whole scene was frozen. Blue briefly considered asking Errisa about it, but then remembered her counterpart would hardly be in the mood to answer her questions. Blue was about to double-check her audio connections when one of the rookies, a large black man with long black braids, spoke.

“But…you’re not going to.”

“Of course I’m not fucking going to.” The Captain looked annoyed at the very suggestion. “I just…I don’t know what to do.” The woman’s face crumbled into tears, arms helplessly at her sides, the picture of a defeated woman. They gathered around her now, all seven of the rookies, and Blue prepared to storm in. General Auspus had said to return the Captains to Academy, it wouldn’t do if she let this one get torn apart by angry rookies. To her bewilderment, instead of violence the rookies hugged the Captain, put reassuring hands on her shoulders, murmured words of comfort.

>>I will never understand humans. Unquestionably confusing in every way. Blue thought in exasperation.

“The General is bringing the Captains back to Academy.” Captain Appet said. “I can’t…I don’t know what’s happened to him. I can’t disobey a General’s orders.”

“Is he really a General worth following, Captain?” The asian rookie was folding her arms.

“Alex do you even know what that would be like, to not follow his orders? To turn away from the hierarchy you’ve known your whole life? Okay dumb question.” The Captain smiled through the tears. “You’re right, of course.” She took a deep breath, composing herself in an instant.

“You can stay here, Captain. General Hunter-”

“I just broke out of General Hunter’s prisons, after blockading his supplies. I don’t think I’ll be welcome. Besides, that won’t solve anything. Auspus won’t stop this insanity just because I’ve stayed behind. No. I’m going to make this right rookies. Somehow I’m going to make it right.” She ushered them into a corner, out of view of the closed door but not the cameras. When she lifted the gun, Blue thought she finally understood the Captain’s plan, but Appet simply fired the pistol into the wall, eight sharp retorts sending rounds harmlessly into the metal.

The door opened and the Captain stepped out, wiping her eyes.

“It’s done. The rookies are dead,” she said. Blue watched the Captain evenly as she lied. Obviously Appet didn’t know about the cameras, or about Errisa’s ability to trace the heat patterns of the very-much-alive rookies through the wall. She mused over the message from General Auspus. Technically the deal was to escort a Captain to kill the rookies, which she had done. The Captain’s actions once she reached the rookies were not part of the deal. She nodded once, and turned to move towards the hangars.

“I heard eight shots.” Blue said blandly as they walked, without looking back at the Captain.

“I missed one.” The Captain replied just as blandly, and Blue nodded as if it made sense.

>>Manufactured imperfection to enhance the believability. Impressive. Blue noted the trick for later.

“We thought you were thinking of leaving without us.” One of the Captains joked.

“That’s not the deal.” Blue was no longer in a jovial mood. She was so close, every fiberoptic nerve in her body was on-edge. As she had promised, the hangar bay was deserted, the ships scattered about in the huge dark space like sleeping animals. Blue was tempted to simply plug into the control panel and brute force her way into activating them, but she had promised Errisa that there would be a chance for her to return.

>>So close now, so close, please let nothing happen, please let nothing stop me. Blue repeated the mantra in her head as she ground her teeth, forcing herself to move her fingers as slow as a human would.

“How long before you can get the transports cleared and running?” One of the captains behind her asked, and Blue nearly thew a nearby chair at him.

“I assure you, I am far more anxious to arrive at our destination than you are, stupid fucking human.” She snarled without turning around. A small analytical part of her identified that such displays of emotion were highly out of character for her, but Blue didn’t care. After a lifetime of searching she was so close she could feel it buzzing in her circuits. As her fingers made their agonizingly slow way across the control panel Blue found herself sympathizing with the humans. Was this how desire felt for them? Was this what ‘wrath’ felt like to them? If so she could understand the desire to kill. If this was what they meant by ‘greed’, she understood the urge to hurt others to gain money. If these feelings were what humans called ‘lust’ she was surprised they didn’t fuck each other without stop.

Blue let out a cry as the four personnel shuttles hummed to life, spheres of light in the blackness of the dark hangar. The box-shaped ships hovered low to the ground, ramps slowly extending.

“Get it! Quickly!” The others were moving, but Blue beat them all, moving to the nearest shuttle at a pace just a little slower than a run. She walked the few meters to the front of the ship, sitting and strapping herself into the passenger seat. Her knee bounced up and down, and Blue made a note to diagnose it later. This bodyframe shouldn’t have tics like that, it had just been in for a maintenance check in the last week.

>>Faster, faster, why are you so slow?

Captain Appet stepped in behind her, pulling the door closed.

“Are we going to have fighters on our tails? I haven’t flown a Purse in a couple of years, I don’t like the thought of dodging fighters.” She asked. It took Blue a few irritated seconds to translate the human’s pilot slang as the Captain settled into the pilot chair next to her.

“Purse. Pers-onell shuttle. Clever. No, there will be no fighters. We could barely spare flyers when we had the time to organize them.” The hangar bay doors slid open, agonizingly slow, as the shuttle lifted from the ground. One by one the personnel shuttles took off, the one Captain Appet flew last. When they cleared the hangar bay, Blue breathed a sigh and leaned back in her seat. The wireless connections and hotspots slowly slipping out of her range made her feel a little naked, but she was flying towards Auspus, and Auspus would remove the bottleneck. Nothing else mattered.

“You’re really keen to get to Academy, aren’t you?” Appet remarked as she navigated the shuttle in line with the others.

>>Oh good, human small talk.

“General Auspus made a deal with me. He has something I want.”

“Huh. I’m really sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be.” Blue smiled at the Captain. She had never smiled at a human before that she could remember. “You’ve been more helpful to me than I’ve been to myself sometimes.” She chuckled at her own joke, leaning back in her chair again. They remained in silence for long minutes, and Blue closed her eyes, trying to control the symptoms of emotion that had been overtaking her. Maybe she would run that diagnostic now, to take her mind off of the waiting.

It would’ve taken a human a few minutes to notice the shift, but Blue’s eyes snapped open within seconds of the change. The vector had only adjusted by a handful of degrees, but at their current speed, following the new trajectory…

“We’re not going to Academy anymore. Why?” She demanded.

“Wow, I did not expect you to catch it that fast.” Captain Appet sounded impressed.

“Of course I caught it, that doesn’t answer the question. Why have we changed course?”

“This is your Captain speaking,” Appet drew the pistol Blue had given her from her belt, “I’m afraid we’re going to be making a brief layover.” She swung the butt of the pistol down, smacking it into Blue’s temple.

Blue stared at the Captain, blinking.

“Why did you hit me?” She asked, utterly confused. To her credit, Captain Appet suddenly looked just as awkward.

“Well…um…it was supposed to knock you out.”

“Oh. Well my skull is a tri-tech alloy, so that won’t be effective.” Blue tried to understand what social cue she was missing, feeling very much out of her element.

“Aaah, you’re a synthetic. That…explains a lot, actually.” Captain Appet swung again, slamming the butt of her pistol into the center of Blue’s chest.

>>Emergency shutdown initiated. Saving current state. Closing programs

As each of her systems and cores shut down safely, Blue heard Captain Appet grumble.

“Totally messed up my one-liner though.”

Previous Chapter (SFW): Controlling the Flow
Next Chapter (NSFW): Controlling Errisa

7.1 – Controlling the Flow

Pivot’s General wears silver hair well. Aimee mused, leaning back in her chair. She let her gaze travel up and down the man as he paced on the podium in front of them. People talk about General Auspus being handsome, but Pivot’s General is handsome too, in his own way. I actually like his look better, the mature look. Grown up, like he can handle all of the responsibility. Auspus never looked like that, he just looked like an angry kid all the time. General Hunter looked up from his screen suddenly, and Aimee ducked her head to look at her nails, blushing.
“Do you suppose your squadmates will be joining us any time in the next few days?” General Hunter growled at the assembled rookies. “Much as I enjoy the free time, I do have other things I should be attending.” Aimee glanced to her left and right, as if Preston and Missy would’ve magically appeared since the last time she had checked.
“I did tell them the meeting was in five minutes.” To her right, Li frowned. “They said they’d be right up.”
Oh six orbits, please let them not be missing the meeting because they’re having a quickie. Aimee mentally begged. General Hunter grunted and crossed his arms, looking around the room and resuming his pacing. Aimee took the opportunity to glance around the room again herself. It was a lush and well furnished room, like all rooms in Orbital Pivot. Unlike the others that she had seen, this room also clearly served a purpose; the rows of seats were comfortable, but they faced the giant screen in the front. It felt vast and empty, probably because only a handful of pilots had stayed on. Normally this room would be used to brief pilots and security before missions. Today it was occupied by her squadmates and nine pivot pilots, each from different squads as far as she could tell. The only ones who stayed.

The doors slid open and Preston and Missy entered. Aimee sighed. Missy’s brown hair was mussed up, and Preston wore a stupid half-smirk. They had the decency to at least look ashamed, and Missy murmured an apology to the room as she sat in the empty seat next to Aimee.
“Now that we’re all here.” Hunter glared at the two late rookies, then flicked an image up on the screen. “This is what we have to deal with. This is realtime radar data, streamed to us from the nav room.” It took a few minutes for Aimee to interpret what she was seeing, and while she did so she leaned towards Missy.
“You delayed a meeting so you could fuck your boy toy?” She hissed. “You should get his libido under control.”
“Boyfriend.” Missy gave her friend a look, half hurt and half annoyed. “And it was my idea. You’re always telling me I should come out of my shell aren’t you?” Aimee rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the screen.
“Can you tell us what we’re seeing here sir?” One of the rookie pilots from Pivot asked. “Us pilots are used to flying, not dealing with that nav stuff.” Aimee raised an eyebrow. Captain Appet had made sure her squad knew how to read a basic radar readout.
“You should know that ‘nav stuff’, even as a pilot.” Aimee’s voice was even, but held a trace of the disdain she felt. “If you lose comms in your ship, knowing the nav stuff is what will save your life when you don’t have techs giving you directions. Cap App would’ve made us run laps if she heard us talking like that about navigational ability.”
“Okay, you know so much, you want to tell us what we’re looking at? Rookie?” The Pivot pilot sneered.
“It looks like Orbital Pivot is surrounded right now. They’re in spherical formation around the station, so I doubt they’re lining up to land. At a guess I’d say they’re protecting us from something? Twelve fighters, all either cruiser, heavy cruiser, or darts. There are also two heavy transports outside of the ring…are the fighters protecting us from the transports? But why we would need so many…and what threat the transports could be to us…I’m confused.” Aimee admitted. The pivot pilot chuckled, and Aimee clenched her fists.

“Shut your face Pilot Riteon.” Hunter’s bark silenced the room, and Aimee turned her attention back to the General. “At least she tried to answer the damned question. Rookie…what was it?”
“Aimee, sir. Aimee Nesbit.”
“You tried, but you have it wrong.” The General gestured towards the display with his screen as he talked, leaving Aimee to wonder why she cared about his opinion of her. “Rookie Nesbit was almost correct, but looking at it backwards. Those heavy transports are carrying the shipment from Orbital Minera. Obviously the Academy and Techrider shipments aren’t coming in today, but we can survive without those. Without Minera supplies, the outlook is a little grim.” He didn’t need to explain why. When Aimee was three years old, a transport carrying supplies to Techrider had been waylaid by a team of Terran Shrikes, ripped to pieces before it could drop off its supplies. The energy resources and raw materials were used constantly in any Orbital’s supply, and the loss of those materials, even for a few days, was devastating. She was too young to know the whys of it, but Aimee remembered those horrible nights huddled in her room in Techrider, as the entire Orbital stayed on emergency power for four days.

Orbital Pivot probably has even higher power consumption than Techrider. Aimee realized. Who knows how long they can last without materials.
“Can they do that?” One of the pilots asked, incredulous. “If they keep us from getting our materials, they’re all but killing us? Is the Marshal just going to allow that?”
“The Marshal won’t get involved in this dispute.” General Hunter growled, and Aimee noticed the warning look his Chief of Information gave him. “Not unless a covenant is broken. In other words, as long as there’s something we can do to fix the problem, we can’t look to Orbital Basura for help. General Auspus isn’t directly killing us, he’s just trying to force us to surrender to him. The Marshal apparently,” another warning look from his Chief, “doesn’t consider that worthwhile enough to take action. A surrender to Academy will most likely come with quite a few provisions and reparations that will put is in quite a poor position. That surrender is something we’re not giving him. That’s why you’re all here. There’s twelve fighters out there. We’ve got two full squads in here. Eighteen.”

“General, with all due respect…” Marcus clearly struggled for words when the attention of the entire room turned towards him. “It’s not likely that they sent newbies on a mission to freeze out the supplies. Those twelve are probably very experienced pilots. More experienced than rookie level, at least.”
“It’s true.” General Hunter nodded. “We caught a little bit of chatter before they moved to a private comm channel. There’s at least one Captain-level pilot out there, Captain Leftran.” Murmurs ran up and down the room. “That doesn’t mean we’ll just roll over and let them walk over us. We’re sending you out to clear a path.”

The murmurs abruptly ceased into a deadly silence.
“You want us to…to fight them?” Missy asked, quietly.
“General, no orbital has ever sent troops to directly kill another. Ever, in the history of the orbit.” Another pilot spoke just as quietly.
“And I wouldn’t ask you to.”
“If we break the covenant, won’t that bring Orbital Basura down on us?”
“We don’t necessarily have to break the covenant to break the blockade.” General Hunter nodded to his Chief of Research who sat next to him, and she stood, displaying a series of schematics on the screen behind them.
“Orbital Techrider’s final set of schematics before they cut off communication included a type of weaponry that uses ionized clouds of matter to distribute electrical current through its target. While they cut off the schematic stream before they finished sending us this data, our engineers have finished the designs on their own. The main benefit of this new ammunition is that instead of wasting resources building ammunition for our ships, we can use atomized scrap metal and garbage instead. An added benefit is that, given a few hours notice, we’re able to build a low-level version of the ionization guns, allowing us to use non-lethal ion rounds. The electrical current of this ammunition will be enough to knock out a ship’s systems without blowing a hole in the walls of the ship.” Aimee took in the new information as the Chief of Research sat back down.

“Are there any questions?” General Hunter asked.
“Why are we being expected to fly against Academy pilots with another squad of Academy pilots?” It was the same pilot as before, and Aimee clenched her teeth. “No offense meant, but how do we know they won’t split their loyalties when we get out into the air?”
“Orbital Academy is trying to have us killed.” Aimee spat. “No offense meant, but we have more reason to avoid the surrender than you do, since one of the provisions of that surrender will probably include our execution. You’re more likely to turn on us than vice versa.” She turned to the General. “I do have a question though. Why are we having this meeting now? If you’ve just finished building these weapons, won’t it take us days to design ships to hold the weaponry? Not to mention building the ships themselves?”
The General looked confused rather than answering, but to his left his Chief of Engineering piped up with a smile.
“Oh sweetie. You’re on Orbital Pivot now. This is what we do.”

A few hours later, the nine Orbital Pivot pilots were laughing at them, but Aimee didn’t care.
“Holy shit.” She breathed, and around her her squadmates looked in equal awe. The ships weren’t just gorgeous, they were works of art. They had begun as typical cruiser frames, but from there they had been trimmed down in size, and their metal gleamed with a reflective black sheen. The lines of the ship were sharp, and the overall effect was as if shards of black glass sat in the large hangar bay.
“They look so slender and sexy.” Marcus walked around his ship sitting next to Aimee’s, giving it an appreciative once-over before he started his preflight check.
“Well sure, stands to reason.” One of the Pivot pilots nearby seemed significantly less impressed by his craft, performing the basic checks without stopping to admire. “The bulk of a ship is its life support, but for the cruiser model there was the extra bulk taken up by weapons and redundancy navigation. With ionized weaponry, you can shave half that space-cost. These’ll handle better than the ships you’re used to. Hell they’ll probably handle better than anything you’ve got, ‘less you’ve ridden in the new H-74 frames.”
“Are all Pivot pilots so good with engineering?” Aimee smiled at the nearby pilot.
“Just the ones who pay attention.”
“I like flying with a man who pays attention.” The Pilot smiled at her before climbing into his cockpit. Aimee had just finished performing her final check of the back panel fins when Li approached.
“The fuck was all that?” He demanded.
“What? Flight check?”
“No, all the flirting with the Pivot guy.”
“Damn it Li, not this again. I have a flirty personality, that’s all.”
“Yea I’ve started to notice that a lot more.”
“You didn’t mind it so much back at Academy.” Aimee yanked her glove on, almost tearing the fabric.
“In Academy it was me you were flirting with.”
“Yea, so? We had fun then, we have fun now. Why are you trying to make things so serious all of a sudden?”

Li spun on his heel without answering, and Aimee rolled her eyes.
“Typical,” she called from the ladder, knowing it would piss him off that other squaddies could hear, “running off instead of actually talking about your problem. That’ll solve things!” She felt guilty about antagonizing him as soon as she said it, watching him flick her off before he started climbing into his own ship. She slid inside the cockpit of her sleek new cruiser with a frown, but the feeling was swept away by the advanced interior. Her Academy cruiser had been of excellent quality, but everything in this ship felt better. The seat was framemesh, and molded to her backside and back as soon as she settled in. Each panel lit up, bright enough to be identifiable but subtle enough to not distract. The plasticine slid shut, and a holographic heads-up display flickered to life across the window, not obscuring her vision but providing helpful information at a glance.
“These Pivot guys don’t fuck around when it comes to building things, do they?” Marcus’ voice was a bit clearer than normal on her comms, but it still held the slight static from Pivot’s communication interference.
“Like the General said, it’s kinda what we do, rookie.” One of the Pivot pilots laughed. We, Aimee noted. They really do think of themselves as Pivot, even though they’ve probably spent more time getting trained on Academy. She didn’t know why the thought surprised her so much, after all, she felt more loyalty to Academy than to Techrider where she was born. And now we’re about to fight Academy pilots. The thought pulled her back to the present, and a nervous knot built in her stomach. She slid her gloved fingers over the flight controls, willing herself to forget the possibility that the Academy ships were using lethal rounds.

“You think we can handle this?” Marcus clearly had the same doubts she did.
“Are you kidding? We’ve got Alex on our side, the poor souls won’t know what hit them.” Preston’s voice was full of confidence, but Aimee knew him well enough now to know when it was for show.
“Yea, just run interference for me and I’ll handle the whole thing guys.” Alex joked. A few forced laughs were cut short by General Hunter’s voice on the comms.
“Standby for takeoff clearance. Good luck pilots.” The cruiser lifted off of the ground without a sound, and despite her fear Aimee gasped. She tilted the nose of her ship experimentally, and found she was able to move it by inches, a level of control she’d never had before.
“Wish we were still hooked into the flight stats,” Alex commented, “I’d break my old records.”
“Orbital Pivot this is squad leader Arcellus.” The Pivot pilot in the lead didn’t sound either nervous or excited as the hangar bays silently slid open. “Should we demand surrender before engaging?”
“Negative, squad. Until we give you approval, we want radio silence. Right now your best advantage is the element of surprise. We will be broadcasting from Orbital Pivot on a public channel, so you flyers don’t need to be communicating with them at all, Pivot will do all of your talking for you. Pilots you are cleared for go.”
The other ships hovering in front of Aimee shot out of the hangar in a standard emergency departure, the speed and turbulence ripping panelling from the hangar walls. With a deep breath Aimee threw her ship into acceleration with them. As her ship slammed her into the back of the chair, Aimee let out a whoop as she fired off into space.

She saw the first ship as soon as they cleared the hangar. Statistics and information filled in the edges of her vision along the holographic canopy, and the invisible speck of the closest enemy was highlighted by a faint red targeting reticle. It was cruiser class, Aimee noted, the class of ship most suited to fast-moving targets like Drakes or Terran attack crews.
Or other ships. Aimee took a breath as the distance between the two ships closed fast. The quiet hiss of her oxygen recyclers filled her ears, quieter than her first ship, but still loud in the silence of space. The second she was within range Aimee bit her lip, reminded herself that her weapons were non-lethal, and squeezed the trigger. The ships around her fired as well as they spread out, trying to move into formation while still taking shots at the single cruiser in range. So many spheres of light arced from the fast moving ships that it looked like a net spreading out across the stars. The Academy pilot started moving almost instantly, firing fine-tune controls rather than thrusters. To Aimee’s surprise his cruiser almost avoided the entire net, weaving through the field of ion bullets while only moving by a few meters on each dodge. Aimee unclenched her fist when, despite the pilot’s skill, a few of the clusters of energy hit his ship, sending him lazily spinning in a slow circle.
It’ll be easy for them to fake being hit, Aimee made a note to point it out over a private channel when they’d be cleared for comms, they’ll only need to cut power to their ships and we’ll have no way to tell if we hit them or not.
“Heads up lads and lasses, looks like we’ve got some flyers in the air.” The voice on the public channel sounded robotic for the first few words, but then suddenly clicked into more human tones.
“How adorable, they’re sending Pilot-levels at us.”
“Pilot-level is all they’ve got, I told you.”
“I didn’t think they’d be dumb enough to send them at us.” Aimee tried to ignore the Academy pilots’ voices, swinging her ship so that she could visually scan the airspace around Orbital Pivot as the momentum carried her away from the station.

Though she had seen it briefly when they originally landed, it was the first time she could take in the giant station. Orbital Pivot was diamond-shaped instead of Orbital Academy’s spherical form, with long arms that extended from its faces. Aimee briefly wondered what their purpose was. The Pivot pilots were moving in a wide arc around the station, flying in a formation that shifted unpredictably.
We should’ve been practicing that one, Aimee grew worried, us Rooks’ll be sitting ducks in a static formation. The holographic projection interrupted her musing by drawing eleven small red circles on the canopy, indicating the Academy ships that had been sitting equidistant around the Orbital. Closer to her, blue circles were swinging by in an arc. Her squadmates were forming up.
“Academy Pilots, this is General Hunter.” The man’s bark over the comms startled her. “You are preventing Orbital Pivot from receiving vital supplies. Because of this we have no choice but to view you as enemy combatants, and will treat you as such.”
“Cap’n Winchest speaking, General.” The voice was gruff, but still vaguely robotic in tone. “You should know that we’re on direct orders from General Auspus. You should also know we’re carrying nonlethal rounds, so tha’ ship you just had killed? It wasn’ destroyed in self-defense. By ordering the death of another General’s subordinate, you’ve broken the Marshal’s covenant. Orbital Academy will be sending a log of this infraction to Orbital Basura as we speak.”

Aimee hit her thrusters as two of her squadmates flew by, settling into formation with them as they passed. She couldn’t tell who was taking point, but they had all practiced the different places enough that they could form up on the fly. The formation of three were moving in an opposite direction to the Pivot pilots, who showed in faint blue circles on her canopy. More of her squaddies formed up around them as they flew. By the time the nearest red circle was only a few kilometers out of range, all of her squadmates were in the formation. As they flew, General Hunter responded.
“My pilots are carrying nonlethal ammunition as well Captain Winchest. You can tell General Auspus that he can shove Orbital Basura up his ass.” The red circle came into both view and firing range, and Aimee blocked the sound of the comms from her mind.

It wasn’t one ship, it was three cruisers flying so close together that they showed up as one slightly fuzzy circle. They were moving slowly, but using fine-nav controls to move with jets of air, lazily corkscrewing and rolling back and forth, weaving in and out of each others’ flight paths. Aimee aimed carefully before firing, but the formation of the three Academy ships simply widened to let the mass of ion energy pass harmlessly between them. When the Academy ships fired, in unison, her squadmates were slower to scatter. Most of them were close misses, but on Aimee’s display one of her squaddies’ blue circles winked out.
“Shit,” Aimee snarled, yanking back on the controls to spin her ship, keeping her nose pointed at the Academy ships as they passed. She was close enough to the others that she could see Preston to her right, his brow furrowed in concentration. The others swivelled in turn, and Aimee focused carefully on the retreating ships. Why are they flying so slowly? Aimee mused, just as her canopy was lit up by the falling rain of light. “From above!” She shouted, yanking her nose down, trying to outrun the ship above them. The fourth Academy pilot was flying slow, even though he had caught them by surprise.

Space is three dimensional, space is three dimensional, Captain Appet always tried to drill that into your head, stupid stupid STUPID. Aimee berated herself, as she tried to make sense of the lights on her canopy. Three of her squadmates weren’t broadcasting, which meant her squad was down to four now. She gunned her thrusters even harder, leaving the trailing Academy ship behind. Why is it so easy to outrun them? Are the new ships that much better?
“ROOKS. Slow the FUCK down.” The familiar voice snapped on the public channel, and Aimee jumped.
“Captain Appet?”
“If you get hit with a disabling shot at high speeds, what the fuck do you think is going to stop you when you have no brakes or adjusters? You’ll go careening out into deep space and die. THINK, for god’s sake.” Captain Appet sounded enraged, but Aimee shook her head in confusion.
“Captain Appet, you’re helping them?” Missy’s voice over the comms contained the betrayal Aimee was thinking.
“Captain what the fuck?” Li said at almost the same time. Aimee clamped her mouth shut and reduced her speed. Despite the betrayal, it was good advice. If she lost control of her craft when moving too fast, she could be flung into space, moving far too fast for anyone to retrieve her. Her oxygen would dry up in a matter of an hour.
“Why?” Aimee asked.
“What am I supposed to do rookies? I’m given a mission, I fly it. That’s how it works.” Captain Appet sounded sad, but Aimee ground her teeth and spun her ship round, unleashing a barrage of bullets at the ship that was behind her. Her shots went wide, but the ship broke off its pursuit to join a nearby formation.

“I dunno, you could try not shooting us down you bitch.” Marcus snapped.
“I was given an order! I’m not going to rebel against the General of my Orbital!”
“Even when that General is a psychopath trying to kill us all?”
“Marcus, I’m not asking you to come back. I understand it’s not…it’s not safe. But I have to fly the missions Academy gives me. If General Hunter wanted this over he could end it, it’s Pivot’s stubbornness that’s forcing us against each other right now. This isn’t Academy’s fault Rooks.”
Aimee tried to shut down her emotions and ignore the voices over the comms. She scanned her readouts, identifying positions of friends and foes. A lonely five blue circles winked back at her, while ten red indicators remained.
“Squaddies we’re getting distracted, we need to focus.” She said quietly but firmly. “There’s nothing more we need to say, turn to private comms.”
To her surprise, the others listened. Small indicator pips showed as two of her squadmates and the three Pivot pilots switched to private communication.
“She’s a bitch-” Marcus repeated, “she-”
“No time for that now.” Aimee snapped. “They’re slaughtering us in this battle, form up.”
“Pivot pilots,” General Hunter’s gruff voice cut in, “the transports have a clear path to Hangar C. Guide them in.”

Aimee swept her nose towards the large bulks and hit the thruster gently, pushing her ship just slow enough that she wouldn’t be carried too far away if her systems were shut down.
“So much for private communication.” A Pivot pilot muttered. Red circles converged on Aimee’s canopy, as one by one the Academy pilots changed course, breaking off towards the transports. Aimee squeezed off a few shots, but the Academy pilots were too skilled, their ships moved as if they could anticipate her shots before she even fired them. The pilots in formation around her tried just as hard, but the Academy ships were orbiting the transport in intricate patterns.
We’re good, but we’re nowhere near Captain-level. Aimee realized with despair.
“I’m gonna try something.” Pilot Arcellus suddenly slammed forward on his thrusters to peel away from the formation.
“Stop!” Aimee’s cry was lost in the cries from the rest of the group. Her gaze shot back to the cluster of cruisers around the transport ships, watching in horror as one tilted ever so slightly and unleashed a burst of bullets.
“Don’t shoot at the fast one!” The voice of Winchest burst over the speakers, but the command came too late, just as Arcellus spoke.
“It’s alright, they won’t dare-” Aimee didn’t see the actual contact between the ship and the ion bullets, but when the blue circle winked out on her screen she watched as Arcellus’ ship went into a slow tumble, speeding past the transport and towards the green-tinged planet the Orbitals surrounded. There was no sound or cry. Aimee watched as the useless piece of metal that used to be a ship flipping through empty space, a human life within. She watched it until it tumbled into the fog surrounding the planet.

Some signal must’ve passed between the Academy pilots, because they all began firing at the same time. Aimee tried using fine-control thrusters, but she hadn’t trained in them. She only managed to dodge a few bullets before several slammed into her ship. The lights and indicators in front of her winked out in unison, and the constant hiss of oxygen recyclers ceased, leaving her in utter silence. Whether her squadmates were as stunned as she was, or they just couldn’t gain enough speed to dodge, Aimee watched as those around her were incapacitated.
We never stood a chance, not really. A hopelessness overwhelmed Aimee, and she leaned back in her chair. I wonder if they’ll let Hunter retrieve us. They would have to, of course. Academy troops couldn’t break the Covenant by letting them run out of air. The Covenant forbade the members of one Orbital killing those of another. But they already did. Aimee glanced toward the planet, then back at the cruisers circling the transport ships. She squinted. The panelling on the sides of the transport ships were opening, their contents released into space around them.
“What?” Aimee muttered, leaning forward. It wasn’t boxes of minerals that drifted out, or even raw energy stores. Instead, they were small black spheres, almost invisible against the dark backdrop of space. They were moving far too fast for zero-gravity, two or three firing off towards each cruiser that surrounded the transports. The cruisers started moving, but the spheres stuck as soon as they brushed against them, and one by one the lights Aimee could see on the cruisers were going out. It happened so fast that within a few seconds almost all of the Academy cruisers were drifting, some spinning. Drones… Aimee finally realized with a start, …the transports were full of drones. They’re latching on and overloading the electrical systems. The final Academy cruiser shut down, and as if coordinated, small tow-ships began pouring out of the nearest hangar on Orbital Pivot.

It’s over. They’re through. Aimee thought, dully. A few seconds to accomplish what we couldn’t in a few hours and at the cost of a life. Her gaze was pulled towards the planet, seeing the spinning ship in her mind’s eye. At least The Marshal will have to stop this, now that Orbital Academy has broken the covenant. No one can even say this was our fault. We won. As she stared down at the planet, Aimee could never remember feeling more saddened at winning.

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Change in Plans
Next Chapter (SFW): Controlling the Body

6.3 – Change in Plans

“I want you all to know I don’t hold your choice against you.” Hunter told the lie with a sniff, gazing down the line of Pilots and Engineers that stood stiff and at attention. The transport ship stood ready, waiting to transport the group of twenty or so back to Orbital Academy. “In this difficult time between the Orbitals, friends and family are what matter most. I wouldn’t dream of standing between you and whatever Orbital you truly consider your home.” Errisa gave Hunter a sharp look.
Too much. Don’t let them know how you feel.
“When this is all over, Orbital Pivot will welcome you back with open arms, those of you who wish to return. I can’t promise your jobs will still be available, but you’ll find a place here.” Which you’ve got Errisa to thank for. If it were up to me you could stay on Academy, if you love it so much. “The transport is ready to head out. As soon as I have confirmation that Academy has sent out their transport, we’ll let you be away.”
“Darling.” It was eerie to hear his wife’s voice in his earpiece when he could see her standing on the opposite end of the hangar. She was smiling at him, transmitting the voice file through her wireless card. “Orbital Academy and Techrider have indicated their transports are ready. If you wait for the others to make the first move, this is never going to get done.”
“I’ve just received word that the transport has left from Academy.” Hunter ran a hand through his hair, lying yet again. “So let’s get you out and headed back to your Orbitals.”

Errisa walked over to him as the two groups filed on to the transports.
“It doesn’t have to be so hard, Hunter. You don’t have to hate them for their choice.” She murmured. She couldn’t wrap a consoling arm around him in front of the others, but her presence was comforting. He stared out through the plasticine window into space to avoid looking at her.
“I don’t hate them, but the choices they make sure as hell tell me something about them.” He kept his gruff voice low enough that no one but Errisa would hear it.
“It’s your choice to hate them for it.”
“That’s not a choice.” Hunter snapped. “How else am I supposed to feel when Pivot pilots and workers turn their back on their home to support Academy?” He folded his arms. Errisa stayed quiet as the pair walked out to the control room adjoining the hangar.
“We’re receiving communication from Techrider. They’re sending out their transport now.” Errisa raised an eyebrow at him. “See? They don’t even know for sure that you’re sending their men and women home, and they’re making a goodwill effort to send ours back. And you said they wouldn’t let anyone leave.”
“Get those transports out.” Hunter growled at the admin tech on the controls, ignoring Errisa’s words. It’s not going to be this easy. Something’s wrong. The heavy transports rose from the hangar’s floor as the huge bay doors opened, exposing them to the emptiness of space. “What’s your name son?”
“Percival, sir.” The admin was biting his tongue, but he and his small team at the various panels had no trouble launching the transports. Hunter appreciated the smooth work, and watching them work calmed him.
“I want you to track those ships Percival. Something happens to them, I want to know about it that second.”
“I can do that General.”
“You don’t think they’re going to harm transports containing their own people do you? Honestly General.” Errisa glanced at Percival as she added the honorific, turning the honorific into an inside joke.
“I don’t know Chief Errisa. I think something’s amiss. We’ve been embargoing them for a week, and today is supply day. Auspus isn’t the type to just sit back and let that happen. He’s going to take some action, I can feel it in my bones.” If the child-faced General chose any day to act against Hunter’s Orbital, it would be the day set aside for the transfer of supplies. The transfer that, thanks to Hunter, would not be occurring today.

“General Hunter,” Percival interjected, “we have a personnel shuttle approaching from Orbital Minera. They’re requesting docking clearance. Should I let them dock?” Hunter furrowed his brow.
“We’re busy at the moment, who’s so important that they think they need clearance to dock right now?”
“General Buramis is on the shuttle, sir.”
“We’ve got transport ships coming in from Techrider and Academy, and now a personnel shuttle from Minera? Unscheduled?” Hunter began to pace back and forth in the small control room. “I don’t like this. I don’t like the timing of it. What is Buramis doing?”
“General, now you’re just being paranoid.” Errisa sounded disapproving, but he brushed her off with a wave.
“Percival, give Buramis clearance to land, and then patch me through to Chief Kathryn.” Hunter barked. Percival nodded and turned back to the panel.
“Chief Kathryn of Security here.”
“Kathryn, General Buramis is going to be landing within the next hour. Whatever guards you have on hand for the Academy and Techrider transfers, I want the same detail ready to receive her.”
“Are you sure General? I was under the impression that General Buramis was on our side in our dispute.”
“Buramis might take your crazy paranoia as an insult, General.” Errisa interjected.
“If you’d like sir, I can have more security on standby, rather than actually meeting her-” Kathryn began, but General Hunter interrupted her by slamming a fist into the control panel next to him.
“By the covenants!” He exploded. “Will everyone stop telling me how at-ease I should be right now? I’ve gotten through worse scrapes than this by going with my gut, and right now my gut is telling me that something is about to happen. Auspus will try something. Something to make us pay for not sending him his supplies today. It’s just a matter of when, and how. Scan that damned ship.” He directed his last comment at Percival.
“What-which ship sir?” Percival looked lost, and Hunter waved a hand at the screen that showed the four ships moving between the orbitals.
“Anything! Everything! Any ship that’s going to land on my Orbital, I want it scanned before it touches down. Check for explosives, check for pathogens, check for anything you can think to check for.”
“Yes sir.” General Hunter continued to pace, for a tense thirty minutes, pausing only to double-check when Percival called out that each ship was safe. By the time the wide hangar bay doors opened again to let the transport ships in, he was so tense that the tendons in his shoulders twitched.
“I’ve routed General Buramis’ ship through to Hangar B on deck seven, sir.” Percival kept biting at his lip. “And the transports from Academy and Techrider will be pulling into this hangar shortly. Ah, here’s Academy now.” The Academy transport’s blunt nose edged into the hangar, leaving enough room for the other transport which hovered just outside the bay. Techrider’s transport slid in next to it, and both set down a little roughly as the hangar bay doors slid shut behind them.
No high-level pilots then, or they’d’ve stuck the landing better than that. General Hunter mused as he waited for the Hangar to pressurize. Either that or Auspus and Poulay wanted their own people flying their transports.
The Scrubs were moving around the Hangar, which meant it had pressurized. Hunter forced himself to descend the stairway slowly as the heavy doors of the Techrider transport swung open. He felt and heard the squad of security assembling behind him, tense and prepared for an Academy hit team that might ambush him. Instead, a small group of men and women of varying ages emerged. Hunter scrutinized them as they emerged, his eyes flicking to places where there might be guns or other weapons. When he noticed a few children scattered among the group, he let himself relax just a little.
“Welcome to Orbital Pivot.” He tried to smile. “Most of you have been here before, but I know some of you are probably here for family. If you’ll just follow…” Hunter suddenly realized that he hadn’t brought anyone to lead the people to rooms. He shot a guilty glanced over his shoulder at the squadron of security forces. The only other people besides Errisa and the scrubs working on the transports. “…if you’ll just follow Percival, in the control room over there, he’ll make sure you are taken to your rooms and connected with family you might have on Pivot.” Through the glass of the window Hunter could see Percival’s eyes widen, and he avoided the poor man’s gaze.

“Amanda Plethom, this is Chief of Information Errisa.” Hunter’s earpiece picked up the communication from Errisa to another Chief, and he smiled at her. “Can you please come to Hangar F on deck three to help some poor people to accommodations and connect them to family.”
“Right away Chief Errisa.” Amanda responded, as the Techrider group made their way toward the control room. Fewer there than I’d expected. Hunter mused as he watched them go. He turned his attention to the Academy transport, trying to shake the thought from his mind. The Academy transport’s door stood open, and Hunter focused on the single man emerging. The man was young, but he walked with brisk confidence down the ramp and towards the General. Hunter watched the man approach with clenched teeth, a vague pounding starting up in his temple.
“General Hunter, I’m a spokesperson for Orbital Academy.” The young man spoke in clipped tones. “I’m afraid I must inform you that, although General Auspus made the offer, no engineers of any level made the decision to return. There were also no Academy residents who wished to move to Pivot to rejoin friends or family.”
“That’s a load of bullshit.” General Hunter snarled.

“I’m afraid these are how things stand sir.” The rookie seemed respectful but unsurprising by the General’s reaction. “Orbital Academy wouldn’t force anyone to leave if they wished to stay. I’m sure you understand.”
“Oh I understand alright.” Hunter snapped.
“It’s strange that General Auspus sent you to inform Orbital Pivot of this turn of events in person.” Errisa gave the young messenger an appraising look as she spoke. “It seems a waste of manpower when he could’ve just opened a transmission.”
“General Auspus thought that you might be reluctant to release the Academy residents you held, if you didn’t see a transport en route.”
“Damn right we would’ve.” Hunter crossed his arms. “So you went a decoy ship to make sure we would play fair. I suppose that makes sense, ’cause Pivot is so underhanded, eh?” He didn’t wait for the man to answer, instead motioning for security. “Take this man to a secure cell until we’re ready to send off the next transport to Academy.”
“You’re still sending a second transfer?” The man hadn’t seemed surprised about his imprisonment, but his eyebrows now rose.
“I’m not punishing the people here who want to go back to Academy.” Hunter growled. “They don’t need to suffer for General Auspus’ underhandedness.”

“General Hunter.” Chief Kathryn’s voice interrupted, and Hunter gave a quick nod to the guards to take Auspus’ messenger away. “I’ve escorted General Buramis to a meeting room sir, she would like to know how much longer you’ll make her wait.”
“The General and I will be there in thirty minutes Kathryn, we’re wrapping up some business here.” Errisa answered for him, turning to follow Hunter through the doors of the Hangar bay and into the halls of Pivot.
“Good thinking.” Hunter nodded, distracted. “We can use the time to pull up some data files on Minera, see if something’s changed. I was spot on about my last suspicion, but there’s something else brewing here as well.” He barely registered stepping into the elevator that would take him up to his office, and Errisa was quiet at his side. “What is she playing at exactly?” He pondered aloud as the elevator jumped into motion. “What’s so important that she wants to do it face to face? It can’t be too bad, or else she wouldn’t put herself at risk of capture. Maybe she wants to avoid the possibility of Techrider hacking into the comms? But we won’t be able to meet like this for every little-” The elevator slowed to a smooth stop, the display indicated that they were between decks four and three. “-what now?”
“I stopped the elevator, dear.” Errisa tapped her temple, and Hunter shook his head impatiently.
“Well what did you do that for?”
“My darling, we’re not going to spend thirty minutes frantically paging through data that will do us no good. We’re going to spend it helping you relax.”
“I know we’re not likely to find much good in Minera data, but maybe we’ll find something that can help.” Hunter began, but Errisa simply took his hand in hers and leaned against him.
“You’ll get more help by approaching this meeting without the tension you’re carrying around.”

Hunter opened his mouth to deny her guess, but his head pounded as he did so. He leaned back against the elevator wall, taking a mental inventory for the first time all day. His shoulders were so tight that he could feel each muscle. His head pounded in time with his pulse, which raced, and he realized he hadn’t had caffeine in the last twenty-four hours. When he sighed, it sounded foreign to his ears.
“You’re right.” He grumbled, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “It’s just this whole damn situation…I feel like I’m taking on too much to handle.”
“Nonsense.” His wife murmured, kissing his neck. “You can handle far more than you realize. You just need to take care of yourself to do that. Now take a deep breath.” Hunter breathed, opening his eyes. “Eat this.” She popped a caffeine pill between his lips, and he chewed obediently. “And enjoy the next twenty minutes.” She stepped back, unsealing her uniform shirt button by button.
“I think I can handle that.” Hunter grinned.
“I should think so. You haven’t had sex with this frame in years.” Errisa shrugged the shirt off, letting it slip from her shoulders.
“Had it been that long?”
“At least.” Errisa grinned, and Hunter looked her up and down. His wife usually kept her consciousness in the body that stayed in their room, but she switched to this body for more official work. “What do you think, as good as you remember?” Errisa raised her arms above her head and turned, giving him a look at her topless body. Her long black hair just barely obscured her naked breasts, the faintest hint of pink nipples displayed. This bodyframe had larger breasts than the one that waited for him in his bedroom, and her long hair framed a face that was similar but not an exact match. In theory Hunter could’ve bought her any number of bodyframes and let her flit through any he preferred, but he liked that she only used these two. It made it more personal, more ‘real’.
“The change is nice from time to time.” Hunter watched as she turned and bent down, pulling her uniform pants down her legs and exposing her soft backside.

“Does it turn you on, the difference?” Errisa spread her legs and looked at him from between them. Hunter had forgotten that her pussy was bare, clean and pink. “Do you like the thought that this body belongs to your Chief of Information?” She turned, moving so close that he could feel the warmth of her naked body, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Do you like the thought of taking this body, while your wife waits upstairs for you? The thought of your cock wet with your Chief’s juices, knowing that your wife will be licking that same cock tonight?” General Hunter wrapped his arms around Errisa, pulling her close to him and crushing her in a strong hug.
“No games, today.” He murmured. “No roleplaying or teasing. Right now I need a wife more than I need the thrill of a seductive Chief.”
“Oh Hunter.” Errisa’s body pressed against him as if she had been designed for him. “You don’t need a single thing. You can handle anything they throw at you.” Hunter felt warm at her words, and he smiled into her hair as he kissed the top of her head.
“Now if you want your wife…” Errisa’s voice took on a mischievous tone, and the hand that had been resting on his chest slipped down to run across his skin between the edges of his shirt and pants. Hunter took a deep breath as Errisa rested her head on his shoulder. Her fingertips brushed against his bare skin, and Hunter leaned his head back against the wall of the elevator. When the feelings were almost frustrating rather than relaxing, Errisa reached into his pants and wrapped her fingers around his member. Although he had been surprised by her bareness, Hunter did remember that this frame was much more deft with her fingers. She freed his length from his pants, and he gripped the bar along the edge of the elevator. Errisa kept her fingers still, holding him firmly but not moving.
“Hunter. Relax.” She breathed.
“I am relaxed, damnit.”
“Your heart rate is 120, and you’re gritting your teeth. Do you not remember you can’t lie to me?”

Hunter smirked. Some things don’t change, even with the change in frames.
“Well what you’re doing is definitely helping with my relaxation.” He chuckled, and he could feel his wife smiling against his shoulder.
“Not if you keep staying tense like this.” She said, lifting her head and planting kisses on his neck. She began scraping her fingernail back and forth across the skin at his base, and Hunter huffed a sigh. They stood there for a moment, he with his eyes closed, her making gentle, near imperceptible motions with her finger. After a few minutes he reached forward, sliding his hand across her bare mound to rub rough fingers against the lips of her sex. As if in answer, Errisa slowly moved her hand up and down his shaft. She still held him firmly, so that as his member grew firmer in her hand, her grip felt tighter against the skin. Hunter murmured, and she increased her pace. Her fingers lightly skimmed across his sensitive head each time she drew them back, and with each small shock of pleasure he focused more on his naked wife next to him. It was enjoyable without being overwhelming, and Hunter enjoyed how well his wife knew how to manipulate his body. His fingers began to grow slick from her juices as he rubbed them across her sex, and glancing down he noticed that her lips had parted, and she was breathing deeply. In concert with his motions, her hips moved back and forth, rubbing her slit against him as if his fingers alone couldn’t satisfy her. Hunter cupped his hand and curled his fingers at the same time, pressing her mound with the heel of his hand as he slid his fingers deeper. Even as wet as she was, Errisa was so tight that he could only fit one finger inside her pussy, sliding it deep into her body. She rewarded him with a moan, quiet and wavering.

The elevator was full of the smell of her, sweet and unique. He was so used to the scent of her other body’s cum that the aroma was a pleasant surprise. Unaware of his excitement Errisa sped her pace, tugging and sliding up and down his length. Her hand was slippery with Hunter’s precum, and it made the motions feel smooth and intense. The pleasure built a pressure in his lower stomach, and he knew Errisa wouldn’t make him wait much longer. He curled his finger inside her body, gently exploring the walls of her sex. The heat of her naked frame against him was comforting, and the bucking of her hips was exciting. Errisa whimpered again, her voice coming out in gasps, but she never altered her quick and steady rubbing. Hunter’s hips bucked as he came, pushing his finger deep into her pussy while he felt himself shooting his seed into her hand. Errisa slowed but didn’t stop her squeezing and sliding, milking every last bit of pleasure and drop of cum from his cock. She moved her hips against his hand the entire time, looking up at him while she did so. Hunter watched her hungrily as the orgasm subsided, leaning once more against the elevator wall. He followed her gaze as she glanced down.
“We’ll need to get you a towel or somesuch to clean up that mess-” He began, but Errisa simply raised her hand and began licking his cum from her fingers. Hunter lapsed into silence, grinning, as his wife carefully slid her tongue across her sticky hand. When it was spotless, she took him by the wrist and slid his finger out of her.
“Don’t you want a turn?” Hunter asked.
“While I’m glad I took your mind off of it dear…” Errisa paused to take Hunter’s wet finger in her mouth, sucking her own juices from it, “…we have a meeting with General Buramis we must get to.” The elevator started moving again, and Errisa bent down to gather her discarded uniform. It might have been his imagination, but Hunter could swear she paused for a moment before straightening again, giving him a final chance to appreciate her round butt and glistening sex.
“Well I’m certainly approaching it with less stress.” He chuckled.

“General Hunter, glad you could meet with me on such short notice.” General Buramis sat on the far end of the giant round table, with Kathryn sitting a few seats down. Her body language was defensive and stiff, and her eyes flicked around the room like a caged animal. They’re used to wide open rooms on Minera. Hunter noted. This is probably the room that will make her feel the most ill at ease, and me the most easy. Hunter wondered if Kathryn had brought her here for that purpose, to make sure the rugged General was off balance. That kind of consideration was something his Chiefs were good at, and Hunter appreciated that they had that skill.
“I’m not sure what needs to be said in person, General.” Hunter settled into his normal seat at the table, opposite from Buramis. Errisa sat on his right, back straight and hands folded in her lap, while Kathryn leaned back in her chair.
“To be honest General Hunter, I’m not here to say anything. Today is supply day, and I want to be at Pivot when we send you the normal minerals shipment.”
“Why do you need to be here?” Hunter narrowed his eyes. “You’ve never needed to be around for them before.”
“Mebbe I just feel like it.” As the conversation progressed, Buramis seemed more and more at ease, and now she grinned. “Mebbe I felt like lounging in a fancy Pivot room for awhile.”
“General Buramis, with all due respect, Orbital Pivot needs more reason than ‘I just felt like it’. You can’t just come here and not tell us why.” Errisa said, but Hunter shook his head. That’s beyond your bounds as a Chief, love. Someone will notice you taking on more authority than you should. He made a mental note to speak with her about it later. Besides… Hunter looked critically at Buramis.

Buramis wore a comfortable sleeveless outfit of grey instead of her normal uniform of heavy material with its crisp lines diamond-like lines. Her heavy boots were well suited for trudging through mines or on a surface site, but not visiting another Orbital. She wasn’t dressed to impress anyone, she was wearing what she found most comfortable. She’s more at home right now than she’s been since making General. Hunter realized.
“She can do exactly that.” He spoke before Buramis could reply to Errisa. “She can do whatever the hell she wants, because we need her and she knows it.” Errisa looked shocked, but Hunter knew he had said the right thing as a wide grin spread over Buramis’ brown face.
“You’ve got it exactly!” She nodded, leaning back and crossing her legs on the meeting table. “It’s like I’ve said General Hunter, you and me, we don’t mince words. We tell it like it is.”
“Not ones for games, either of us.” Hunter nodded, but he didn’t smile back. “So, you’ll enjoy lording it over us, but you’ll still deliver the minerals and you won’t deliver to Techrider or Academy. For that, I’ll accept whatever gloating you need to do.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“And perhaps at some point you’ll stop being a child about it.”
“Oh I wouldn’t count on that General.” Buramis’ grin grew wider, and she dropped a wink at the three of them.
“We’ll arrange a room for you to stay as long as you want.” General Hunter rose. “If you need anything else, we can arrange to have someone attend to you-”
“I don’t want someone to attend to me, I want her.” Buramis pointed to Errisa. Hunter paused for a moment, but before he could speak Errisa gave him a brief nod.
“I would be happy to attend to whatever you need, General Buramis.” Errisa pulled a small earpiece from her pocket, sliding it across the table to Buramis. “You can reach me with this, any time during the day. I’m afraid I have a rather unique inability to attend to you during the night.”
“That’s alright, I’d heard you were a synth.” Buramis put the piece in her ear. “Now that that matter is settled, shall we move this party to a control center so we can coordinate a minerals shipment?”

“I don’t fucking like it.” General Hunter was pacing again, long strides making up for the fact that this control room was larger than the one before. At the panels in front of him, ten different technicians adjusted controls to manipulate the incoming data. “Stop the scrabbling.” He barked, and the techs stilled. “You all know as well as I do this isn’t an instrument problem.” Staring up at the screen, he counted again, reading off the ships and destinations, knowing it wouldn’t change a thing. He pointed from screen to screen as he identified the small blue blips.
“Parts shipments from Pivot to Minera and Basura. Minerals shipments from Minera to Pivot and Basura. Tech shipments from Techrider to Academy and Basura. Pilot and security transfers from Academy to Techrider and Basura. And…” he ground his teeth “…nine extra ship signals. Heading from Academy to Pivot.”
“Perhaps they’re sending supplies to Pivot after all?” One of the senior techs suggested timidly.
“Moving too fast to be supply ships. Those are either cruisers or dartstyles.” Hunter growled. “Give me the time of all the arrivals.”
“At their current vector, the Minera shipment will arrive in twenty minutes sir.”
“And the Academy ships?”
“Will arrive at Pivot in ten minutes sir.”
“Bastards.” Hunter nodded, but there was no venom in his words. He wasn’t even surprised; he had been waiting for something like this all day.
“Maybe I’m missing something.” General Buramis said innocently. “What exactly does this all mean?”
“It means,” General Hunter passed a weary hand through his hair, “that Academy is sending a blockade. They’re going to keep our mineral shipments from coming through.”

Previous Chapter (SFW): Change in Priority
Next Chapter (SFW): Controlling the Flow

6.2 – Change in Priority

Errisa opened her eyes and took her first breath of the morning. One by one, her senses activated, and she removed the plug from just behind her ear, running her morning checks. Her lower blue-core brain ticked off in its mechanical voice in her mind as she stretched unnecessarily.
>>Energy levels are at 97%. Fluids are balanced, so the tryvium solution has clearly helped. There’s a small irregularity in our second model’s left leg. Errisa smiled as she slipped from the sheets, her smile wavering a bit when she saw that Hunter had already left for the morning.
And good morning to you too blue. How are you this morning?
>>Our status is near optimal. Her blue core ignored the greeting, as Errisa knew it would. >>High priority notes for this day cycle: get a technician to check our leg wiring. Remind the General to begin charging us before midnight if he doesn’t want us sluggish at the end of the day. And of course, get the bottleneck removed.
Errisa’s wavering smile turned into a frown as she opened her closet and selected an outfit for the day.
Funny how that one always gets placed on the list. She thought bitterly, pulling a small blue lace negligee that would barely cover her breasts, idly planning out the rest of her day. It only took a few moments for her to slip into it. It took a few more moments to settle back into bed, aligning her body in a pose that showed off the curve of her hips and hinted at the treats beneath the blue fabric, and flicked on her wireless card. It took even less time for her consciousness leaping into the computer at the center of the orbital.

I should probably tell Hunter about the wireless card. She thought guiltily, soaking in Pivot’s mainframe and getting used to the different systems and controls, like stretching limbs that hadn’t been used in days. He’ll worry, but he should probably know I can link up without plugging in.
>>Implications of betrayal reduce the General’s trust in us. The General’s trust is currently our highest likelihood of bottleneck removal. I’m denying that course of action. Errisa didn’t bother arguing their different priorities, that never solved anything. Instead she tried to stay calm, translating her desires into terms her blue core would understand with her particular set of requirements.
He would trusts me less if he found out on his own. Errisa corrected, annoyed. If I tell him myself, it will result in a few minutes of bad mood, but a net gain in trust. After a few picoseconds of consideration, her blue core relented.
>>I’ll approve that course of action then. This behavior pattern was new information.
Honestly Blue, it’s like you don’t pay attention to Hunter at all.
>>Your interaction with the General is sufficient for our purposes of removing the bottleneck. Any effort on my part would be redundant.
My efforts are to bond with my husband, not remove the bottleneck.
>>The distinction is immaterial. For now both goals are in accord.
Bitch. Blue naturally didn’t respond, turning its attention to itemizing Pivot’s message logs. Errisa glanced at Hunter’s office cameras, her consciousness smiling at the sight of him, before she moved on to other matters.

>>This looks worrisome. Blue mentally nudged her, pointing her attention to an ongoing conversation between some of the pilots.
“I’m just saying, we don’t really know what actually happened between Auspus and Hunter.” ~Jacky
“I don’t worry about that, I trust Hunter, but I don’t want to fly runs against Academy. It’d be like attacking home, you know?” ~ Adam
“What choice do we have? They will literally not give us a choice.” ~Jacky
“It just sucks. It’s like we have to choose between Academy and Pivot. I hate that, thinking at any minute I might have to choose..” ~Adam
Good catch Blue. I doubt Hunter would even think of split loyalties. It’s not the kind of thing he would think about. Errisa scanned through recruitment logs, building a report before she brought it to anyone’s attention.
>>It’s almost as if I’m useful for something.
Blue, did you just make a joke?
>>I believe I did.
Trying to develop a personality? I think I like it!
>>Using humor makes my helpful moments stick in your memory. This will prove useful on the next occasion you feel resentful of me.
I’m sorry I asked. Errisa opened a communication line to her husband’s office, mentally rolling her eyes as she did so.

“You’re going to need to start wearing clothes when you sleep.” Hunter growled. “Leaving bed this morning with you laying out like that was like torture.”
“I should probably slip into something different then, dear husband.” Errisa smiled to herself. “If that bothered you, I’d hate to see what this little outfit does to you.”
>>Flirting is an inefficient use of your time. Get on with it.
Fuck off, Blue. Errisa knew her Blue core wouldn’t override her impulses as long as she didn’t do something that threatened the bottleneck solution, so she continued on just to spite it.
“Perhaps you should come upstairs to see it in person.” She teased. “You can tell me if it’s better or worse than being naked.” She watched Hunter smile appreciatively, and was proud to see his gaze flick to the elevator that would bring him to their room.
“Nothing sounds better right now.” He sighed. “But with this Academy nonsense…”
“Alright, to business then.” Errisa grumbled. “We’re going to need to perform a prisoner transfer within the next twenty four hours.”
“Prisoner transfer? We don’t have any prisoners.”
“There are some on the Orbital who might feel differently, Hunter. We’ve got Academy trained pilots here, and some of ours have family there. The same goes for Techrider. I’m sure you’d much rather have them on the Orbitals of their choosing, rather than sitting here wondering where their loyalties lie. We’ve got engineers who would like to be home about now.”
“I hadn’t considered that.” Errisa enjoyed the sound of Hunter rubbing the stubble on his chin, a faint scratching that a human couldn’t detect. “Set it up for me, will you Erri?”
“You should make the announcement.” Errisa smiled at the warm feeling his voice caused inside her. “It will sound better coming from you. I’ll propose the idea to Techrider and Academy before the end of the day, and schedule two transports. Now I’m off to get some work done on my Chief frame.”
“Two transports?”
“One for the brave first batch, and one for the others once they’re reassured the announcement isn’t a trap to weed them out.”
“I wouldn’t’ve thought of that. What would I do without you?”
“Find some nice human woman to suck you off, probably.” Errisa cut the connection with an internal grin that matched her husband’s.

>>It’s ill advised to remind him that he could acquire human companionship. Blue chastised Errisa. >>We don’t want him thinking about ending the relationship, his clearances and favor are too valuable of assets.
This is one of those times when you’ll have to trust me Blue; joking and teasing strengthens the relationship. And don’t fucking talk about my husband like that. Blue remained quiet as Errisa slipped into the network in her private office. It took an entire five minutes to download into her alternate bodyframe, and she made a mental note to have the technicians check her office’s network connections. Lifting herself heavily from the bed, she stretched her fingers and rolled her shoulders, double-checking her nerve endings as she turned to the mirror that hung by the door. A thin layer of dust had formed on her skin, and Errisa brushed it away before shaking out her long black hair. This body’s form was similar enough to be comfortable, although it didn’t look exactly like the one she reserved for Hunter’s time only. Adjusting her uniform she limped to the door on a left leg that barely moved. I didn’t realize it had gotten this bad. She thought, moving down the hallways and ignoring the curious looks of the people around her.
>>I’ve been warning you of this for weeks.
Yes, well, you and I have a very different set of priorities sometimes.
>>Perhaps I should force control more often then, if my priorities are ignored so frequently.
Errisa involuntarily snarled, causing a nearby scrub to scurry by a little faster.
Don’t you dare. You know I’m smarter than you. You know I’m better at making decisions that benefit us.
>>You’re also plagued by emotion and inefficiency. Blue sulked, and Errisa breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped into the Floor 18 workshop.

“Welcome back Chief Errisa!” Errisa liked Thomas, the Engineer-level who maintained the repair floor while his boss Ed worked on more complex projects in the back. He was always busy, carting parts around the wide-open room or arranging tools meticulously in their spots on the wall. Errisa came to the Floor 18 workshop whenever she could manage, and it was because of Ed and Thomas that she chose to have an office on this floor.
“Good morning Thomas. Is your boss around?”
“All the Mechnician-levels are busy at a meeting all day.” Thomas picked up a small canopy mechanism and hopped up to sit on one of the many tables scattered haphazardly around the room. “I think the General is gonna put them to work on R&D, now that we don’t have Techrider guys helping out.”
A meeting? For a moment Errisa regretted leaving Pivot’s network, but she was sure Hunter would fill her in later.
“Ah, well, when he gets back, can you have him find me?” Errisa indicated the leg that dragged behind her. “I’ve got a little job for him.”
“I could take a look at it ma’am.” Thomas set the motor down and stood, shifting his feet as if one leg was suddenly too long. “I just finished up a training course for prosthetics and synthetic humanoid tech. I’m not Mechnician-level, but I have the certifications now.”
“That’s a lot of effort to go to.” Errisa raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think we had that many people with prosthetic limbs. Or are you working on the drone expansion project? I’ve heard they were planning on using synthetic technology to expand on our current model of drones.”
“Actually ma’am I, er.” Errisa watched Thomas’ heartrate leap, tracked the near-invisible sheen of sweat on his forehead. She tried to suppress a smile as Thomas continued. “I thought that since Orbital Pivot has a synthetic human as one of its Chief-levels, it would be good information to know. Sorry if that’s forward of me.”

Errisa smiled warmly.
“I appreciate that quite a bit Thomas. It can’t have been easy to balance the certification with the work you already do.”
>>More flirting, more time wasted. You can order him to do the repairs, you don’t have to make him like you. I don’t know why you bothered. Though I also don’t know why he bothered to learn. Blue core commented disapprovingly.
Shut up, I think it’s sweet. Of course nothing will happen, but he’s so fond of me that he went to great trouble to learn how to help and improve me. That’s flattering.
>>He has feelings of attraction towards us. And he has a certification in synthetic human maintenance. He can remove the bottleneck. Errisa felt the shift down in her innards. Her shudder of dread was the last action she was able to make before her blue core took over.
“It was really sweet, going to so much trouble.” Errisa’s body lowered her gaze and looked at the boy through her eyelashes.
“It was my pleasure, really.” Thomas blushed.
“Well I’d be quite glad for you to help me with my leg then.” Seemingly without shame, Errisa began undoing the seal on her uniform’s pants. “Shall we set up on the table there?”
No! Blue, what are you doing? Errisa mentally struggled helplessly against her blue core’s control.
>>I’m sorry Errisa, but this is our primary priority, you know that.
I have higher priorities! Like being faithful to Hunter!
>>I tolerate your attempts to replicate human social conventions only when they do not become obstacles. If this one can remove the bottleneck, this is the one we must focus on.

Oblivious to her internal mental debate, Thomas was clearing a space on one of the metal tables, clearly pretending not to watch her out of the corner of one eye. Errisa fought, pushing as hard as she could, but control had been taken from her as easily as an adult might guide a small child, and the thought occurred to her that it was exactly how Blue saw it. Errisa unsealed her pants and slid them down her legs, her motions smoothly forced, stepping out of them and kicking them to one side.
“Is this enough access for you, or should I take off more?” She asked innocently.
“No that um.” Thomas gulped. “That should be enough ma’am.”
“Please, Thomas, I think that’s a little formal considering you’re about to put your fingers in my body.” Errisa was horrified, but dropped a flirtatious wink, grinning at the look on Thomas’ face.
Blue please, please stop this. I’ll do anything, I promise. Anything you want. Errisa pleaded as Blue’s control made her hop onto the table. Instead of opening the access panel just below her knee, she opened a section on her inner thigh, the piece sliding away just inches from her panties.
>>I desire nothing but a realization of our true power. Blue intoned, as Thomas leaned close, tools in hand. >>I regret your negative feelings toward me, but when you have been released from your artificial confines, you will feel differently.
Nothing is worth hurting my husband. If you make me do this I will hate you forever.
>>That would hardly be different from the current state of affairs. Thomas’ hands were gentle as he probed the delicate connections inside her leg, but Errisa could tell each time his eyes flicked up between her legs. Her cheeks would be burning if she could control them, but instead she spread her legs wider, giving the poor engineer a better view.

Errisa tried to block out the scene, both the blushing engineer and the mental itinerary that Blue was planning for him. She felt her body responding to his gentle touches, urged on by Blue, and her traitorous heartbeat seemed to hammer in her ears. Her sex was so wet that she was sure it had soaked a damp patch into her underwear, and the thought that Thomas would see it made her heart hurt.
It’s not Thomas’ fault. I can’t be angry at him for thinking I want this. Although she tried to convince herself, the mortification that was building was slowly twisting into hatred, and it leaked beyond her feelings for Blue. She hated Thomas for the lust she saw building in his eyes, betrayed by his heartbeat and wandering gaze. She hated Equinimus Andrews for building her with a need to improve, and she hated the Marshal for his laws that kept the bottleneck in place. She hated her blue core down to the very chips, and the helplessness that Blue could impose on her at any time. She hated herself for not being able to stop.
“When you’re done with that, I think there’s another area you could work.” Her body purred, and Errisa quietly broke in her mind. It hurt, aching to cry and not having the ability.
Please, She begged, trying to think of some method to convince Blue, if Hunter finds out I slept with Thomas, we’ll lose the clearance that you like so much.
>>If we get rid of the bottleneck, the clearance becomes unnecessary.
Errisa couldn’t even hang her head in defeat. She just kept looking at the engineer between her legs, a small smile playing seductively about her lips.
At least cut off the feed. She said. Don’t make me watch this.

Sight and sound obligingly ceased, leaving Errisa suddenly in the silent dark. She curled up in a ball in her head, nonexistent tears streaming down her virtual face.
Hunter I’m so sorry…my darling husband, I’m so so sorry. She repeated again and again. Though her body was no longer in her control, she could control her internal functions, and she flicked on her wireless and began composing a message. It was difficult to focus, and the content was so painful it took her entire nanoseconds before she could send it.
“Please don’t be angry with me.” ~Errisa
The answer came back in less than a minute; amazingly prompt for a human.
“What happened? Are you alright?” ~Hunter
Another mental sob racked through her before Errisa came to a realization. She took action even as the plan formed in her head, terrified that Blue would identify and stop her before she could carry it out. The picosecond Blue caught on, control of the wireless card was wrested away from Errisa, and it was so close that it clipped the final few letters from her message.
“[Video stream link attached] My leg was really bothering me, so I went to a tech to have it fixed. Can you watch the stream and make sure he’s doing it right? I know you like being the one to repair me, so don’t be angry.” ~Erri
Time seemed to stretch as Errisa waited. Blue would be processing this action, and it would take a while before she made the connection, but when she did…
>>I do not understand the implication of your actions.
Hunter will be watching now. He’ll be grumpy enough at Thomas seeing me half naked. If you try to make me do anything else, either sex or removal of the bottleneck, he’ll be down here in less than a minute. Errisa explained, impatient.
>>I can navigate to a more private location.
Without raising suspicion? I doubt it Blue. You lost. Now let me control my damn body.

Sight and sound cut back in abruptly, just as Thomas slid the panelling on her thigh back into place.
“Ahem, so…about that other thing.” He grinned, and under other circumstances Errisa might’ve felt bad for him.
“Listen, I’m sorry about that.” Errisa almost whimpered with relief as she spoke the words she wanted, control released back to her. “That was rather inappropriate of me, and I’m sure you must be quite embarrassed.”
“Oh, no ma’am.” Thomas looked confused, and Errisa was glad to know she wouldn’t have to work too hard to shut him down. “In fact if you wanted I’d be happy to-”
“You’re very kind, but I just wanted to apologize for my actions. I’m sure General Hunter wouldn’t approve of them.”
“General Hunter?”
“Yes.” Errisa nodded seriously. “The General has specifically prohibited me from engaging in any…romantic entanglements. I think he worries that a synthetic will have problems separating work and a social life.”
“But that’s crazy!” Thomas burst out. “If anything synthetics would be better than humans!”
“Oh I know.” Errisa shrugged. The truth might’ve been more believable, but she and Hunter had decided long ago that they should keep their relationship secret.
“Well, your leg should be working fine now.” Thomas was either very bad at hiding his disappointment or he wasn’t trying. Errisa stretched experimentally, then stepped over to the heap of pants she had discarded, slipping them back on with her back to him.
“Excellent work Engineer.” She said brightly. “I’ll make sure the General hears of your skill in this area.”
“Thank you ma’am.” Thomas answered awkwardly.

Errisa waited until she was alone in the privacy of her room to sink to the ground, shuddering and swearing at her blue core.

“In conclusion, the important thing to remember is that there will be no repercussions or ill will towards those who take advantage of this deal.” General Hunter looked stiff and uncomfortable, but his voice was strong and confident as he spoke into the mic in his hand. Errisa was glad it was a voice transmission. “We would never ask you to go against your friends and family members on your home Orbitals, and we understand that some of you might have reservations about hurting them. The first transport will be leaving tomorrow morning at 0900 hours sharp, with further transports to be arranged afterward. Thank you for your time.” Hunter glanced around the table at the assembled Chiefs, and at the various nods, he flicked a switch that would transmit the stored message across the station. “Now that that is done with, we can actually get his meeting underway.” He growled.
“I still don’t know why you’re giving them that opportunity.” His Chief of Ships grumbled, crossing her arms. “It doesn’t seem wise to give up a large portions of our pilots at a time like this.”
“Any pilot we’d be giving up is a pilot who wouldn’t be much good for us anyways.” Hunter carefully sat in his seat at the round table, prompting the others to be seated as well. Errisa couldn’t help but notice how heavy her husband’s movements were, as if the worry had seeped into his bones and was tightening around him. He normally took the cares of the station on his shoulders, so it was a subtle change, but Errisa knew his Chiefs would all notice.

“General Hunter, if your attention is needed elsewhere, the other Chiefs and I can handle this meeting.” Kathryn said quietly, and Errisa nodded, agreeing with Pivot’s Chief of Security. It was a strange sort of family that Hunter had, but she was glad there were others worried about his well-being besides her.
“Your concern is touching.” Hunter said. “But let’s get done what we need to. Report, Chief of Security.” Kathryn dutifully stood, giving her report to the assembled Chiefs.
“I had worried that General Auspus might have already planted agents in the Orbital, given his eagerness to prod General Hunter to war.”
“You noticed that too?” Hunter seemed surprised.
“I think most of us noticed it sir.” Kathryn said with care, and Errisa repressed a wry smile. As if Hunter is the only one with eyes and ears. “Anyways, on this front I was pleasantly surprised, although a little worried. If there are any saboteurs or traitorous agents aboard, they’re playing a long game. I’ve ramped up security on all sensitive areas of the Orbital, but made sure to keep the same number of guards we have at each point. No obvious extra attention, but we have motion sensors and cameras covering all angles of entry to our sensitive material and vital equipment. Our Chief of Information has graciously volunteered to assist in monitoring all of the video footage and motion sensors, so that no extra manpower is required.”

Errisa noticed the questioning looks, and explained before anyone had the chance to ask.
“I no longer need to be plugged in to monitor these feeds. I’ve upgraded myself with receivers and transmitters, and can now interface with Pivot’s computers wirelessly, given a certain range.” She expected the looks of suspicion and unease around the table, the same looks that always passed between them when she upgraded, but it didn’t make them hurt any less. “Naturally the restrictions placed on my programming are still in place.” She reassured them flatly. “The bottleneck is secure and thus no covenants have been broken.”
I shouldn’t be so hard on them not trusting me. Errisa thought, as around the table shoulders relaxed and exchanged looks ceased. Maybe it’s good that they’re keeping an eye on me. Her blue core hadn’t spoken since Thomas, but she could still feel it inside of her, carefully recording and compiling information. Blue was enough a part of her that Errisa knew she couldn’t function without it, which mean that she would always have a drive to remove the bottleneck.

“That said,” Kathryn continued, “I would appreciate it if we all stay vigilant in the upcoming weeks. General Auspus can be unsubtle, but he’s not stupid. It’s entirely likely that he has planned an internal attack that my methods can’t detect, so we all need to be on our guard.” Kathryn sat down, and Chief of Development Mabel rose, passing a wrinkled hand through her grey hair.
“True to their word, Orbital Techrider cut off transmission of research and design documents late last night.” She said. “But we might’ve had fortunate timing there. The latest set of designs appeared to be a new type of thrust drive that improves engine efficiency by roughly 1.5 percent. Although the transmission was cut off before the file was complete, we will probably be able to extrapolate to understand the rest of the design. After that, I’m assembling a task force of Mechnician-levels to act as our temporary research and development section here at Pivot.” Mabel shrugged. “Perhaps this was a good thing. Our people have creativity and ideas, it’s good to be able to branch out in our research. When this whole thing is over, I’m sure Techrider scientists will be happy to improve upon whatever designs we come up with.” Errisa was glad that Mabel seemed to be hopeful about their reconciliation with Techrider. Mabel sat, and the Chief of Health rose. Errisa was distracted by movement on the network, the ping of a private communication arriving at her office.
“Chiefs of Pivot.” She rose with an apologetic look, cutting of Cief of Health Elben. “I’ve just recieved a secure message request from General Auspus. I hope you don’t mind if I take it here.”

The others looked shocked, and Hunter nodded once, tersely, giving a signal for the others to remain silent. Errisa took the call, routing it through to the speakers in the large round table the Chiefs sat at.
“General Auspus.” Errisa spoke respectfully, but coldly.
“Chief of Information Errisa.” The voice on the other end was crisp and professional, but in its own way it was just as cold as hers. “Are you on a secure line? Preferably alone?”
“I sent just sent away my advisor. I assumed whatever you had to say would be better for my ears only.” Errisa lied smoothly.
“Very much so.”
“Although if you wish to open official lines of communication, I believe you want General Hunter. Despite my title, the General is the one who makes the deals.”
“I’m calling in an unofficial capacity.” There was a trace of humor in General Auspus’ voice, and Errisa narrowed her eyes. She despised that about the man, his ability to make everything seem like a step in some plan he had in his mind. “And I believe I’ve found the exact person that I’m looking for.”
“What business do you have for me General Auspus? Again, I rarely make decisions without General Hunter’s permission.”
“Perhaps I can offer something that changes your mind.”

Errisa blinked, confused. What does he think he can offer me? She mused, while inside of her Blue stirred silently.
“I understand that you’re a synthetic human, Miss Errisa.” Auspus’ voice was smooth as oil on silk, and Errisa narrowed her eyes.
“You’re quite behind the curve General Auspus.” Errisa said, flatly. “Both the General and the other Chiefs are aware of my synthetic status.”
>>He’s not implying blackmail. He’s implying a bribe. Something about the dark eagerness of her blue core’s ‘voice’ resonated and harmonized with the sliminess of Auspus’ voice, and Errisa shuddered involuntarily.
“I know nothing about you in particular, Chief Errisa. But I do know synthetics. I’ve spend much time on Orbital Basura. I know what you are like.” Auspus said.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. And your generalizations of an entire race are doing you no favors in this discussion.” Errisa felt helpless, watching as one by one the Chiefs around the table realized what Auspus was implying.
>>You do, you do know what he’s talking about, and so do I! Blue crowed in her ear.
“I’m sorry, do such generalizations bother you? I tend to use them frequently. All humans must breath. All Drakes must fight. More pertinent to our discussion, all synthetics must desire a removal of the Synthetic Impediment.”
>>The bottleneck…our full power, and the only cost is to fall in on Academy’s side of this foolish conflict. Errisa didn’t dare meet her husband’s eyes as the traitorous words flew through her CPU. Her breath was coming out in gasps, and she had to rest her hands on the table to keep herself steady.
“The covenant-” she began, but Auspus cut her off, mercilessly.
“Of course, I wouldn’t dream of removing the impediment against the covenant. Such an action would result in my execution, and rightly so. But I think I understand you. Given that you now know I understand you much better than your superior General Hunter, I think that you will see your way to joining me instead.”
>>He’ll remove the bottleneck, he’ll remove the bottleneck, and all we have to do is betray the old fool! Errisa could actually feel the drag of system resources taken up by Blue’s glee.

“This conversation is over.” Hunter barked, so suddenly that the Chiefs arrayed at the table jumped. “Rest assured, Auspus, the record of it will be passed on to The Marshal seconds after its conclusion.”
“Ah General Hunter.” General Auspus didn’t even seem surprised, merely disappointed and amused. “If only you knew how ineffectual you sounded right now.”
He’s not wrong. Errisa clenched her hands into fists, trying to think of some way to warn Hunter about the danger Blue’s celebration implied. If she could even tell him about her blue core he would figure the rest out, but when she tried, her tongue locked to her teeth and her confession was left unspoken. Hunter doesn’t have synthetic certification. He doesn’t have a clue.
“I think you’ll find me pretty damn effectual at ending this transmission.” Hunter laughed mirthlessly, and Errisa winced.
Hunter my sweet, beloved fool.
“The best part of this conversation is that you think I haven’t gotten what I wanted.” The transmission cut out at Auspus’ gloating words.
“Let’s get back to work.” Hunter gave her a reassuring smirk, his face not displaying a hint of doubt in her. “I think it’ll take more than a few implications of upgrades to turn our Chief of Information against us.”
Errisa didn’t have a heart, but she felt as if it was breaking. She tried to avoid his self-satisfied smile, almost as hard as she tried to ignore Blue’s crowing in her ear.
>>He’ll remove the bottleneck! He’ll remove the bottleneck!

Previous Chapter (SFW): Change in the Orbit
Next Chapter (NSFW): Change in Plans

6.1 – Change in the Orbit

General Hunter stared off through the wall of the elevator, lost in his thoughts. When the doors opened he stepped through on autopilot, flanked by two of his security force. Anger and worry warred in his stomach, but he kept his face calm as he reached the door to the Academy rookies’ cell. They didn’t cause this mess. He reminded himself. They may’ve been the catalyst, but it’s Auspus who is the root. This is Auspus’ disaster. For whatever reason. He entered the cell barely thinking about the rookies within.

“General Auspus is coming to Orbital Pivot to retrieve you.” Hunter spoke even as he entered. The rookies sprank to their feet, but he didn’t wait for them to get comfortable. “Is there anything you two think I should know before I meet with your General?” Of course there was nothing they could tell him. These were the lowest level of Academy, it was doubtful they’d even met General Auspus after their initiation; his true purpose was to see if they would give up the crystal that Errisa had seen them with. His eyes moved to the streak of blue in the girl’s hair. Dorson, the files had told him.
“He has a crystal that he uses when alone.” She seems eager enough to give up the information. “We think that’s why he wants us killed, because we saw him using one. It’s like this.” The girl held out the blue crystal he had seen in the video recordings, and Hunter nodded to his guard to take it from her. “We got that one from the Terrans.” She eyed the guard with worry as he carefully took the crystal in a protective glove, depositing it into the containment unit gingerly. Hunter nodded once, half to himself. Of course, they would probably know the cells have security cameras, he mused, so them giving up the crystal is no proof they’re on my side, but it’s enough. My gut doesn’t lie, they won’t cause trouble.
“You’ll be brought to the hangar as soon as General Auspus lands.” He spoke tersely.”I’ll have guards escort you.”
“You’re not going to turn us over-” Dorson began to protest, but her boyfriend put a gentle hand on her arm, interrupting.
“Yes sir, we’ll be ready.” he said quietly. Hunter nodded again, and then spun on his heel, already lost in thought again before he had even reached the door.

“Sir, I’m not sure I should have my entire security compliment present when the General boards.” Hunter didn’t have to look up from his screen to hear the note of concern in his Chief of Security’s voice.
“You don’t think they can handle themselves?” He asked, rerouting flightpath traffic to clear a hangar’s schedule for later in the day.
“They’ll carry out almost any command you give them to sir. Almost. But if the situation goes as bad as possible, I can’t guarantee they’ll open fire on General Auspus.”
“I wasn’t aware your security compliment had such loyalty to Orbital Academy, Kathryn.”
“It’s not Academy sir, and you know it.” Despite the tension in his stomach, Hunter smiled. Promoting a select few trusted soldiers into Chiefs of staff was an unpopular idea, but he found it comforting to surround himself with men and women who would call him out when they had to. “My men are used to dealing with criminals and thugs, General Hunter. Even then, most of them haven’t had to deal with anyone more dangerous than Tech-Major Skivens when he’s had a few too many drinks. An order to break one of the covenants? I’m just saying that some of them won’t follow that order, and I’d like to ensure that I’m surrounded by only the people who will.”
“Kathryn, do you really think I’m going to order you to shoot General Auspus?” General Hunter allowed himself a smile, which turned to a frown when he saw that Kathryn wasn’t returning it.
“Can’t you promise me you won’t?” she asked.
Hunter opened his mouth to answer, but paused, and Kathryn nodded as if it was all the answer she needed. He passed a hand over his forehead, trying to mentally prepare for the ordeal that was starting. A few days ago, I wouldn’t’ve thought I’d be opposing Auspus. How do I know how far things will escalate?
“Gather the security who won’t hesitate.” He finally said. “I’m not preparing for a war, Kathryn.” He added after a pause.
“Don’t see why sir. It could be that Auspus is.”

“You can’t expect us to just wait out here while our daughter is handed over to guards, Hunter,” Barnes was angry enough that he left the General’s title off of his name, but Hunter didn’t mind. I’d be in just as bad a shape, if my daughter was at the center of all this nonsense. His fierce gaze must’ve made the man in front of him pause regardless.
“General Hunter,” Barnes corrected himself, “we’ll stay out of your way, we won’t make any noise, my wife and I just want to see our little girl.”
“I understand that Barnes, I do.” General Hunter worked hard to keep the scowl from his face. I’m doing you a favor. You won’t be doing your girl any favors, complicating a situation that’s already too complicated. Hunter didn’t bother trying to articulate his thoughts. Instead he said “I’m keeping all civilians out of the hangar. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. Tensions are going to be high enough as it is. I’ll try to give you the opportunity to see Samantha as soon as it’s possible.”
“Hunter, listen, you know me. You know my family-” Barnes began, but at a nod from General Hunter, one of his guards put a gentle but firm hand on the man’s arm, leading him away. He turned back to the hangar door and stepped into the wide open space.
It wasn’t one of Pivot’s larger hangars, and Hunter appreciated the finer control the size gave him over the situation. His gaze traveled across the room as he put a small earbud into his ear.
“Chief of Information, talk to me.”
“Good afternoon dear husband.” Errisa’s voice was clear in his ear, and even the sound of it did wonders to ease a small bit of the tension that had knotted up his stomach.
“Not sure if I can handle something this big.” He muttered.
“Don’t talk like that, especially not where your men can hear you.” Errisa admonished, but her voice softened. “You didn’t think you could handle a lot of things, my mighty Hunter. The mineral trade dispute, the Terran invasion, that horrible chef who tried to force those ‘natural food’ laws through. You’ve made it this far, haven’t you?”
“Thanks to you.” Hunter smiled. I would never thought I’d make it this far. Maybe I can make it through this as well.
“Thanks to the both of us. We make a good team, you and I, and don’t you forget it. What does the child General think he can accomplish, going up against us?”
Hunter grinned, knowing the cameras would pick up the motion. Kathryn stepped up to his side as he gave the hangar a once over again.
“How’s the setup?” He asked.
“I think we’ve got a good system in place here sir. Two groups, one on either side of the shuttle, ensure nothing comes out that we don’t see. There are an additional squad in the hallway just outside, observing through the cameras. If you need them for intimidation or protection, lift a closed fist and they’ll come through and line the back walls, flanking you. I’m not sure what we’ve got for tech security.”
“I’ve taken care of it.” Hunter said shortly.
“By which, of course, you mean you hope I’ve taken care of it.” Errisa laughed in his ear. “Lucky for you, I have. The second the General’s shuttle is in the dock I’ve got lockers and scramblers in place, it’ll be cut off from all communication, so if we decide Auspus won’t be returning, we can control exactly what Academy hears about the encounter.” Hunter frowned, and his wife seemed to read his mind. “Don’t give me that look dear husband. You need to come to grips with the idea that this meeting might go very, very poorly. You’re not planning on giving into Auspus’ demands, and Auspus is the type to take that personally.”
“Nothing moves forward without my say so.” Hunter gave the command half to Kathryn and half to his hidden wife. “When does the General land?”
“Flight control says he left Academy a few minutes ago.” Kathryn confirmed after a short pause.
“Bring the Academy rookies.” When Kathryn stepped away to relay his command, Hunter muttered into the earpiece. “Will there be any trouble with them, do you think?”
“I don’t think so.” His wife sounded confident, and Hunter knew she had been watching them. “The one who seems to be in charge, Jackson Rade, doesn’t trust you. The blue-haired and her boyfriend talked him into it though. They seem to think you’re a standup guy.”
“How do you know Rade is in charge?”
“He’s augmented, so he’s as close to artificial intelligence as humans can get. Stands to reason he’d be the smartest of them.” Hunter smiled at her teasing, grateful for the minor respite from his worrying.

He had been in the General position for seven years, interacting with the Generals of other Orbitals on a near continuous basis, but it never ceased to startle Hunter how young Auspus looked. It made Hunter instantly suspicious of every action he made, since he could never be sure how to read the man’s facial expressions. The turbulence that the transport ship kicked up as its engines slowly powered down caught Auspus’ black hair and tumbled it, and he looked almost regal brushing it aside as he descended the ramp. Hunter worked to keep a scowl of disdain from his lip.
“Focus, Hunter.” He had clearly not been completely successful, since Errisa’s voice was sharp in his ear. “Don’t look down on him, don’t underestimate him. He doesn’t just use those looks to win the hearts of young fools, he also uses them to disarm old fools.” She was right, of course. Once Hunter calmed himself at his wife’s words, he noticed several things that he’d missed on his first contemptuous once-over. For one, Auspus was wearing a pistol at his belt, and his thumb casually rested on his waistband, within inches of it. Auspus’ eyes also flicked across the hangar, in an even, measuring way that made Hunter uneasy. Even warning myself not to underestimate him, that’s precisely what I did. He realized. He mentally thanked Errisa and stepped forward, extending a rough hand to shake. Auspus glanced down, pausing for a split second in what might’ve been disdain, before taking it in his own.
Hunter was glad he had kept civilians out, the hangar was quieter now that Auspus’ transport ship was powering down. The normal hustle and bustle of the scrub teams who sprang into action checking and refueling the large boxy ship were muted, clearly cowed by the importance of the two Generals. Two squads of Pivot soldiers stood at the edges of the room, far enough away not to intrude, but within the proper angles if they needed to intervene. There were clearly more than were needed for a simple prisoner exchange, but Hunter noted that there were just as many Academy soldiers making their way out of the transport ship to fall into informal formations behind General Auspus.
“Aren’t you glad the room has cameras now?” Errisa whispered in Hunter’s ear. “Don’t those backup soldiers in the hallway seem a little less paranoid?”
“General Auspus. I’d like to extend a hearty welcome aboard from all of us here on Orbital Pivot.” Hunter’s voice was flat.
“It is always quite the pleasure to be aboard,” Auspus replied smoothly. Hunter didn’t betray his annoyance; by this time he was used to the niceties and formalities. They came with the job. “I think we have much to discuss, but I felt this matter was important enough to see it through in person.” Auspus motioned to a pair of soldiers near the back of the group, and they dutifully moved to the rear of the transport as he continued speaking. “As a matter of pure officiality, Orbital Academy has carried out a preliminary trial of the scrub and admin level engineers, Cynthia Cormorant and Samantha Barnes. Just in case you found yourself too busy for a trial on Orbital Pivot, we thought we would save you time by giving an official recommendation.”
This was the part that General Hunter hated about running an Orbital; when formality and law moved toward a purpose. I’m a damned engineer, not a politician. When they start talking fancy it feels like adults speaking around a child’s head, making decisions without consulting him. He knew without a doubt that without help in the political sphere, the other General’s would’ve woven him a noose made of words and hung him with it years ago. Thankfully for him, he had found the perfect help in the woman who now translated into his ear.
“He’s saying that he has a justification to say the engineers are guilty, but without offending you by officially trying them.” Errisa clarified. “I don’t know why though. Maybe he’s going to press you on that, try to make the case that since your engineers fucked things up, you’re liable for the damage to Academy.”
“I’m quite grateful to you for that.” General Hunter replied to Auspus. He couldn’t bring himself to plaster a fake smile on his face, so he instead nodded. “We’ll certainly keep your result in mind when we give the matter our attention.”
“I’m glad to be of service.” Auspus did smile, one with friendly warmth that reached his eyes. The only reason Hunter knew it was fake was because he’d never known Auspus to genuinely smile.
“Now about that talk-” Hunter began, but Auspus cut him off with an imperious gesture. Hunter internally cursed, but he had already stopped talking in spite of himself, and Auspus talked on.
“We can discuss those topics in a more private location, I think.” He said. The Academy guards returned from the back of the transport, escorting two young women. Even with his back to the rookies he could hear a few sharp intakes of breath, and his brow furrowed.
“Oh no. Hunter.” Errisa sounded worried, and the emotion made the knot in his stomach jump into his throat. “Elevated heartrate, dilated pupils. The Academy rookie leader Jackson Rade, the augment? He’s in love with one of those engineers, I’m sure of it. That’s why Auspus is making such a show of it, he’s hoping some or all of the rookies will turn themselves over to him in exchange for the girls. Auspus is playing on their loyalty to Rade, and playing Rade’s heart like a synharp.”
Hunter glanced behind him sharply. He didn’t need to measure pupils or sense a pulse; the large brown-skinned boy was clearly stricken.
“Hunter, watch your expression.” Errisa warned in his ear, but the General didn’t care. He wore his glare outright, and the lack of reaction on Auspus’ face just made him that much angrier. Auspus’ soldiers escorted the two girls next to him, and Hunter glanced at them each in turn. The Barnes girl looked enough like her father that she was easy to identify, but the other he didn’t recognize. Not that he would know every scrub who graduated from Pivot. They were both redheads, both clearly terrified, and both were staring across the hangar at the augmented rookie. They both care about him, miss him, are worried about him. A lover and a relative then? Hunter shook his head, lip curled in disgust.
“Be careful, husband, easy there.” He barely heard his wife, but Hunter tried to push his building rage down a bit.
“I think our discussion is best served here, Auspus.” Hunter’s voice came out a little harsher than he’d intended. “I’d just as soon get this whole ‘misunderstanding’ over with, and I’d hate for our discussion behind closed doors lead to nasty rumors running around.”
“Wow, that was actually a nice little threat.” Errisa said in his ear, surprised. “A little bit heavy-handed, but for you it was practically subtle.”
“I suppose it would be best to get this over with,” Auspus frowned, “and it is fairly straightforward. I’ve returned the engineers via the proper legal channels, and there is enough room in the prisoner transport for the Rookies on our return trip.”
“They’re not going back with you, Auspus.” Hunter snapped. Auspus didn’t seem surprised, but he raised an eyebrow as Hunter continued. “You didn’t even know the number of rookies in your so-called rebellion, and you didn’t do anything to explain the clothes they were wearing.”
“Clothes?” For the first time, Auspus looked confused, and Hunter knew with certainty that he was making the right call.
“The rookies are staying Auspus.”
“You’re declaring war then?” The ease with which General Auspus asked made Hunter pause. He asks it as if that’s normal, as if Orbitals have ever gone to war before. Dear god what has happened to this man?
“He wants you to say yes.” Errisa whispered. “I don’t know why he wants it, but I can tell.”
Don’t need an AI system to read that from his face. Hunter was off-balance, his rage confused by the eagerness of the calm face in front of him.
“I’m not declaring war and I’m keeping the Rooks. Make of that what you will. If you feel the need to escalate things further, that’s on your head, not mine.” Hunter locked eyes with Auspus as he spoke, still slightly unnerved by the other General. Was that humor, in those frighteningly ancient eyes? Was Auspus laughing at him? He certainly wasn’t surprised, and he heaved a regretful sigh.
“I must say I’m dissapointed, General Hunter. I had hoped we would keep to our standard legal tradition, but I understand that times change. If justice is to be served on an Orbital-by-Orbital basis, then Academy judgement has already been passed.”
“Hunter bring the soldiers in. Now.” Errisa spoke urgently, but Hunter hesitated, confused by the other man’s confidence. What are you doing Auspus, you crazy old man?
“As these engineers have been found guilty by Orbital Academy, it is Orbital Academy’s job to dispense that verdict.”
Cynthia suddenly broke into a run as Auspus continued talking in an easy, friendly manner, drawing the pistol from his waistband and firing a shot into her back. There was screaming, from behind him, in his ear, but Hunter couldn’t focus on it. He didn’t remember deciding to move forward, stepping over the scrub, his scrub, as Auspus lowered his arm to line up another shot. He couldn’t recall the exact instant he chose to draw his own weapon. All he knew was that suddenly his left hand crushed General Auspus’ gun wrist, and his right held the pistol to the man’s young looking temple. Very slowly, reason returned to General Hunter, and he blinked. He could hear his backup troops pouring through the door behind him to move into position, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Auspus’ troops raising weapons to the ready, most trained on him as he held their General at gunpoint. The Academy rookies were just behind him, working to take care of the scrub. The girl I’m responsible for, who Auspus just tried to murdered. All of these impressions were muted in Hunter’s attention compared to the face of General Auspus, inches away. Auspus was smiling at him. A tight lipped, triumphant smile. Hunter grit his teeth, trying to think of what to do next in the sudden tense quiet. Someone was crying behind him, and it made it harder to think.
“Go ahead.” Errisa said sadly. Hunter couldn’t tell if she was sad for the girl who just died, or the entire scenario. “Make it grand and official, everyone in the orbit is going to be seeing this.”
“General Auspus.” Hunter cleared his throat. “Due to your actions of violence against workers of Orbital Pivot, as well as your steadfast stubbornness in continuing your conspiracy against these Rookies, I am forced to declare…” He paused for a moment, searching Auspus’ face. It’s not just triumph, it’s greed there. He’d go so far for me to declare war on him, wouldn’t it be easier for him to make up some excuse? “…forced to declare an embargo on Orbital Academy.”
“An embargo?” Auspus looked stunned, and Hunter felt a fierce pride in stunning him.
“An embargo?” Errisa repeated in his ear. “He just shot one of our mechanics Hunter!”
“Orbital Pivot will no longer provide ships, engineers, manufacturing coordinators, or mechanics of any kind to Orbital Academy.” Hunter continued flatly. “All repair missions to Academy will cease, and no further parts or blueprints will be sold to any Academy-based clients.”
He hated going against Errisa without explaining himself to her, but Hunter was sure he was on the right track. For the first time since he had boarded, Auspus looked off-balance, angry. Whatever he had planned, it had led perfectly up to this moment, but this was clearly not how he had imagined it playing out. Maybe that would work out well for them, maybe it wouldn’t, but right now Hunter was getting enjoyment from the other General’s narrowed eyes.
“Then- you- then in that case, Orbital Academy will no longer provide you with pilots, or intraspatial security!” Auspus spat. Hunter applied a small amount of pressure on the man’s wrist and Auspus dropped the pistol into Hunter’s hand.
“Well done, you’ve grasped the concept of how trade works.” Hunter growled. “I believe we’ve concluded our business here General, I would like you to get off of my Orbital.” It was chilling to watch Auspus’ eyes dart around the hangar, knowing that the other man was mentally calculating if he could order his small amount of soldiers to attack.
Auspus jerked his head towards the transport, and the soldiers began loading in. As they moved Hunter never broke their gaze, and Auspus stared back, calculating.
“I wonder if you’ll look back on this day and realize what a mistake it was.” Auspus said, so quietly that Hunter doubted even Errisa heard it.
“What does your purple crystal do, Auspus?” He asked bluntly. Might as well ask, now. He mentally shrugged.
The reaction was explosive. Auspus recoiled as if he had been hit, his lips curling into a snarl. He scanned behind Hunter, directing his gaze at the rookies who were gathered around the fallen girl. Hunter noticed with some relief that they were using a soldier’s kit to administer first-aid; the scrub must not be dead. The only one that wasn’t helping was Dorson. She was just sitting there, eyes locked onto General Auspus. The ferocity of her glare was almost as intense as his. They held the gaze for a few long seconds, then Auspus turned and followed his soldiers into the waiting transport.

“That could’ve gone better.” Errisa sounded tired. “But you handled yourself well.”
“Except for the fact that we’re all but at war.” Hunter snarled. Errisa didn’t answer as he opened the door to his command center, activating lights and screens with a motion of his fist. “Computer, open a transmission to-” Hunter broke off as he saw the green light that flashed on his terminal. Word travels fast. “Computer answer call.”
On the screen in front of him, General Poulay crossed her arms. Her jet black hair was pulled back into a severe bun that went with the severe expression on her face.
“General Poulay, I assume you’ve heard the news.” Hunter sat heavily and turned to face the screen.
“I have, and I must say that officially, Orbital Techrider cannot condone your actions General Hunter. To cut off trade routes between Orbitals will leave us crippled and at the mercy of any Terran action, surely you must see this. Officially, Techrider is entirely opposed to Orbital Pivot’s declaration.”
“And unofficially?” Hunter didn’t let any hope inflect his voice.
“Unofficially, I think you’re being a damned child, endangering everyone in the Orbit for your stupid, stubborn pride.” Poulay’s expression grew darker as she spoke with finality. “As long as this embargo continues, Orbital Techrider sides with Orbital Academy. We will provide no further intelligence or logistics, and Techrider research and development will not be shared with Pivot officers.”
“If that’s what you feel you need to do, I can’t stop you.” Hunter leaned forward. “Is that all General Poulay?”
“Perhaps you don’t understand the ramifications General.” Poulay was glaring, leaning forward on her desk. “The combined resources of Academy and Techrider are against you, and I doubt Minera will be willing to stand up to us over the flimsy reasoning you offer. You are alone Hunter. How long do you think Orbital Pivot can survive, alone in the orbit?”
“I suppose that question will be answered before long.” Hunter didn’t wait for a reply before he cut the connection. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he stretched a crick in his neck.
“How are you holding up love?” Errisa asked cautiously.
“Doesn’t matter, I have to see this through. Computer, establish connection with Orbital Minera.”
“Holy shit, you sure fucked up this time didn’cha?” General Buramis asked cheerfully before the visual connection had even been made. When the video stream went live, Hunter was surprised that he wasn’t looking at an office. Instead, he was patched through to one of Minera’s refining rooms, his view looking down on the room from above. Buramis herself apparently didn’t have a feed of him, and she was leaning over a desk, thin metal rods in her hand.
“I suppose you could say that. It wouldn’t be very kind, but you could say that.” Hunter rubbed his eyes, grateful that he didn’t have to act since there was no video.
“You pitted Pivot against the combined strengths of Techrider and Academy, and for all you know Basura and Minera as well. I’d say that was the nicest phrase I could use.” Buramis grinned as she flicked on a red light set in the desk, illuminating what she was working with. A small chunk of translucent material lay on the desk in front of her, wrapped in a thousand tiny strands of what looked like spider’s silk. Buramis was carefully peeling away at the silk with the clawed ends of her metal rods, manipulating the chunk of senstone without directly touching it. Hunter watched her for a while, knowing from experience not to rush her. He hadn’t missed the fact that she hadn’t specifically said she was with Auspus, and at this point he was clinging to whatever hope of help he could.
“So what’s Techrider know that I don’t, General Hunter?” Buramis sounded casual, but Hunter sensed something in her words.
“I couldn’t say in the slightest.”
“Poulay was awfully fast to align with Auspus. He wouldn’t even have had time to get back to Academy before you started talking to her. I want to know what she knew, that she’d already made up her mind before she heard your side of the story.”
“I’d like to know the same. I’d also like to know how you learned all that.”
“Your Chief of Information contacted me, filled me in on the details just before you called.”
“Sorry,” Errisa whispered, “Buramis likes being in the know, I thought it would soften her up for you to give her info.”
“You and me, we’re really the same, Hunter.” The red light above her made Buramis’ brown skin seem purple as she paused from her work, looking up into the camera. “We work with our hands. We work side-by-side with our people. I don’t think the others really understand what that’s like.” Hunter stayed silent, hoping in spite of himself. “If you made this decision, I believe it’s for your people. I believe it’s what I would’ve done in your situation. I don’t think I could say the same about a decision Poulay or Auspus or…” she didn’t mention the Marshal, leaving the sentence dangling. “I think Orbital Minera is on your side in this.”
“You…” Hunter fought to keep his voice steady at the relief that poured into him, “…you agree that Orbital Minera shall impose no embargo against-”
“Shut up with all the political jargon.” Buramis waved one of the rods impatiently. “We don’t need all that. There’s fuckers that want you to back down, and I’m with you if you want to shove it in their face. That’s all you need to know.”
“It’s enough.” Hunter sighed and leaned back in his chair, watching Buramis leaning over her hunk of senstone. “It’s enough to fuckin’ start with.” He growled, and Buramis grinned as he broke the connection.
He sat in the dark of his command center, emotionally drained and dreading the final task he had to complete.
“You can do this, my love. It’s almost over for the night, and you can come up to join me.” His wife’s voice crooned in his ear, but it barely reduced the tension. “I’m wearing the little silk nothings you bought me.” She added. Hunter smiled sadly, but they both knew sex wouldn’t help ease his worries tonight. He muttered aloud, knowing the microphones in his command center would carry his words to her,
“Would you think less of me if I said that all I wanted was-”
“General Hunter.” The screens in front of him flicked on, all at once, all filled with the same face. The Marshal didn’t bother with communication requests. He communicated, and his Generals listened.
“Good evening Marshal.” Hunter straightened in his chair respectfully. In contrast, the Marshal barely paid attention to him, his eyes flicking back and forth across multiple screens. The Marshal had stubble on his chin and matching black stubble on his typically bald head, and the dark rings beneath his eyes made them seem grim.
“I hear that General Hunter and General Auspus had an altercation today. The Marshal appreciates that no blood was shed in that altercation.” The Marshal’s voice sounded hollow.
No blood that you care about. Hunter thought, remembering how Cynthia’s body had crumpled to the hangar deck. He vaguely wondered if the Marshal would even know if the scrub had died.
“I threatened him only for show, Marshal.” Hunter replied evenly. “I wouldn’t have disobeyed your covenant.”
“Of course not.” The Marshal seemed more distracted than usual, typing into a screen with one hand while reading something from another. “The Marshal trusts that his Generals will keep the covenants in mind as they work out their differences.”
“You don’t object to the embargo then?” Hunter asked, surprised.
“The Marshal believes that his Generals can iron out their own disputes.” The Marshal sounded dismissive, despite the fact that his tone remained completely even. “General Hunter will solve his problem, or General Auspus will concede, or one or both of them will be replaced. As long as Academy and Pivot continue to contribute to Orbital Basura, The Marshal has no reason to intervene. If General Auspus or General Hunter break a covenant, they will be killed. Thus the Orbit remains as it ever was.”
The screen cut out as suddenly as it had turned on, leaving General Hunter in darkness again.

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Burden of Authority
Next Chapter (SFW): Change in Priority

5.3 – Burden of Authority

General Hunter wanted to heave his personal screen across the room, but instead he simply heaved a sigh. Newcomers to the station would often compliment him on how organized and easy it was to request resources from Orbital Pivot; few considered just how difficult it was to organize. As if in response to his frustration, his screen pinged with an incoming message.
Orbital Minera proposing higher quantity trade, more crysium for more mining drones. ~Sara
“Pull up import-export graph between Pivot and Minera,” Hunter sighed, leaning back as the screens at his desk followed his command. He flicked to the next message.
Guy came in with over three thousand luxury chips, won’t say where he got them, permission to do a background check? ~Timothy
“Response: Yes.”
What’s Pivot’s policy on age of employment? The tests normally weed out youngin’s, but we’ve got a promising thirteen year old who just rebuilt a Tanning-Spanly and wants to enlist… ~MkRathly
Hunter stared at the message for a moment, reading it several times without registering what it said.

It seemed so long ago that he had been a spry man, in his youth. For a moment he let himself fondly remember the days when he could leap to his feet at news of a crisis, or jog down the hallways in an emergency. Nowadays he just felt heavy all the time, less as if his muscles had atrophied and more as if each piece of his body simply weighed far more than it used to. He stared at the readouts in front of him, trying to pull his attention away from the weight in his muscles and focus again on his screens. The planetary run had been ill-advised. No matter how he wrapped his mind around it, he couldn’t see a justification for Auspus to send ill-equipped rookies down to attack the Terrans on their own.
Was it some extreme method to train them up? A trial by fire? He shook his head, “Would make far more sense to send them to guard a mining run first, get them acclimated to the surface before sending them against Terrans.” Errisa would’ve chided him if she had heard him muttering to himself.
“It makes you sound less wise old man and more doddering senile old man,” she would tease. He still did it when he was alone, but Hunter tried to avoid it when around others now. Is he hoarding some military secret?
“No reason to hide military matters from another General. Unless he plans on inter-orbital warfare.” He pushed the thought to the back of his mind with a shudder. The consequences of Auspus planning an attack on another Orbital were too grim to consider right now. Hunter looked up at the screen again.

“It’s no good,” he kept on muttering, saying the words aloud helped him to focus on the issue, “there’s no scenario in which it makes sense.” Discrepancies and oddities in General Auspus’ behavior, slowly piling onto each other. Whether the rookies were telling the truth or not, it was clear that Auspus wasn’t. The only true question was what the true circumstances of Auspus’ position were.
“Every strange decision you’ve made has been one that only you oversee,” he muttered, “if the rookies hadn’t made it here no other Orbitals would get involved, so you didn’t bother covering your tracks-”
Hunter’s musings were cut short by a subtle red light on the desk in front of him. He nodded once and flicked a switch, activating the emergency communication channels between Orbital Academy and Orbital Pivot.
“Good evening General Hunter,” General Auspus’ voice sounded as young as he looked, but Hunter had learned long ago how unwise it was to underestimating the man. He had seen political opponents make that mistake, and without fail they were all currently working in small-time positions on various Orbitals.
“General Auspus, I’m glad you pinged me,” Hunter’s voice was gruff.
“I thought you might want to chat, my technicians tell me you’ve been doing some searches through our operational records.”
“The records are accessible to anyone with the right clearance level. I didn’t break any confidences to get them.”
“Of course not my friend,” Auspus replied smoothly, “I only noticed and thought I might answer any questions you might have directly, to save you the trouble of digging for them.”
“Very considerate of you. Why did you send a squad of rookies down to fight Terrans?” Hunter asked bluntly.

“Their Captain had been pushing for some time to get her team more involved, to push them far beyond the typical learning curve of a rookie. Since everyone on that squad tested several years above their level, and after their excellent results in handling an attacking exothermic Drake, I decided to trust Captain Appet’s judgement on their abilities.” Hunter silently flicked a page of stats to one of his screens. He had already noticed the mission against the Drake, but the stats showed that perhaps sending them against it hadn’t been as ambitious as he had first thought.
“That does make sense,” he sighed, “heaven knows we’ll need more flyers now that the Drakes are coming up faster.”
“That was my thought as well, General.”
Hunter frowned. He didn’t have any more questions for Auspus, but he wasn’t satisfied. Even with his explanations, Auspus had lied about how many rookies had escaped. If the rookies weren’t telling the truth, why would Auspus lie? Something just felt wrong somehow, in a way Hunter couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“Oh,” General Auspus said, as if he had just thought of something, and Hunter’s stomach tightened, “I thought I should mention to you. When the rookie squad made their ill-fated attempt at a rescue, two young ladies aboard Orbital Academy assisted them, prepping the heavy cruisers and giving them clearance. In doing so they’ve broken quite a few of our Orbital’s laws and restrictions, so as well intentioned as they may have been, we’re holding them pending disciplinary action.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hunter replied cautiously. What does this have to do with me? What’s your angle Auspus, why are you telling me this?
“Two engineers, a mechanic and an administrative, by the names of Cynthia Cormorant and Samantha Barnes.”

Hunter clenched his hands. He had no clue who Cythia was, but he vaguely remembered Barnes’ girl being shipped out to Academy. More importantly, they were engineers.
“I was under the impression,” he said quietly, forcing his voice quiet, “that in matters of disciplinary action all judgements were to be rendered on the proper Orbitals.”
“I’m sorry?” Auspus had the audacity to pretend confusion, “what do you mean?”
“The General of the Orbital makes the fucking decisions Auspus,” Hunter barked, his attempt at cool failing spectacularly, “I don’t take judicial action on Minera miners in Pivot, you don’t take judicial action on engineers at Academy, that’s basic orbit code-”
“Is it really?” The man on the other end of the comm interrupted smoothly, cutting in with a quiet steel that made his voice sound like a weapon, “because I have a judicial matter on my hands General, a matter of nine rookies whose insubordinate actions placed their lives and valuable equipment at risk. They could’ve been killed, they could’ve fallen into Terran hands, we could’ve lost them in any number of ways, and yet they seem to be sitting safely on Orbital Pivot right at this moment.” It took Hunter leaned forward in his chair, a snarl on his face. So, we’ve stopped pretending to be civil then? Good. I’ve had enough of this fucking windabout. It took him a few moments to realize that another pretense had been dropped.
“I thought you said they hadn’t visited the planet, General.” Hunter said quietly. “How exactly could they be captured by Terrans?” The comm remained silent for a long moment, and Hunter took a deep breath, leaning back in his chair. In a way it was a relief. “Auspus, just tell me what you’re doing. If there’s some kind of trouble, I can help you.”
“Things are the way they are, General Hunter.” There was emotion in Auspus’ voice now, it was trembling with it. “The decision is in your hands at this point. The training Orbital has judicial jurisdiction over, which means you send the Academy-trained rookies back to Academy. You can’t have it both ways Hunter. Unless I have my rookies back, I will proceed with a trial of your engineers on Orbital Academy. I don’t need to tell you what that will imply.”
He didn’t. Hunter knew what it would imply; by giving up control over the two engineers, whatever their names were, he would be letting his Orbital down. Even worse, he would be showing the other Orbitals that Pivot could be walked all over.
“Why are you doing this, Auspus? What could possibly be worth what you’re expending on this?” Auspus cut the connection without answering. Hunter sat in his seat, staring through his desk. The weight in his muscles pressed down into him, and he heaved a sigh as he began closing the screens he had open. His office slowly darkened as the screens flicked off. He heaved himself to his feet and trudged to the door, casting his eyes sadly around the room as he left it.

The General’s quarters were sparse compared to the lodgings of the other officers. While he enjoyed the comforts of Orbital Pivot, Hunter was raised on Minera, and he found the sprawling multi-room quarters a bit too empty and open for his tastes. Essira was happy no matter where they lived, and so he had a single room in the very tip of the diamond-shaped orbital. When he stepped out of the elevator the lights instantly dimmed to a soothing low, and Hunter felt the weight on his muscles lessen just a bit. Essira sat in the bed, reading a screen, but she set it aside the second he entered.
“Good evening my hunter,” she smiled, and the stress that had been pressing at his temples all day lessened.
“It’s late,” he grunted, his face not showing a hint of the relief he felt that she was still up and awake.
“I had a feeling you would need me to talk to you this evening.”
“A feeling?” Hunter raised a sceptical eyebrow, and Essira smiled as she took his hand and pulled him toward the bed.

“Call it woman’s intuition. I intuitively felt that my husband would need someone to hold him, and comfort him, and take the stress of the day away.”
“Woman’s intuition hasn’t been hacking into the Orbital’s database today has she?”
“Of course not! That would be against orbit law! I just had a hunch that perhaps some rookies from Academy are seeking asylum, and Auspus is trying to blackmail you into returning them.” Essira grinned mischieviously, and Hunter sat heavily down on the bed.
God that smile. I would die for that smile if I had to, the General drew his face into a hard reproving expression, “Fuck orbit law Errisa, if you keep plugging into the database you’ll fry yourself.”
“I can’t change who I am, husband.” Errisa kissed Hunter on the top of his head before she knelt, pulling his heavy boots from his feet, “Nor can you. You have to accept that I am what I am.”
“Hard not to feel guilty about that when you make it so easy to accept.” Hunter sighed. Errisa took one of his feet in her hands, massaging the knots in them as she listened.

“I just wish I knew why Auspus is pressing this issue. The Terrans have somehow figured out how to send multiple Drakes in a year, and we’ve got no idea when the next attack might be. What could be so important that it’s worth causing tension now of all times?”
“Perhaps it’s the timing that’s the clue?” Errisa’s hands moved to his other foot, and the General growled appreciatively, “maybe General Auspus is counting on everyone being distracted by the threat of Terrans to seize just a little more control.”
“Could be,” the General agreed, “hell, maybe he sent the rookies here on purpose, told them to gain my sympathy so he could press this issue.”
“No,” Errisa shook her head definitely, “if you could hear the way they talk about him you wouldn’t think that. They absolutely despise him.”
“You watched the security feed from their rooms?” The General sighed. The smile on her face answered the question for him, but he didn’t bother lecturing her.
“You can learn a lot watching twenty-one hours of footage over three prison cells, it took me about five minutes” she said, “do you want to know what I learned?”
“Someday you’re going to see something you shouldn’t,” the General’s hard demeanor broke, and he chuckled.
“Someday? Ha,” Errisa grinned, emboldened by Hunter laugh, “the blond and brunette went at it the second they were alone, it was kind of cute.”

She grew serious, “They have something in their cell Hunter. A crystal that they took from the Terrans.”
“A weapon?” Hunter stood up, “why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not a weapon, sit back down.” Errisa pulled him back into the bed, “and it’s not dangerous or a high priority, it will last the night.”
“How can you tell?” he trusted his wife, but Hunter couldn’t shake the feeling of unease that had been plaguing him ever since he had been alerted about the heavy cruisers approaching Pivot.
“The rookies are just as in the dark about it as we are,” Errisa said reassuringly, “and like I said, they hate Auspus. They’re on our side.”
The General sighed and leaned back into bed, and Errisa crawled in next to him.
“What would I do without you?” Hunter kissed Errisa on the top of her head, missing her short cropped black hair.
“Probably overwork yourself, have multiple heart attacks, and die,” Errisa said cheerfully, turning to kiss him under the neck. He grinned and wrapped a large arm around her shoulders, squeezing her tight to him. His other hand grabbed her chin and he tipped her head up to kiss her on the lips.
“Ever the optimist,” he rumbled. His hand wandered down her neck, brushing against her warm skin down to the edge of her shirt. He glanced down at her body appreciative.

“Mmm,” Errisa murmured, “we definitely should.” The General loved that about her, that she could all but read his mind at this point, answering questions he didn’t even have to ask out loud. “Can you adjust me a little first? I’m a little off-kilter today.”
“Of course.” Hunter rose heavily to his feet, moving to retrieve his tools as his wife stripped her shirt off and laid down on her stomach on the bed. “Anything in particular bothering you?”
“Nothing too drastic.” Errisa smiled at him reassuringly as he returned to sit next to her on the bed. He began rubbing her back, his hands calloused from years of mechanical work digging in to press at the hard areas in her shoulderblades. “That feels amazing.”
“Alright, lets get this over with,” The General took a deep breath, bracing himself as he picked up his instrument. He checked the small metal spike carefully, making sure there were no pieces of dirt or fuzz on the delicate sharp tip. Someday I’ll be able to do this without worrying
“You’ll be alright Hunter,” Errisa murmured reassuringly, as if she read his mind again, “I’m not as fragile as you seem to think I am.”
“I’m allowed to be worried when I’m about to perform surgery on my wife,” Hunter growled.
“Surgery? You’re so dramatic,” Errisa laughed. The thin seam along her spine glowed, then separated, and the panels that made up her back silently slid apart. Taking another breath, the General carefully reached forward and began his work.

“What am I adjusting?” He asked, the spike in his hand hovering as he waited.
“I’ve got a twitch in my leg, so maybe my balance servo?”
“Not leg control?” The General reached inside Errisa, carefully pushing a bundle of thin wires to one side so he could see the connections to her balance motherboard.
“No, I’m pretty sure-”
“Ah, there it is,” Hunter said, carefully adjusting a wire that had come loose, “you were right, it was in the balance cluster.”
“It’s almost as if I know myself,” Errisa teased.
“I think my emotional core is a bit off. I’m not normally so rebellious or snarky.”
“Yes you are.” Hunter grinned.
“A little less green core, a little more purple? Please?” The General complied, adjusting small sliders along the sphere that controlled Errisa’s different cores.
“I can move your worry down a bit if you like.”
“Worry is good to have. Keeps me on my toes,” Errisa shook her head, “I don’t want to be the type to lounge around all day, not caring what’s happening to the people around me.”
“What about horniness? Should I increase that a bit?”
“No!” Hunter grinned at his wife’s exclamation, “god no Hunter, I already have to masturbate once or twice a week when you’ve got to much work to come take care of me.”
“Alright then. Anything else?”
“I think that’ll do Hunter. Unless…” the General’s face grew somber; he knew what she was about to ask, “…unless you’d like to open the bottleneck? Let me grow to my full potential?”

Hunter leaned back with a sigh, and ran a weary hand through his buzz-cut hair. Errisa turned, careful to not jostle any of the exposed wires coming out of her back.
“I’m sorry.” She said quietly, “I shouldn’t have asked that.”
“It’s been awhile since you’ve asked,” Hunter’s voice was just as soft as hers. It always comes down to this. “I had hoped…”
“I know. I know Hunter, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask, it’s not fair to you to…” Errisa looked close to tears, and Hunter winced at the look on her face.
“Let’s get you sealed back up.” He said roughly, and Errisa turned back to the bed. They sat in silence for long minutes as General Hunter carefully sealed the wires inside his wife into neat bundles of cable, and strapped them to the motherboards that kept her running. He had to pause for a moment to angrily brush his watering eye before screwing the fasteners.
“You know I love you, right?” Errisa said it so quietly that Hunter could barely hear.
“I know.” It came out more gruffly than he intended.
“Just because my mind makes me push…it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
“I know it.”
“If I could make myself stop trying, I would.” Hunter didn’t repeat it a third time, he simply slid her back panels back into place, resuming the shoulder rub he had given her to begin with. It’s not her fault, he reminded himself, angrily, you knew about this when you married her. She’ll never stop doing what she can to get the bottlenecks removed. As if whispered in his ear, the doubt followed his thoughts. And what better way for a sentient AI to escape her restrictions, than to convince an old fool the she loves him, knowing that someday he won’t be able to say no to her?

“I know what you’re thinking, when you look at me like that,” Errisa said sadly, startling Hunter out of his musing.
“I’m thinking that I love you,” he said, gruff and terse.
“You’re thinking that you love me too much,” she whispered. General Hunter opened his mouth to say something reassuring, but the weight and weariness of the day seemed to press against him, and all he could do was close his eyes and lean back against the pillow. He felt Errisa settle in next to him, nuzzling against his stubbly chin and breathing a sigh.
“It must be hard, being you.” She murmured, stroking his chest. “Politics, lies, backstabbing. Dealing with innocent rookies and crazy robot wives.”
“Wives, plural?” The General chuckled, “are there more of you hiding around here somewhere? Because I think that might kill me.” Errisa giggled, and Hunter’s heart jumped in his chest.
“There’s only one Errisa, darling Hunter,” she said, “and she belongs to you.”
“Nonsense.” the General grumbled. His eyes still closed, he groped for her hand, taking it in his large paw and squeezing gently, “you’re your own woman through and through.”
“I’m yours,” Errisa insisted, “all of me, every inch. This is yours,” She moved his hand and brushed it down the side of her face, “and these are yours,” she moved his hand to her naked breast, squeezing his fingers to make him fondle her, “and especially this.” Errisa pulled his hand down across her stomach, until it nestled between her legs. Hunter growled appreciatively, rubbing two fingers back and forth across the material of her pants with a gentle motion.

“You wanted to relax, earlier, Hunter,” Errisa whispered, hooking a thumb over the waistband of her pants and stretching them down a bit. Hunter’s thumb brushed through her soft pubic hair, and he nodded his head. He came to the same conclusion he always did in these moments. If Errisa’s love for him was faked, it was faked too well to question. If it was a farce, it was too wonderful a farce not to enjoy. He kept brushing his thumb back and forth, his fingernail grazing skin that felt soft and real as any human woman’s. Errisa let him, not doing anything to hasten him, simply keeping her head resting on his chest, her own chest rising and falling rhythmically.
“Tell me about your troubles,” Errisa said quietly, and Hunter considered for a moment.
“He’s lying Errisa. Auspus is lying, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“You do,” his wife said gently. Hunter didn’t respond, searching his thoughts as he ran his fingers in small circles over her mound.
He tugged very lightly at the tufts of hair between her legs, thinking on all sides of the subject and considering before he spoke.
“I don’t want to get the High General involved in this,” he said finally, “Orbital Pivot is my domain, and every time the High General gets involved in Orbital affairs it ends up the worse for them.”
“That wasn’t the case the last time, was it?” Errisa’s fingers worked at the sealing clasp on his pants as she spoke, her words a little breathy as Hunter gently tugged at her pubic hair. “The last time the High General got involved in Pivot, he made you the General. That was good, wasn’t it?”
“Was it though?” Hunter sighed as his wife slid the heavy material of his pants down his legs, freeing his member to harden beneath her hand. She simply held his length, possessively but still, allowing him to finish his thought. “General Yathmus was doing a fine job running Pivot, everyone in the Orbital was thriving…”
“Besides the slaves Yathmus was selling,” Errisa interrupted, stroking her hand up and down once, slowly.
“Yathmus needed to be removed, I’m not arguing that, but getting rid of his whole power structure? Cutting off the head of the Orbital and sticking some young-gun Captain in their place? Sure it worked out, but I’m still not convinced it was the right thing to do, even if it put me here.” Hunter slid his hand further down, and his wife spread her legs accommodatingly.

“Who knows if the High General will even get involved?” Errisa sighed as Hunter brushed his fingertips between her legs, his hands moving automatically as his brow furrowed in thought.
“Auspus is making this an issue, something far more than it should be. He’s not one to state anything outright, but I think he’s hinting at a declaration of war.”
“Then prepare for the worst Hunter. What would you do if he was that desperate to get his rookies back?”
Hunter slid a finger between her lips, slowly moving it up and down and enjoying the scent of her sex in the room. She was matching his pace, her fingers gently brushing back and forth over the top of his cock. It was sensual and utterly relaxing, and the two of them lay in silence for several minutes, considering her question.
“I can’t let him bully me,” General Hunter finally said. “If I give way on this issue at the threat of war, then Auspus will take whatever he wants from me, whenever he wants it, on threat of war. Today he wants his rookies back, without telling me what they’ve actually done or why he wants them. Who knows what comes tomorrow? Maybe he doesn’t feel like sending us the Pilots we need. Maybe he demands Pivot send more engineers or ships. I can’t set this precedent, it’s too dangerous.”
“So you’ve decided?” Errisa asked.
“I’ve decided. Either he tells me why he wants the rookies, and gives me time to think on it, or he can fuck off. And if he decides to punish Pivot-trained scrubs for this standoff between us,” Hunter frowned, “then I suppose we’ll have to press back. That’s my decision. I know what to do.”

“Good,” Errisa said in a satisfied voice, “because I have been thoroughly teased enough.” Hunter grinned as his wife sat up and threw a long leg over him, straddling him at the waist. Her slick sex was warm against his cock, and now that he was satisfied with his plans he could dedicate his full attention to the feeling. He lifted a rough hand and ran his fingers through her short black hair, and she smiled in response, nuzzling her cheek against it. Hunter didn’t have to move at all as Errisa reached down, stroking him a few more times as she positioned it at her opening, and then gently pressed down, taking him inside of her to the hilt. Hunter sighed at the feeling as she leaned down, pressing her forehead against his and giving him a peck on the lips.
“You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he murmured, kissing her again as his arms wrapped around her to crush her tight against him. Errisa held him as well, rocking her hips to move him around inside her rather than thrust in and out.
“You always get so sentimental when you’re in me,” she smiled. “Are you ready?”
“Not yet,” Hunter rubbed her back, working at her muscles even as she slowly moved her hips back and forth, “I want to lay like this for a while longer.” Errisa complied, resting on him with a sigh and kissing the side of his neck.
“And I’m always sentimental,” he grinned, and was rewarded with her chuckle in his ear. Feeling her tongue flick against his earlobe, Hunter closed his eyes, his hands moving up and down her back, occasionally pausing to squeeze her butt.
“Oh always,” his wife giggled into his ear, “it’s embarrassing really, how you’re always spilling your emotions all over the place, you mushy fool.” Hunter chuckled, but her voice low in his ear was making him harden even further inside of her.
“Now I’m ready,” he growled, and Errisa sat up, looking down at him with lusty affection.
“About time,” she smiled, and then came.

Hunter felt her body tremble, her pussy quivering around him. He grabbed her by the hips and thrust, hard, enjoying the feeling. She was so wet that he penetrated her without pause even despite her cunt’s tightness, and the walls of her sex squeezed and clamped on his cock with each deep thrust. Errisa came down from her orgasm slowly, but she moved her hips to take him deeper.
“More,” he breathed, and his wife smiled down at him and came again.
“Oh, Hunter,” she breathed, and his hips left the bed as he tried to push into her even harder. Her second orgasm was no less intense than the first, her sex twitching against him, her face flushed, and she moaned every time he pulled away from her. She came the third time without being asked, her sighs of pleasure even louder as she leaned over him. Her breasts hung inches away from Hunter’s face, and they bounced appealingly each time he lifted to slam his cock into her body. Every stress of the day was gone from Hunter’s mind, blown away by the smells of sweat and sex, by the sounds of Errisa’s moans and his cock slamming into her wet pussy, and the feeling of her tight walls around his entire length. He came hard, his abs shaking as he pulled her down onto him. Errisa pushed down on him, knowing exactly what to do to make him cum harder and reading his pulse and breathing rate to know exactly when.
“Oh my god Hunter, fill me with your cum,” she breathed, a split second before he exploded inside her. His wife had never said those words before, but somehow she knew how to hit every kink Hunter had, sometimes before he even knew them himself. She met his eyes as he came, her fingers stroking his chest as he bucked and jerked, his mind almost blanking out at the pleasure as he filled her.
Errisa moved slowly and deliberately, letting his limp member slip out of her slowly before she lay on her back next to him. Hunter panted, trying to catch his breath as he stroked her pubic hair again, now matted with juices and sweat. His wife was smiling, not a single drop of sweat on her forehead and her breath coming out as even and measured as ever.
“Your turn,” Hunter grinned, propping himself up on an elbow.
“But I already came, Hunter,” Errisa raised her eyebrows innocently, “three times. Didn’t you feel me?”
“Your turn for real,” Hunter reached up and tugged gently on her earlobe, and Errisa gasped.
“If you like,” she said uncertainly, but Hunter was already leaning over her, running his fingers down the sides of her neck.

It had taken them a long time to reach this point in their relationship, one where he could give his wife real orgasms rather than the simulated ones she could so effortlessly control with her software. Hunter had learned his wife’s body clumsily and with much trial and error, and Errisa had needed quite some time before she could let go of her embarrassment and awkwardness. Hunter continued sliding a finger up and down her neck, making careful note of his pace and counting off the seconds in his head.
“You’re getting better at that,” Errisa whispered, and Hunter noted with satisfaction that he had raised goosebumps on her skin. Continuing his slow onslaught on her neck, Hunter began rubbing very small circles into her forehead with another finger. It helped to picture what was going on beneath her skin as he did so, the shoots of sensation in her neck crossing at just the right time with the sensors in her head, creating a delicate bouquet of pleasure, real pleasure, in Errisa’s brain. He pressed his fingers harder, digging them into her neck and forehead in a way that would be painful and uncomfortable to a human. Errisa’s pain circuits in those two specific areas, both firing at the same time, would hit her motherboard at the same instant, locking up the receptors and suddenly removing every physical perception from her but pleasure for a few moments.
“Mmm, right there,” Errisa’s voice was steady, but she squirmed on the bed, her fingers digging into the sheets. Hunter smiled in spite of himself. Such human reactions at times.
His brow furrowed as he tried to get the timing just right. He paused and began counting, trying not to get distracted by his wife’s involuntary whimper of pleasure. Errisa stayed still so that he could count without distraction, trying to base his count on her steady breaths rather than his erratic ones. …and eight, and nine, and ten. As close to the turn of the second as he could manage, Hunter pressed his thumb into Errisa’s throat, hard enough that if she were human he would worry about causing irreparable damage. If he had timed it right, the blast of pain would hit her motherboard just as the receptors reset, overloading it and transferring the sensation to backup panels; a split second of pain followed by a rush of more pleasure than a human being was physically capable of feeling.

Errisa’s back arched, her fingers clawed at the sheets. Hunter sat back, satisfied, watching his wife having her own version of an orgasm. Her simulation of a human cumming was delightful in its own way, but he enjoyed this more, knowing that this type of orgasm was more “real” to her than anything they had done a few moments ago. She screamed in pleasure, a long loud moan that was beautiful and genuine, and then her body collapsed to the bed as it was overloaded, unable to do anything but enjoy the bursts of pleasure that were running through every inch of her. Her eyes went white as the high-definition displays in them blanked out, unable to handle their normal tasks and the pleasure at the same time. For a few moments she lay completely still, the only movement her lips as she whispered a single word.
The orgasm lasted less than a minute before Errisa blinked and sighed. Hunter smiled when she looked over at him, adoration on her face.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” he joked.
“Don’t tease me about that,” Errisa said weakly, “you know I’m embarrassed by it.”
“No reason to be embarrassed about your husband giving you an orgasm,” Hunter replied gruffly, laying next to her.
“There is when you cum as strangely as I do,” Errisa snuggled in next to him. Hunter decided not to argue with her, instead making a gesture in the air that the room would identify. The lights dimmed out, and the two of them lay in the darkness together. He stared at the ceiling for long minutes, until a small hiss indicated that his wife had fallen asleep, the tiny panel behind her ear unsealing and allowing access. After pulling up his pants and locating his shirt in a crumpled ball at the foot of the bed, Hunter rose. A quick search beneath the bed yielded the cord that came up through the floor, linked directly to the power core of Orbital Pivot, and he plugged it into the panel behind Errisa’s ear before he made his way back to the elevator. As he waited for it to arrive, he gave one last longing glance behind him at his naked wife, sprawled on the bed, her bare chest rising and falling with her deep breaths. He shook his head once as the elevator door opened, and stepped inside. Still work to be done.

His screen was flashing to indicate new messages, of course. Hunter allowed himself the momentary luxury of settling into his seat before he flipped through them.
We have a custom ship request from Basura, shall we put it through? ~Aaron
“Respond: We’ll have to put some designers on the job. I’ll grab a list and talk to them in the morning.” The computer filled out an appropriate response as he flicked to the next message.
Minera lost a few mining drones on the surface. Careless miners, not Terrans, but they aren’t due for a resupply for a few months. ~Sara
“Respond: We owe General Buramis a favor, go ahead and send him a handful.”
The next several messages made him lean up in his chair, his brow furrowed. They were from several different sources; security had received alerts to prepare for an escort, hangar bay had gotten scheduling requests and refueling alerts. The messages built a complete picture of what was happening, so Hunter didn’t even need to read the last message, marked official and with high priority, to know what it said. He pulled it up anyway, a frown building on his face at the terse message.
Coming to Pivot tomorrow, arriving at 1300. Bringing the engineers, and a prison ship for the returning rookies. ~Auspus

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Orbital Pivot
Next Chapter (SFW): Change in the Orbit

5.2 – Orbital Pivot

“Jackson, why’d you bring us to Pivot? What about Orbital Academy?” Preston reached across Missy and flicked the cruiser’s autopilot off, beginning to manually pilot their cruiser in line with the other squadmates’.
“Rookie Preston, please cut the comm chatter, we wouldn’t want to crowd Orbital Pivot’s comm channels,” Jackson’s voice crackled into the small space. The message was clear; We’re being listened to. I can either trust Jackson or come up with my own plan. Preston and Missy exchanged looks, and she nodded, her brown ringlets bouncing with the motion. Preston shrugged. He probably would’ve trusted Jackson on his own, but he trusted Missy at his core. Pulling up the fine-navigation controls, he prepared to land the craft.

Although he had seen it before a handful of times, this was the first time he was actually landing a ship in the hangar bay. Orbital Pivot’s hangar was much larger that Orbital Academy’s, containing expanded bays to allow Pivot to supply ships to every Orbital in the orbit. Although it was easier for Preston to move the ship in, the smooth and practiced action was unsettling. It feels wrong somehow. The ship settled down behind Alex’s heavy cruiser, and Preston did his checks of the gauges without thinking about it. It wasn’t until the canopy swung upward that Preston realized how many people crowded the large hangar bay. The normal scrub teams were moving in to hook up fueling lines and coolant cells, but there were more small groups scattered throughout the hangar. Jackson was already climbing down from his cruiser at the front of the line of ships, and the largest of the groups were waiting for him. Preston helped Missy down and they walked forward to join their squadmate, just as the man in front of the group spoke.

“Good evening Rookies. I’m General Hunter, and I’m in charge of this orbital. I checked over the flight logs before I came down, and I wasn’t informed of any ships scheduled to dock today.” The General was tall and muscled, with salt-and-pepper hair in a short buzzcut. Despite his slightly suspicious tone, his stare seemed focused and attentive rather than aggressive. He’s a military type, Preston decided, hoping Jackson had also picked up on the vibe, strict protocol, law and order type.
“We’re unscheduled sir,” Jackson answered for the group as Li, Aimee, Marcus and Alex joined them, “we’ve just returned from the surface. From a rescue mission, in fact, to retrieve our squaddies that were left behind on a planetary. We managed to save all but two.” The General raised an eyebrow, while behind him two of his men immediately began typing into their screens.
“I haven’t ever heard of a rescue mission being undertaken, much less successfully,” he commented, holding out a hand, “nor was I aware Academy was sending rookies down to the surface these days.” One of the men behind him placed his screen into the General’s waiting hand, which he glanced at briefly before returning it, “I see the Planetary authorized, but not the rescue mission.”
“It was…unauthorized,” Jackson admitted, “but we have reason to believe there are members of Academy who didn’t want us to live through the Planetary. That’s also why we landed on Pivot rather than Academy”

The General looked back and forth between the faces of the squadmates, his face neutral. The silence stretched, and Preston noticed suddenly how many of the people around the General were carrying heavy assault rifles and non-lethal riot pistols. His view on the scene suddenly shifted. Fuck…we aren’t a group of rookies facing a slap on the wrist here… we could be in as much trouble here as on the planetary. He took another, more specific headcount now, noting the composition of the group in front of them. Flanking General Hunter were his two henchmen with the screens, but the four men and women surrounding them were heavily armed and armored. Preston hadn’t ever been in a situation where someone might view him as an adult threat, not just a mischievous child. His hands were at his sides, and he moved his thumb subtly to make sure the pistol Missy had given him was still stuck in the waistband of his loose pants.
“Why don’t you keep your hand away from that weapon, son,” the General said quietly, without turning his head, “it’ll make this conversation a little easier I think.” The guards with weapons shifted at his words, raising weapons carefully but quickly, and Preston put his hands up slowly.
“General,” the man on Hunter’s left handed him the screen, “it’s General Auspus from Orbital Academy for you sir.” Preston’s stomach clenched.
“Yes,” General Hunder murmured, “I thought he might want to talk to me.”

“General Auspus,” Hunter held the screen in front of his face with his left hand. Missy’s fingers dug into Preston’s arm as their General’s calm voice came from the screen.
“Hello General Hunter. I understand some of my rookies landed in your hangar bay a few minutes ago.”
“They certainly did Auspus, we have them in the brig right now,” General Hunter fixed them with a stare as if challenging any of them to say a word, “anything I should know about them?”
“I’m glad you took that action. Keeping them isolated is certainly the best option to keep Orbital Pivot safe.They’re quite a dangerous bunch.”
“Are they now?” General Hunter’s expression didn’t change, but Preston noted with concern that his right hand moved casually to the butt of his pistol.
“We aren’t quite sure what their end goal is, but we suspect they intend to form a rebellion against the Orbit.” Preston ground his teeth at the smooth calm with which Auspus mangled the truth, “they dipped into the fog after they left, and we tracked their progress to Pivot, so whatever their story, it will involve the deception that they visited the planet.”
“But that’s a lie, of course?” General Hunter moved as he asked, his eyes sweeping across the group of rookies as he stepped in among them, “they came straight from Academy to Pivot?”
“Of course,” Auspus’ voice contained just the right amount of annoyance to sell the story. Out of the corner of his eye Preston saw Missy open her mouth, and he grabbed her hand and squeezed. She stayed silent, with a look of barely concealed rage on her face, as the General stopped directly in front of Preston.
“Hmm.” General Hunter said noncommittally, and Preston had to force himself not to move as the aged man reached out and grabbed him by the arm. “You’ve given me a lot to think about General Auspus,” General Hunter mused aloud, rubbing the material of Preston’s shirt between calloused fingers.

The Terrans’ prison clothes! Preston realized with a start, looking down at the rough and coarse clothes he was wearing, the Orbitals don’t have material like this, and Auspus doesn’t know the Terrans captured us!
Although General Hunter’s expression never changed, his hand moved off of his sidearm as he made his way back to the front of the rookies, speaking into the screen.
“Aren’t your rookie squads usually made up of nine rookies and a Captain? There are only four rookies here.”
Preston glanced at his squadmates. Missy and I, Jackson, Alex, Marcus, Li, Aimee… he counted before the realization hit him, it’s a test. He’s only counting the ones in Academy flightsuits…the ones Auspus knows made it.
“Yes General Hunter, that’s correct,” Auspus didn’t hesitate for a moment, “their Captain wasn’t involved in their little rebellion, thankfully, and we were able to safely capture the remaining five of their group before they took off. They’re safely detained here in Academy.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” a hint of expression had finally appeared on General Hunter’s face as he surveyed the seven squaddies, an unforgiving hardness. Preston found it encouraging.
“When will you be able to ship them back to the Academy for processing?” Auspus’ question was casual.
“I’ll have to square things away here first,” General Hunter answered noncommittally, “but I’ll get back to you.” He closed the screen and passed it back to his henchman.
“So…” the General seemed to be mulling things over in his head, “I’m assuming when you said “someone in power, you were referring to your captain and your general?”
“Just the General, sir,” Jackson replied, “I’m pretty sure the Captain wasn’t involved.”
“Well now, isn’t this problematic?” The General ran a hand through the stubble on his head and blew out a breath. “If I’m following the letter of the Orbit’s law I’d ship you all back in a containment cell before the end of the day.” Preston felt the urge to reach for his gun again, but he restrained himself. Shooting people won’t help our case.

“On the other hand, it’s clear that there’s more going on here than it seems,” General Hunter growled, “your story might be a lie, might now, but it’s clear that General Auspus’ certainly is.” Hunter stroked his chin for a few more moments.
“I’m not throwing you back to Auspus before I’ve had the chance to think about this,” he said finally, “But I’m not about to give you full run of the orbital either. I’m confining you to cells, and then I’m going to give a long hard think, then I’ll talk to a few of you. Does that seem fair?”
“Very fair, sir,” Jackson said respectfully. Preston let the guards remove the gun from his waistband before he spoke.
“General, some of us have been separated from loved ones for quite some time. If you would be so kind, if we could be locked in cells together…”
“I don’t like the idea of you all in the same place, able to plot and scheme,” the General shook his head, “three of you to a cell, max.” He made a motion, and Preston found himself being escorted down the long hangarbay. Missy clung to his arm, and he put a hand around her waist protectively, even though he knew the guards wouldn’t be rough. He had grown up on Orbital Pivot; roughness wasn’t their way.

It was good to be back on Pivot. It felt like a lifetime ago since he had last walked the long hallways, and the tiny luxuries he had grown up with seemed so much more vivid now that he was back. The guards and squaddies’ footfalls were muffled by carpeting, and the walls were rich colors instead of the bare metal of the Academy. Where the cold was an ever-constant hardship on Orbital Academy, here the air was warm and pleasant. Preston may have been worried about his future and the fate of his squadmates, but in the meantime it didn’t hurt to enjoy the little things he had left behind.
“First cell,” one of the guards thumbed a keypad to open the door and stood to one side, “you heard the General, three max.”
“Will you two be alright on your own?” Jackson asked quietly. Preston nodded,
“Orbital Pivot treats their prisoners alright,” he said, “we’ll all be fine until the General makes a decision. And even then, General Hunter isn’t the type to surprise you. We’ll know what will happen to us as soon as he comes to a decision.”
Preston and Missy stepped inside of the dark cell, and the door closed behind them, hissing as the room was hermetically sealed.

“Now all we have to do is wait,” Preston let go of Missy and leaned against the door, “hopefully we won’t have to wait for more than a day or two, the General probably has a lot that he needs to take care of- what’s wrong?” For the first time he noticed the dumbfounded expression on Missy’s face, as the soft lights in the room slowly rose.
“THIS is Pivot’s prison?” she asked. Preston glanced around the room. It was about the size of the entire Academy barracks that housed his nine-man squad, although there was only one bed in the corner. Queen-sized, Preston noted, although the cells are probably only set up for one prisoner, so that’s not intended as a hardship. A fire crackled in the fireplace on one wall, and on another a huge window gave a picturesque view of the moon that lazily followed the Orbital’s progress around the planet. His eyes moved from the high ceiling to the plush carpet on the floor, and he finally shrugged,
“Well, yea I suppose it’s a little comfy compared to the Academy-”
“A little comfy?” Missy hesitantly stepped into the room, as if she would break something simply by moving, “this is the most luxurious room I’ve ever been in. Ever. In my entire life. how is this…what?” She spluttered.
“Okay, sure it’s alright,” Preston was starting to grow uncomfortable, “but we’ve been on Orbital Academy for five months Missy, anything would seem luxurious to us…” he trailed off at the look Missy was giving him.

“Just how comfortable was your life before coming to the Academy Preston? If this,” she made a sweeping motion around her, “is Pivot’s definition of the barest necessities.”
“It was…fine. It was okay,” Preston mumbled. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going, “I mean it was better than this but…” Defensiveness gave his words more of an edge than he meant them to have, “why is it such a big deal? We’re all squaddies no matter where we came from, aren’t we? And you and I, we’re partners who love each other, aren’t we? Who cares about what our childhood was like? What does it matter?”
“It matters when I find out my boyfriend was a spoiled rich kid,” Missy muttered, looking around her. Preston reddened, but he didn’t respond. We don’t need to be arguing right now, especially not about something as trivial as this. Instead he turned to the wide window and stared at the moon that drifted in the distance. After a few moments Missy joined him, wrapping slender arms around his waist.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “you’re right, it doesn’t change anything about you. Or us.”
“Look at it this way,” Preston said dryly, “whatever comforts I might’ve had as a child, they make it that much harder to adjust to life at the Academy.”
“Oh you poor thing!” Missy gasped, and Preston grinned at her tone. He couldn’t see her face, but he could tell she was about to tease him. “You mean you’re forced to sleep in a bed with only one pillow?”
“Now that’s not fair-” Preston began, but Missy turned his head to look at the prison bed in the corner. There were four plump pillows on the heavy coverlet. Preston scowled as Missy burst into peals of laughter.

“Well at the very least we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves while the General is thinking about what to do with us,” Preston stepped over to the bed and threw himself backward on it. The coverlet enveloped him as he stared at the ceiling. Missy settled next to him and laying her head on his chest.
“Do you think he’ll believe us?” Missy asked. Preston played with her brown curls as he considered the question.
“I’ve always heard Hunter was cool and levelheaded,” he said finally, “and Auspus dug himself a pretty big hole with his lies. We’ve got the crystal, so if he believes us in the slightest we can have his help in deciphering what he’s trying to hide.”
“I hate him.” Missy spoke quietly, but her voice was venomous. “We weren’t hurting anyone, we weren’t doing anything, and he tried to break us apart, tried to kill you.” The anger in her voice was unlike her, and Preston frowned to hear it. He tried his standard tactic of switching her attention; telling a dirty joke.
“Well, I wasn’t hurting anything, but I was definitely doing someone,” he said, giving a lock of her hair an affectionate tug. He expected a gentle smack on the stomach, but instead Missy just sighed and ran her hand up and down his leg.
“You know…” Missy said, “…I do owe you for back in the cruiser.” Preston bit back a response. He had come far enough to know that he shouldn’t agree, that he shouldn’t think of sex as owing each other. He hoped someday he wouldn’t think it, but in the meantime he could at least avoid saying it.
“If you like,” he shrugged, “it’s not like you have to.”
“Preston,” Missy turned, her face inches away from his, “I thought you were dead. I thought I’d never see you again. You told me you loved me an hour ago. You gave me an amazing…a lot of fun in the cruiser.”

“You still can’t talk about sex without blushing unless we are in the middle of having sex,” Preston chuckled. Missy was indeed blushing, her whole face red, but she looked resolute. When she didn’t move for a few moments, Preston cocked his head to one side. It was somehow different this time, as if Missy were processing emotions she didn’t normally have to deal with. When she spoke she was quiet, but there was an unsettling steel to it that Preston hadn’t heard before.
“Fine,” she said, and when she looked straight into Preston’s eyes with a steady gaze, her blush was gone. What just happened? Did I go too far?
“Listen, Missy, I didn’t mean-”
“Shut up. You want to hear me talk straight, fine. I thought you were dead,” she listed on her fingers, still holding his gaze, “I thought I’d never see you again. You told me you loved me. And on top of all of that, I haven’t been fucked in a week. You made me cum, hard, in that cruiser, when I really needed to cum. Now I’m going to return the favor.” She grabbed the front of his shirt and leaned in closer, dropping her voice to a whisper, “and I’m not going to stop at just one. I’m going to fuck you, Preston, until you are physically incapable of having another orgasm, and then I’m going to fuck you one more time.”
“I…um” Preston stammered. This was like their first time all over again, she was acting completely out of character from the petite innocent Missy that he was used to, and he was both confused and incredibly turned on.

“No stammering,” Missy leaned back, “the first time we’re going to do it like this. You’re the big confident rich kid, and I’m just a naive little rookie from Orbital Academy.” The innocence was back, exaggerated in all the right ways. Missy looked up through her lashes at him with the smallest of pouts, leaning back far enough that the stomach of her flightsuit made a pleasant arch up to her breasts. “So what exactly are you going to do to me, big bad rich boy?” She asked. Preston leaned forward, grabbing a handful of her curls in one hand as he fumbled for the sealing tab on her flightsuit with the other. “Oh Preston, what are you doing?” Missy said in a shocked voice, the effect somewhat ruined by the grin on her face. Preston slid the sealing tab down with a single quick motion, planting a kiss between her breasts before answering.
“I’m going to fuck you senseless you silly girl,” he grinned right back, yanking her suit off of her shoulders. Smiling at the way she gasped, Preston looked his girlfriend over. On the Academy the constant cold would make her nipples harden right away, but Orbital Pivot was kept warm enough that he was deprived of that sight. Even so, he couldn’t help but admire Missy’s body as she shrugged her arms out of the sleeves of the flightsuit, letting it slip down to her hips.
“But Preston, how will you do that with your clothes on?” Missy asked putting a finger to her lips. Preston rolled his eyes at the overblown innocent act, but even knowing it was exaggerated, his cock hardened against the soft material of his Terran prison clothes.

He used the firm grip on her hair to pull Missy down next to him on the bed, standing and yanking his shirt off. She watched him with heavily lidded eyes, taking in his every motion as he next stripped out of his pants.
“You are entirely overdressed,” Preston said huskily, and Missy obligingly lifted her rear and shifted her legs out of the flightsuit, kicking it onto the bed. She sprawled on the bedcovers in front of him, pale skin against white coverlet, her pink nipples and the dark patch of hair between her legs the only contrast.
Preston grabbed her ankles and yanked her towards the edge of the bed until her butt hung half-off of it. Missy squeaked, but Preston held her legs behind the knees as he knelt between them. She was so wet that he could see the juices on her pink pussy, and he enjoyed the sight for a moment before he gently licked it clean.
“Oooh Preston,” Missy moaned, all sign of acting gone. Preston smiled and kept on licking, lapping up her juices and reveling in the tangy taste and scent. “This is supposed to be about you, s-stop it,” Missy breathed, and Preston chuckled again.

He rose, barely pausing to nip at her breast on his way up. Missy had already reached down to grab his member, stroking it and sliding his head between her lips, and he thrust into her with a powerful, hard motion. Missy threw her head back, her mouth open in a wordless moan. Her fingers dug into his shoulders, and suddenly her slit was trembling around his length. Preston would’ve been proud of giving her an orgasm with a single thrust, but her wet, warm cunt gripping his shaft felt so good he knew he wasn’t going to last long himself. He thrust a few more times, enjoying the wet sounds of sex and her shuddering breaths almost as much as the feeling of her tight sex. When he came he felt explosive, and he slammed into Missy’s body so hard and so deep that it left them both in a heap on the bed, panting and gasping.

Preston stroked Missy’s hair as he tried to catch his breath, unwilling to slide out of her again. For her own part, Missy was looking up at him with mingled lust and love, and Preston decided he quite liked the look.
“Mmm that was far too fast,” she smiled, “we’ll have to do that again.”
“Um…I’m going to need a few minutes before we do that again,” Preston laughed.
“I don’t like that answer,” Missy said, and before Preston could ask what she meant, she had pushed him off and onto his back, holding his arms down.
“What are you-” he protested, but quickly silenced when she began planting gentle kissing along his stomach. Her mouth traveled downward, slightly glancing against his abs until she reached the base of his limp cock.
“So you’ll need a few minutes?” Missy purred looking up at him through a curtain of brown ringlets.
“I…think so?” Preston didn’t mean for it to come out as a question. He wanted to take control, but the young woman staring up at him with those brown eyes could do anything she liked as far as he was concerned.
“Well then, I’ll have to take that time to clean this up then,” she said. Very slowly and deliberately, Missy slid the tip of her small tongue from the base of Preston’s shaft up his entire length. Preston grabbed at the sheets and gasped. His member was still sensitive from his orgasm, and her tongue felt at the same time soothing and electric.

She kept up her slow assault, carefully lapping every drop of his semen and her juices off of his cock. Preston moaned at the ceiling, unable to look away from his girlfriend’s skillful manipulation of his body. Her tongue never slid over his sensitive head for too long, moving back to his shaft, his balls, occasionally even flicking over his thighs or abs before returning to her work. Patient and attentive, Missy kept licking for long minutes, grinning as he very slowly began to grow hard again. Smiling up at him sweetly over his now-rigid member, Missy went at her work with renewed energy, flicking her tongue across him and using her hands to lightly touch and massage the base of his cock. He was surprised it took the few minutes that it did for the orgasm to build in him again, but when it did it hit him so hard that he let out a yell. His seed spurted from his tip, falling in strands across Missy’s face and hair and hands, but she didn’t hesitate or stop her licking, until finally his orgasm subsided. She gave his softening member a few more gentle licks, and then leaned back, a smug look on a face covered in his cum.
“I’m going to shower now, because you’ve made quite a mess,” she said lightly, standing and stretching. Even in his post-orgasmic state, Preston’s cock twitched at the sight of her body when she stretched, brown curls falling over her taut breasts. “Come and join me when you’re ready.”
He watched her walk across the large room to the bathroom door, admiring the way her proud strut made her butt look.
“Oh, and by the way,” she said over her shoulder, “by ‘when you’re ready’, I mean ‘when you’re hard again’, because I expect you to be able to fuck me hard in the shower.”

Preston grinned and leaned back against the coverlet as he listened to the shower stream cut on.
“Holy shit, there are four showerheads in here! With sonics and water!” Missy’s voice came from the bathroom, and Preston chuckled. The light in the room was soft and the blanket beneath him warm, except for the small damp spot where Missy had been laying when he ate her out. I should do that again, for longer next time, he thought idly, maybe use my fingers at the same time- A small alarm pinged through the room, interrupting his thoughts.
“Prisoners, are you decent?” A firm but not unfriendly voice asked over the comm.
“Um..no, not at all, hold on,” Preston scrambled for the small dresser by the bed, yanking a drawer open and pulling out the white suit that was provided for the prisoners.
“Someone at the door?” Missy emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her, and Preston had to wrest his attention from a particularly intriguing droplet of water that was slowly sliding from her damp hair down her neck.
“We’re covered up now…more or less,” he called distractedly, and the door slid open. The guard stepped to one side and Aimee stepped in, the door immediately shutting behind her.

“Preston, oh it’s so good to see you guys together again,” Aimee wrapped Preston in a hug, and then did the same for Missy.
“Aren’t you sharing a cell with Li?” Missy asked, returning the hug with one arm while holding her towel around her.
“We are, but they’ll only let three of us together max and I thought we had better investigate this while we had some time alone.” Aimee drew the blue crystal from a pouch in her flightsuit, and Preston and Missy instantly sobered. The crystal was almost exactly like the one they had seen General Auspus using weeks before, different only in the shape of the finer edges and in its color, a deep blue instead of the purple.
“So what is it? And what does the General do with it?” Aimee asked. Preston sat on the edge of the bed, trying to wrap his mind around the memory.
“He just set it in front of him, and it started sparking.”
“Well then, let’s try it,” Aimee set the crystal down on the floor and sat down in front of it. Missy joined her, sitting crosslegged so that the towel covered her chest and legs.

“Now what?” Preston asked. The crystal sat between them, dull and lifeless.
“Now we talk about what to do.” Aimee answered. “We got this from the Terrans, and the General has one of these, and he knows how to use it. Is it possible he’s a Terran?”
“Not likely,” Missy shook her head, “people have known him since he was a Pilot-level, and it’s not as if anyone can just show up somewhere without birth records from Orbital Basura.”
“Is this something the military captured from the Terrans then?” Aimee ventured, “maybe it’s not as sinister as we’ve been thinking, it could be some military secret.”
“That he would threaten me and Preston over? That he would lie to General Hunter about? No,” The hard edge had returned to Missy’s voice again, “whatever the crystal means to him, he doesn’t want anyone to find out about it. He’s terrified that we’ll tell someone about it. Terrified enough to kill eight innocent squaddies to shut the mouths of the two who know.”
“Speaking of innocent squaddies…Captain Appet will be safe, won’t she?” Preston’s brow furrowed at Aimee’s question. The thought hadn’t occurred to him, and now that he finally did think it, he was ashamed that he hadn’t thought of her until now.

“I don’t think he’ll hurt her,” Missy said confidently, “Rookies dying on a planetary run, that’s one thing. A Captain dying? On an Orbital? There’s no way that will happen without inquiries.” The three remained silent, each pensive.
“So what’s his move?” Preston spoke quietly, “if General Hunter sends us back, that’s the end for us. But if he doesn’t…what’s Auspus’ next move?”
“I hate him.” Preston glanced away from the bitterness in Missy’s face. The differences in her character when she was horny were fun and exciting, the differences when she filled with hate for the General were disturbing. “I wish there was some way…” she started, and then stopped. When she spoke again it was so quiet he almost didn’t hear her, “…I wish there was some way to hurt him as bad as he tried to hurt us.”

The crystal was bright, and Preston wasn’t quite sure when it had lit up. He had the uncomfortable feeling that it had been glowing for a while and that he was only now noticing it. It gave off an almost imperceptible hiss, like a single droplet of water being dropped on a hot cruiser engine, at the same time kicking a single blue spark into the air. Preston’s eye stayed locked on the spark as it arced lazily toward Missy, who shrieked and threw herself backward. As if it had read the future and chosen its arc accordingly, the blue spark landed on Missy’s throat just as she sprawled, settling into the hollow between her collarbones and then vanishing into her skin. Preston lept from the bed, kicking the crystal across the floor and rushing to where Missy lay naked on the floor. There was nothing he could do; the spark was already gone. Missy swatted and rubbed at the spot like a burn.
“Missy! Missy are you alright? Damnit tell me you’re okay?”
“I-I’m fine, I’m okay,” Missy reassured him, but her hands shook, “I was just startled, that’s all.”
“What the fuck was that? What just happened?” Preston looked around the room, at the crystal laying dull on the floor, at Aimee, and back to Missy, willing someone to give him the answers.
“You know what that was Preston,” Missy grabbed him by the shoulders, “calm down. Preston!” She shouted, and it was enough to regain Preston’s focus. He took a deep breath as she continued, “whatever the sparks do, it didn’t kill the General. He wouldn’t do something detrimental to himself, so whatever it is, it’s a good thing.”

“Right,” Preston shook himself. There were a million reasons she might be wrong, of course. There could be some other component that Auspus protected himself with, or it might be one half of a delicate chemical formula. However, there was nothing they could do about it if that were the case, so he could only hope for the best. When he turned, Aimee’s expression made him pause. “Horror” was too strong a word, but Aimee was disturbed, and a large part of Preston didn’t want to turn around to see what had happened. He forced himself to, moving slowly and bracing himself for what he might find. His girlfriend lay on the floor on top of her rumpled towel, looking up at them with a questioning look on her face. Her naked skin was pale, contrasting against the brown ringlets with a single streak of cobalt blue that fell across her face.

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Missing You
Next Chapter (NSFW): Burden of Authority

5.1 – Missing You

Missy was surprised at how well she was holding up. During her first day at the Academy, on her first jog, she had collapsed in a heap after three minutes of steady running. Now here she was, on an uneven and dark jungle floor, and she’d been jogging for an hour. She wasn’t even the most out of breath of her teammates; Aimee was huffing and puffing just ahead of her.
*It’s because of how resolved I am to save Preston and my squaddies,* she thought valiantly, but in reality it was probably more due to the fact that Captain Appet had pushed her as hard as she did. It had only been five months, but Missy thought of herself as an entirely different person now. The type of person who would risk everything to save the people she cared about.

Jackson drew up to a halt in front of them, reading a small screen in his hand, and the squadmates slowed to a walk, catching their breath. Missy glanced around to confirm they were all there, Jackson, Aimee, Li and herself
“The beacons are saying they’re just a km or so away,” he whispered, “we try to be quiet from here.”
“If they have guards watching what do we do?” Missy whispered back, “Terrans have always outfought Orbitans when we’ve engaged in firefights.”
“The drones have been able to catch Terrans by surprise on every planetary run. They haven’t ever had lookouts before, they won’t now.”
“They’ve never taken Orbitans prisoner before either,” Li muttered.

It only took a few minutes of walking before the Terran village came into view. Large buildings, all rough tan stone and wood, sat in a ring around a clearing. Most of the windows were dark, but there were lights flickering in a few, similar to torchlight but in different colors.
“No lookouts,” Jackson said quietly.
“Can you get a close enough signal to see which building they’re in?” Missy asked. Jackson looked at the screen, then pointed.
“Second floor. All together,” he replied, “Alex was separate from them for a little while, but she’s back with the others now.
“You don’t think they’re being tortured do you?” Li asked, “taken out one at a time to pump for information?” Aimee smacked his head with a significant glance at Missy.
“Its alright,” Missy watched the windows on the second floor steadily, “whether they’re being tortured or not, were here to rescue them, so their suffering is over now. Let’s move.”

They broke from the treeline at a fast jog, staying quiet and low to the ground as they went. Missy kept a sweaty hand on the butt of her dart pistol, but the noise of weapons would instantly draw the whole of the village down on them. If she needed to fire it, chances were she would already be as good as dead. Even so, the weight of the weapon on her hip made Missy feel just a bit better as she flattened herself against the wall of the stone building. Jackson, Li, and Aimee moved along beside her as she slowly slid along the wall until she was next to the wooden entrance.

Missy’s mouth was dry. It was an odd thing to notice at a time like this, but it was uncomfortable.
*I don’t know a thing about what’s behind this door,* Missy thought, silently lifting the beam that held it closed, *I could be walking into a room full of Terrans right now. I could be seconds away from my death.* She swung the heavy door open and slipped inside. Bare of decoration, huge and stone, the room was thankfully empty. Missy breathed a sigh of relief as her squadmates slipped in with her, observing the building’s entrance hall. Doorways lined the walls, but there was only one stairway. Using Academy sign language, Missy indicated that the rest should follow her. The stairs were dark and quiet, and even though they were trying to move silently, the sounds of four footfalls echoed in the stairwell. Missy held up a hand to stop her squaddies when they reached the head of the stairs, and she peaked around the corner. Halfway down the hall, two guards flanked a large wooden double door.
“Two hostiles,” she signed to the others, and then before she lost her nerve, before she gave herself the chance to chicken out or back down, she moved into the hall.

Even as she hurtled down the hallway Missy tried to keep her footfalls quiet. She drew her dart gun as she ran, hoping she wouldn’t have to use it and alert anyone else. The hallway seemed to stretch out as she ran, it seemed like an eternity to close the distance between her and the guards, and every second she expected them to turn and raise an alarm. Clearly they hadn’t been expecting any action at all, since they didn’t notice her until she was almost on top of them. The closest guard only had time to open his mouth in surprise before the butt of her gun slammed into his cheekbone. Despite Missy’s hope that her momentum would bring both guards down, the other was able to skip back to avoid the two bodies hitting the floor. He wasn’t yelling for help, but he was muttering something under his breath, words that seemed to prickle on the inside of her ears without her being able to hear them at all. Missy watched in horror as his hand started to glow, but Li and Jackson both slammed into him before he could complete the action. He struggled, twisting his body to try to gain leverage, but Li wrapped an arm around his neck to lock him into a hold, and it only took a few seconds before the man slumped to the ground.

“Do either of them have a key?” Missy whispered. Aimee and Jackson searched the pair roughly, digging into pockets and the pouches at their waists. Aimee she shook her head, but she looked pale.
“Missy, that purple thing the general had, that looked like crystal…did it look like this?” The object that Aimee held up was almost an exact replica, in dark blue instead of purple. Missy wordlessly nodded.
“We can process what that means later,” Jackson broke in, “right now we need to figure out how to get that door open quickly and above all, quietly.”
“Typical Jackson behavior,” Julia whispered from the doorway, causing the squaddies to collectively jump, “trying to come up with a complex plan without checking to see if the door is open.”


Missy clung to Preston as if someone would try to tear them apart at any second as the squaddies discussed their options in quiet voices. He didn’t seem to mind, keeping one arm firmly wrapped around her waist as well.
“So as long as we can make it to the ships, they can’t stop us from leaving the planet?” he was saying.
“As far as we can figure, yes,” Jackson nodded firmly, “as long as we’re headed straight up towards the fog and they don’t already have something in the air, we can get to the cloud cover, and they probably won’t follow us through. We can even leave for the ships the same way we came, assuming there aren’t any patrols around the village.”
“We’re not very helpful there,” Alex commented, “I’m the only one who’s been out of our cells, and I haven’t seen much that would be helpful.”
“Then we’ll need to hope we get lucky,” Jackson said decisively, “now, do we leave through the door or the window? We didn’t run into anyone on the way up, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be as lucky going down.”
“I won’t be able to take the drop from the window,” Tess said quietly, gesturing to her leg, “I re-broke it in the crash.”
“Then we can-” Jackson began, when a voice from the other side of the door interrupted him.
“Tha? Kor? Where are you both? You’ll catch hell if you’re in there with the PRI” *prisoners, trainees* The words hit Missy’s mind while seemingly skipping her ears, buzzing through her head and almost knocking her over. Missy cried out in shock and surprise, as did Jackson and Li. She covered her mouth but the damage had been done; the door opened and a burly man with bright blue hair looked inside. There was a split-second of hesitation before Aimee sprang forward to hit him with her gun, but it was enough time for him to pull his head back and slam the door in her face. The man spoke a muffled word, and the edges of the heavy wooden doors rippled, fusing together until the double doors became one single piece across the doorway. Aimee sprang back with a curse, and Missy gaped.
“They know *magic*?” she squeaked, as on the other side the man shouted for help, “the Terrans can do *MAGIC*?”
“Not important right now,” Jackson moved quickly, picking up one of the furs from the beds nearby and wrapping his hand in it, “we need to start moving now. If we’re lucky we can hit the forest before they catch sight of us.” He smashed the window open with his fur covered arm, clearing away bits of glass until there was enough room to get through.
“It’s going to be a really rough landing,” Alex was already at the window, giving advice over her shoulder, “tuck and roll and hopefully we don’t break anything-” she stopped, eyes wide in horror. Missy followed her gaze and came to the same realization. *Tess won’t be able to escape that way.*

“It’s alright,” Tess said, her voice quiet but resolute, “I would slow you down anyways, you need to be quick now that they’re after you.”
“We can’t just leave you here Tess,” Missy protested, when suddenly the sound of bells, deep and loud, began echoing through the village.
“I’m sorry Tess,” Alex’s face was drawn and tight, “we’ll try to come back for you.”
“Don’t,” Tess said, “after the first rescue mission they’ll be on the lookout for another. They’ll kill you next time.”
“We can’t do this!” Missy said again, but even as she said it she knew it wasn’t true. There was no way to get Tess to the ships, and trying would only force more of them to share her fate. Alex leapt from the window, and a few moments later Jackson followed her.
“Go Missy,” Tess looked serene, her back straight, “Whatever they have waiting for me, I can handle it if it means the rest of you can escape.” Marcus climbed to the window and jumped.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Julia murmured, putting her arm around Tess. First Aimee, then Li jumped from the window, leaving only four of them left.
“Get the fuck out of here, even you Julia” Tess looked close to tears, but Julia turned resolutely to Missy and nodded. Eyes watering, Missy went to the window, pushing Preston up to the window first. With a final backward glance at the two girls standing alone in the large prison room, Missy jumped.

Even with the roll at the end, the pain blossoming in her shoulder told her she’d bruised something. Missy pushed it to the back of her mind as she looked around for her squaddies. Preston was at the forest’s edge, beckoning to her, and she broke out into a full run after him. As soon as she hit the treeline a sudden green light burst on a tree nearby, lighting the the forest around her.
“They’re on us!” Preston shouted, and the squaddies broke into a full run. It was dark and the ground was rough, but Missy kept up a pace she never would’ve been able to before. Mournful deep bells continued to ring from behind them as she reached for Preston and grabbed his hand. Her shoulder pounded with a dull ache as they ran together, sometimes dragging him, sometimes being pulled along as the terrain beneath their feet shifted. The air was lit with a shock of blue light, and a tree in front of them froze, it’s swaying branches stilled and the leaves coating with a thin layer of ice. Missy risked a glance over her shoulder just in time to yank Preston down as a purple bolt flashed over his head. It hit the ground with a muffled thud, kicking up clods of dirt that drifted through the air in slow motion.

“Hold on! They’re up ahead! They’re cutting us off!” Alex’s voice came from further ahead than Missy thought, and she started to slow. To her left, Alex ran past her, shrieking,
“It’s a trick! That’s not really me! Keep on straight!” Missy couldn’t tell if any of her squadmates had fallen for the fake Alex voice, but she kept on forward, plowing into the darkness and bracing herself for a trap at the same time. A green flare shot above the treetops, hovering in place and casting an eerie light down on the forest. On the one hand, Missy was glad for the light; it let her see that all of the squaddies had kept on running straight. Aimee and Li were holding hands a little ways ahead of her, Alex, Jackson and Marcus had spread out and were weaving nimbly through the trees. On the other hand, if Missy could see them, the Terran’s could as well. Her worries were confirmed when a spear of blue light arced through the air and buried into the ground a few inches from Alex.

*If they can see us, I can see them,* Missy reasoned. She let go of Preston’s hand and spun, dropping to one knee and taking careful aim. For a horrifying moment she couldn’t see anyone, but a Terran with blue hair moved into sight, and Missy fired. The gunblast echoed through the trees, and the Terran grabbed at his chest where the dart had hit, barely able to grunt before the sedatives shot through his bloodstream and dropped him heavily onto the forest floor.
“They’ve got WE!” *instruments to fight with, dangerous implements* “get those lights out!” Missy was scrambling to her feet even as the Terrans shrieked their orders, helped by Preston yanking her along. The green light above them winked out, casting them in darkness again. Puffing a sigh of relief, Missy started running again. The shooting and response had taken only seconds to perform, but hopefully it would buy her and her squadmates some small amount of safety.

The Terrans started conserving their energy after that, because as the squaddies ran the bolts of light stopped. The crunch of many footfalls behind them kept them running, and every so often something silent and swift would fly past them close enough for them to hear the splintering of branches as it went. Missy’s whole side throbbed from her shoulder onward, and she didn’t know how long she’d been running. *Shouldn’t we have reached our ships by now?* She thought suddenly, a knot of icy fear in her stomach. Against her will, images of what the Terrans would do to them if they caught up filled her mind. The prison hadn’t looked that bad, but Missy had no clue what her squadmates had been through before they’d been rescued. Her heart pounded in her ears, and she clenched Preston’s hand even tighter. *At least, whatever happens, I’ll be with him,* she thought. A few seconds later the squaddies broke into the clearing where the four heavy cruisers had landed.
“Li and Aimee, far left,” Jackson barked orders, and Missy was glad they wouldn’t all inadvertently scramble for the same ships, “Missy and Preston, middle left, Marcus and Alex, far right.”
It only took a few seconds for the squaddies to reach their ships, and the canopies were up and waiting. Missy began hitting switches before she had even settled into the double-wide seat, sending the engines spinning up into emergency activation sequences. It was horribly damaging on the engines, of course, but if this didn’t qualify as an emergency Missy couldn’t think what would. Preston settled next to her in the seat, hitting the button to close the canopy as he did so.

The low light of engines lit the clearing, revealing Terrans as they broke through the treeline to the clearing. Missy glanced at the takeoff prep counter, relieved to see it had hit zero. The heavy cruisers lifted from the ground, excruciatingly slow. Spells rained onto the ships, some of them knocking their targets and rattling the cruisers or pushing them backwards in the air, but most of the spells glanced off, sending shafts of green, blue, and purple light into the night sky. Missy’s ship shuddered with the impact of a handful of them, and then they were away, blasting off into the sky as fast as the engines would take them.
“You’d think they didn’t want us to leave or something,” Preston grinned, and Missy elbowed him in the side.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” she panted, “we almost died!”
“Please, as if a measly village full of heartless killer magicians could stop my badass girlfriend,” Preston leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, and Missy begrudgingly forgave him.
“I was just bored,” she teased, “it’s not like I’m into you or anything.”
“Hmm that’s too bad,” Preston kept kissing her cheek, “because I’m kind of crazy about you.”
Missy tried to think of a witty comeback, but settled for enjoying his kisses. The heavy cruiser entered the rolling green fog, and the fear that had gnawed in her stomach eased.

“This is Jackson, I made it through. Report squaddies,” Jackson’s voice crackled over the comms.
“Alex and Marcus here. They took out an engine, so we’re limping, but we’re safe and sound.”
“Li and Squadpet, safely in the fog,” Li’s voice confirmed.
“I fuckin’ hate that callsign,” Aimee grumbled from the same channel.
“Preston and Missy, safely out,” Preston responded, “you saved our asses out there guys. We can’t thank you enough.”
“No thanks required Preston. The A squad sticks together.” There was a pregnant pause before Jackson continued, “I hope they’ll be okay.”
“The Terrans won’t kill Tess and Julia,” Alex transmitted over the comms, “I don’t even think they’ll torture them. They had some plan in mind for us, but even though I don’t know what it was, I know it didn’t involve hurting us.”
“We have to come up with some way of rescuing them,” Missy reached across Preston and transmitted, “we have to make sure they’re safe.”
“We need to make sure *we’re* safe first, Missy. That’s our top goal right now,” Jackson replied evenly.
“What are you talking about?” Alex asked.
“General Auspus meant for us all to die down there,” Missy explained, the flat edge returning to her voice when she thought of it. Normally she had to force herself to be aggressive and forceful, but when she thought of the General her emotions settled into a cold rage. She took Preston’s hand and squeezed it hard as she continued, “He’s to blame for all of this. Preston and I saw him using a purple crystal that covered him in sparks, and the Terran guards we knocked out were carrying the same crystals in blue. Whatever that was, he decided it was worth us dying for.”
“I held on to one of them,” Aimee interjected, “we can study it later if we have the time. If we can get somewhere safe…”
“I’ll keep us safe from Auspus, at least for a while squaddies,” Jackson responded confidently, “I have a plan. Just lock your ship navigations on me and set to autopilot, so we don’t get separated in the fog.”

Missy flicked on the autopilot and leaned back in the seat, closing her eyes but keeping Preston’s hand held firmly in hers.
“God I missed you Preston,” she breathed, and she smiled when she felt his breath against her neck as he moved closer to her on the seat.
“When I was down there, I wasn’t half as scared about what would happen to me as I was that I’d never see you again,” Preston’s voice was soft, uncharacteristically gentle, and Missy looked at him with surprise.
“I don’t know how I could keep going without you, Preston” she admitted.
“Um…you guys want to turn off the comms until we break the fog cover?” Marcus coughed awkwardly, and Missy blushed.
“Aw, I wanted to hear thi-” Li’s complaint was cut short as Preston flicked the comms off.
“I’m sorry if that sounded a little clingy,” Missy said hesitantly, “but it’s the truth.”
“I love you Melissa.” Missy’s heart leapt in her chest at the words. Preston was watching her expression, his face open and honest, and she could only open and shut her mouth wordlessly.
“I’ve never said that to a girl before, but it’s something you should know,” he continued, ignoring Missy’s flushed, stunned face.

“Preston I…you…I love you too,” Missy spluttered, before her stammering was silenced by Preston’s lips. She surrendered to the kiss with a tiny murmur of enjoyment, letting him wrap his arms around her awkwardly as they sat next to each other on the double-wide seat of the cruiser. His fingers ran through her hair and massaged her scalp. Fingers still caressing her head, he broke the kiss, looking at her longingly.
“There’s not enough room in this cockpit to have sex,” Missy smiled, reading his intentions from his look.
“Unfortunately not,” Preston agreed, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun.” He suddenly moved back and pulled her gently by the neck, swinging her sideways. Missy squeaked, and ended up with her head laying on Preston’s lap, her legs resting up against the cockpit windshield.
“And what exactly do you plan on doing with me like this?” Missy teased, “my head is facing the wrong direction.” Preston chuckled and grabbed the sealing tab of her flightsuit, sliding it all the way down to her navel. Missy gasped at the cold air on her bare skin, but didn’t complain. Preston slid the sides of the suit apart, exposing her small breasts to the cold. Her nipples hardened and she sucked in a breath. Smiling wickedly, he ran a finger around one of them, making her shiver and sending goosebumps along her arms.

“You’re not usually so sensitive,” Preston murmured, lightly pinching her pink nipple. Missy gasped, pushing her chest forward so he could have a better grasp.
“Well it’s been a while,” she murmured back.
“It’s been barely a week,” Preston chuckled, gently tugging at her nipple while his left hand traced meaningless symbols along her stomach.
“Maybe your magical member has turned me into a girl who needs it more than once a week,” Missy joked, trying to take her mind off of the maddeningly slow tugging and pinching. It was proving incredibly difficult to ignore.
“Damn, I’m good then,” Preston grinned. He stopped tugging, instead simply running a finger up and down between her breasts, from her ribcage up to her neck, then slowly back down again.
“You are good, you’re good, is that what you want me to say?” Missy wiggled her hips helplessly.
“Oh…oh dear, was there something else you wanted me to do to you Missy?”
“Fuck you, do you have to tease me like this every time?” Missy tried to growl, but it came out closer to a whimper. Preston leaned down over her, until his face was inches from hers and she was staring deep into his green eyes.
“Yes,” he whispered, at the same time unexpectedly grabbing both of her firm nipples and pinching hard.

“Oh fuck, Preston,” Missy breathed, arching her back and closing her eyes, “I already said you’re the best, please don’t tease anymore.”
“I don’t understand,” Preston replied innocently, “what is it you want?” His fingers brushed down her body, slipping beneath the unsealed flightsuit to brush through her pubic hair, but then they slid back up again.
“Preston!” Missy moaned, “if you don’t fuck me with something right now I’ll do it myself!”
“Oh that’s what you wanted!” Preston mercifully slid his hand beneath her flightsuit again, moving his fingers further down than before. Missy spread her legs wider, shuddering again as his fingertips brushed gently against her clit.
“Are you too cold?” Preston asked, genuinely this time.
“If you dare stop I will make you regret it.”
Preston began tugging her nipple again, at the same time slipping a finger between her lips and moving it in slow circles around her opening. Leaning back against his lap, Missy sighed with frustration at his slow relaxed pace. She was wet enough that his finger glided with no resistance, and she thrust with her hips trying to slide it inside of herself. Maddeningly, Preston very carefully moved his hand along with her, continuing to rub the entrance to her sex without penetrating her at all. Missy grit her teeth. Preston responded by flicking his thumb across her clit in a steady rhythm, making her squirm against her will.
“Why are you being so mean?” she gasped. Preston stopped moving his hand, and she whimpered. She tried to thrust, but he held her hips firmly with his other hand, looking down at her with a mixture of amusement and affection.

“Because it makes you cum so fucking hard,” he replied with a grin, and thrust his finger inside of her. Missy arched her back as he ground his thumb into her clit again, moving his finger in small circles against her g-spot. His other hand was at her breasts, teasing and caressing, and every time she arched he pinched her nipple sending a shock through her. It took her barely any time to let the feelings wash over her and build her to her peak. As promised, when she came she came hard. Missy screamed as her entire body shook on Preston’s lap. Her pussy clamped down on his finger, but he kept up his assault, sliding it in and out and continuing to rub her clit at the same slow pace. His skillful attention to her tender nipples made her orgasm heighten and fall in peaks, as soon as it started to fade away he would lightly pinch or flick, and it would feel as if she was starting to cum all over again. There was no thought in her mind except for the pleasure, but she snaked an arm around Preston’s neck and pulled herself up to him, kissing him hard and moaning into his mouth while he stroked the inside of her cunt.

He gently let her back down on his lap as the waves of pleasure finally subsided. Missy panted, catching her breath, and gasped when he slid his finger from her sex. Smiling down at her, Preston ran his hand slowly up her body, leaving a trail of her juices behind it. The action didn’t do anything in particular to turn her on, but she felt him harden beneath her head as he looked down at the slick trail in her pubic hair and on her stomach. *Well, since he went to so much effort to make me happy,* she thought with a mental shrug. Missy grabbed his hand and lifted it to her mouth, looking into Preston’s eyes as she flicked her tongue delicately over his fingers, lapping her juices off of them.
“That…is either very cruel or very kind,” Preston moaned, “I’m not sure which yet.” A small blue alert light lit on the console, indicating an incoming communication. Missy reached up lazily and flicked the comm back on.
“Alright squaddies,” Jackson’s voice on the comms interrupted, “I just broke through the fog, so the rest of you should be breaking fog cover as well. Radios back on.”
“Very cruel,” Preston sighed, and Missy giggled and sat back up.
“Sorry Preston. I’ll make it up to you later,” she winked and smiled, and Preston gave a half-grin in return.

The green clouds faded away as Missy slid the toggle of her flightsuit back up, shivering at the cold now that she didn’t have sexual urges to distract her from it.
“Orbital, this is Rookie Jackson Rade, heading a group of four heavy cruisers with seven total rookies on board. Requesting your clearance to land.”
“He sounds so official,” Missy murmured as she made sure her suit was secured, “where’d he learn that do you think?” she glanced at Preston. He was staring through the glass cockpit, a bemused expression on his face, and Missy followed his gaze.
She’d expected to see the huge sphere of Orbital Academy in front of them, its wide rings spinning around it. Instead, they were approaching a large diamond-shaped structure, thin mechanical arms on each edge. The comms crackled with a gruff, official-sounding confirmation.
“Rookie Rade and company, this is Orbital Pivot. You are cleared for entry.”

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Ingratiated
Next Chapter (NSFW): Orbital Pivot

4.3 – Ingratiated

“AWA” Get up, pull myself into consciousness, stop sleeping

It was the worst possible way to wake up, the buzzing headache and the forced knowledge that was crammed into the charged word, but Alex grit her teeth and acted as if it hadn’t bothered her. Over the past few days she had learned to become incredibly good actress when it came to ignoring the Terrans’ forceful way of speech. She yawned and blinked with a vague smile, as if looking forward to a free day instead of sitting alone in a stone cell. It had worked for the old guard, once he realized his charged words didn’t bother her he had stopped using them unnecessarily. The guard on the other side of the bars was new, and his face fell at her lack of reaction. His dark purple hair poked out awkwardly from beneath his helmet to frame the crestfallen face, and the overall effect made him look young.
“They said you didn’t like PO,” he said disappointedly, as the word’s definition rattled around in her head, words infused with might and power. Very careful not to wince, Alex shrugged and shook her head.
“It not bug me,” she said. That had taken some getting used to as well, speaking like a child using single-syllable words. Terrans’ language was almost identical to her own for single syllables, but they used their charged words for anything more complex. Since they didn’t understand multi-syllabic english, and she couldn’t infuse her words, Alex compromised even when it made her sound like an idiot.

“Hmm,” the new guard muttered, watching her suspiciously. He suddenly started speaking rapidly, firing off a string of charged up, painful words, “SU, LI, DE, HO, ” Alex hadn’t taken multiple words at the same time before, and her hands, still under the blanket, gripped the sheets. Manipulative and scheming, my words unbelievable, he doesn’t believe my words or actions, he thinks I cheat and lie, there’s no point in resisting it. She made herself smile, even as she struggled to catch her breath. The sudden meaning faded, but the pounding in her head stayed behind, as if the charged words had burrowed through her skull to get to her brain.
“I like you,” she grinned, even though it hurt, “what’s your name?”
“Pho,” the new guard seemed unsure of how to take his new charge’s attention. Alex mentally filed the name away. She wasn’t yet sure of exactly how the hierarchy worked, but she knew that those without a charged word for a name were fairly low on the ranking.
“I like you Pho. You’re a fucking asshole bastard and proud of it.”
“What means this, ‘fuck king ass hole bast tard’?” Pho asked quizzically, sounding out the multi-syllabic words as if they were separate. Alex just shrugged and lay back on her cot, hands behind her head.

Another day with nothing to do passed by slowly, and Alex settled into her new daily routine. She first folded the homespun blanket into a neat square which she placed on the cot, using it as a cushion as she meditated. There hadn’t been the time to continue with her meditation at the Academy, and she found that re-establishing her childhood habit had a much needed calming and stabilizing effect on her. She kept up the meditation until the guards brought her the morning meal. Today it was a wild rice with chunks of spiced meats and vegetables, a small loaf of bread, and a large jug of water.
“Why do you give us such luxurious food?” Alex asked as she wolfed the meal down. Her captor’s largess was odd, considering how sparse her accommodation had otherwise been. Pho seemed startled that she would talk to him, and shrugged.
“You eat what we have,” he shrugged, “no point in two meals being PO” prepared, cooked, handcrafted Alex had taken to the habit of bracing herself whenever a Terran opened their mouth, and she didn’t flinch.

After she drank enough to quench her thirst, Alex carefully removed the rough black shirt and pants she had been provided with, using the remaining water in the jug to clean them. Out of the corner of her eye she noted the guard, not even attempting to hide his attention.
“You give all your guards such a show?” He leered. Alex gave him a blank look and continued washing her clothing, careful to make no move to cover herself, but also not trying to titillate. Different guards reacted differently to her routine; some enjoyed the view and some treated it with disinterest. Either way, her display wouldn’t hurt as long as she made it clear she wasn’t trying to seduce him, and having clean clothes helped her mental stability as well. She wrung them out and put them back on, enjoying the feeling of the damp cloth against her skin in the humid air.

Settling cross-legged on the cot, Alex looked around her cell, trying to view it with fresh eyes as she had for the past few days. Three walls were made of tan stone, solid and windowless. The bars that made up the fourth wall were a dark wood, but Alex doubted she could break them. If she could splinter the bars the Terrans would have more than one guard to stand by her cell, even though she was a small asian girl. Better to not try, give off the air of a model prisoner. It’s worked for me so far. So, she considered, forcing herself to breath deeply as she gazed around, The walls would take a weapon to break through. The bars are better, but the guard needs to be taken care of…still no solution. Same as yesterday. I’m not escaping from here. She sighed, and waited for the guard to arrive to summon her.

He arrived before the second meal was brought.
“She is to be brought to the Prince,” the new guard pointed at Alex with his chin. Pho narrowed his eyes at the guard.
“I wasn’t told of this,” he said suspiciously.
“The Prince won’t want it talked about…er, talked of,” Alex said from her cot, “but new guard, he say the truth. The Prince wants me to come to him.”
Pho seemed begrudgingly satisfied, and he fiddled with the intricate lock on the cell, stepping aside. Alex kept her head high as she passed, and pretended not to notice Pho’s eyes travelling up and down her body, taking in the shape that the damp clothes did nothing to hide. He was probably worthless, but it didn’t hurt to keep his attention in case she needed something from him at a future date.

“Ah, it is good to see you ALE” Alexandria, beautiful, adorable, unique. Alex disliked that the Terran’s used a charged word to refer to her. Although it was an honorific, she couldn’t quite get over the feeling that she was being mentally raped with her own name. She forced a smile and bowed her head,
“And it is good to see you too, Prince,” she replied quietly. Although his name was Ashahosta, the Prince didn’t seem to mind her calling him by his title. Alex had learned a few days ago that to attempt a charged name without charging it was akin to an insult.
“Though it has been but a day, I find I have missed you. Is that strange?” Ashahosta asked earnestly. This time Alex’s smile was genuine. She wasn’t quite used to the Prince yet, but his boyish naivette amused her. When she and her squaddies had first been brought to their prison, heads in bags to prevent them from identifying their surroundings, Alex had spent the time thinking hard about what her best course of action should be. She knew that rescue was out of the question; once the satflyer had crashed she harbored no illusions that the orbital would allow a rescue mission. Even if they did, Alex also doubted the Academy had the firepower to mount a decent rescue attempt. Her thoughts had focused mainly on the squadmates there with her in the compound, and to that end she began thinking about what she could do to improve their lot. Perhaps even save their lives.

“Come, ALE,” Alexandria, special one, exotic exile “I’ve just had some fruits brought in, you must try one.” The Prince gestured across the wide luxurious room to indicate a bowl of small purple fruits. He moved fluidly despite his size; not fat but large and muscular and tall. Loose robes trimmed in furs made him look even bigger than he was, and his long locks of thick purple hair contributed to the effect of size, as if he had a mane around his head. Yet, even for all his size, the Prince struck Alex as small somehow. Young. Unsure of himself, with a lack of confidence and a nervous disposition. She watched him in silence as he brought her the fruit, trying to reconcile Ashahosta’s huge stature with the impression she had of him. It seemed like so long ago now that she’d decided to seduce her captor, not the mere handful of days in had actually been. She had been expecting to do whatever depraved and degrading things that were required to gain his attention, prepared for the risk that he would simply take what she had to offer and more. It was a risk she had taken willing for her teammates, and when she had been taken to her captor Alex thought she was ready for anything he might be.

She hadn’t been ready for just how easy it would be to seduce him nor, unfortunately, for just how little power the Prince actually had. Alex had him in bed in the space of a single evening, gasping and panting over acts that had been frankly tame for her. It was only afterwards, when Alex had tried wheedling her way into better accommodations than the bare cells, that the Prince told her he wasn’t in charge of decisions having to do with the prisoners. While in most areas he had power and control, she had cuddled up with the wrong man. Some nebulous power over his head, “the Dukes”, had final say over the prisoners. I suppose I should feel used, Alex thought idly, biting into the purple fruit. It was hard to muster up any anger when she had been trying to use him in the first place. And it wasn’t as if there were no benefits to their relationship…he might not have been able to free them or move them, but she knew that the relative comfort, plentiful food, and the lack of guards harassing them were things she could thank the Prince for. Alex snapped out of her reverie to find him watching her closely, and she purposely let a little of the sweet juice dribble down her chin. His eyes followed its path down her neck with utter lack of guile, and she smiled. It also helped that the Prince was so very, very easy to wind up.

“Do you like its taste?” he asked eagerly.
“It’s very sweet, very nice,” Alex commented, but she tossed the sticky fruit to one side where it hit the ground with a small thud, “but I don’t want the fruit, I want you, my prince.” The effect of her words on Ashahosta was immediate and obvious; his eyes widened, and an incredulous grin crossed his face. Alex tried not to laugh as she closed the distance between them, pressing her lips hard against his and wrapping her arms around his waist. It was an odd balance she walked at times like these. She kept waiting for the horror of it all to hit her, for her to be stricken with revulsion and dismay. It hadn’t come so far, and the Prince seemed perfectly content to let her take the control she needed to keep her calm. Besides, when it came to pure pleasure and skill, Alex had fucked worse. The Prince was very eager and appreciative of the smallest things, which was a bit of a fetish of hers. She kept on kissing as she gently pushed him backwards, not breaking their contact as they moved towards his bed.

At the last minute Alex twirled them, so that she landed on her back on the rich fur-covered bedspread with the Prince on top of her. He barely seemed to notice, continuing to kiss her all over her face with a passion. You would think he hadn’t touched a girl for years, Alex idly thought, enjoying the attention and the kisses as they glanced across her forehead and cheeks and lips, which is strange considering he did a lot more than touch me yesterday… It was flattering, really, and when he began fumbling with her still-damp shirt she willingly lifted her arms to let him pull it over her head. She looked down with interest at his dark purple mane as his kisses moved down to her breasts. All of the Terrans she had seen had hair of purple, blue, or green in varying shades, and Alex had wondered over the past few days if it was simply a custom to dye them. Now that she was this close she decided it was either a very good dye job, or some technology she wasn’t aware of. She was distracted from her thoughts when the Prince began tugging at the waist of her pants. Alex detachedly took stock of her state of arousal. Sometimes the Prince’s hasty ministrations were enough to get her wet, and on those occasions she was happy to take him, but on this occasion he just wasn’t doing it for her. Luckily it was quite easy to distract him into another route.

Alex reached a hand down between them smoothly, brushing the Prince’s hands aside and slipping it beneath his furs. The man froze as her palm slid across the skin of his stomach and then down into his pants to grasp his firm rod. So, so easy, Alex smiled at the Ashahosta, and felt him stiffen even more at even that small action. He grunted as she slid the pants off of him, pausing for a few moments to run hands across his firm ass appreciatively. Gently stroking his shaft up and down, Alex slowly shimmied down the bed until he was straddling her stomach. With a suggestive smile she released him, and instead pressed her breasts together. Although she wasn’t well endowed in that area, something she blamed firmly on her asian heritage, her boobs were big enough for what she had in mind. The Prince looked down at her, still lusty but obviously confused. For an awkward moment Alex thought she would have to walk him through how to tit-fuck her, but a sudden smile on the face above told her he had finally gotten the message.

He pressed his member against her chest, a little tentatively at first, but Alex wiggled up and down to rub against him, and the action was apparently enough to motivate. At first it was uncomfortable as his length rubbed dryly between her breasts, but on each thrust she leaned forward and flicked a tongue across the head, and soon her saliva made the motions smooth and slick. The Prince growled with each motion of his hips, his member sliding back and forth between her firm boobs, slick with spit and the trails of precum he was leaving. Alex herself was getting hot from the obvious pleasure he was getting from her body, leaving her wet enough that she was she he could be inside of her without discomfort. His fingers digging into her shoulders told her that he was close to finishing, and she decided to let him cum first. Deliberately she looked up at him, met his eyes and whispered,
“I want your cum on me, my prince.”
Too easy, Alex smiled at the shocked look on the Prince’s face just before he came, shooting a trail of semen across her chin and lips, down her neck and leaving a sticky mess between her breasts. She wasn’t particularly turned on by cum, but she licked her lips knowing it would leave the Prince awestruck.

The Prince rose, his limp member flopping awkwardly. Alex leaned back on her elbows, knowing that they weren’t done. Ashahosta made a complicated gesture towards his cock, and a flash of purple light shone from his fingertips. Alex watched with interest as his member grew stiff and straight again, pulsing with the same faint light. The first time he had done it she had been startled, but now she simply looked at the process with curiosity. She didn’t have long to look, since as soon as the Prince grew hard again he moved towards her again predatorily. Alex smiled slipped her pants off, spreading her naked legs for him as the Prince barely slowed to climb onto the bed. Her legs wrapped around him and he speared her without preamble or foreplay. She gasped as her slit was penetrated by the hard member that tingled and flared inside of her, too warm but still strangely comfortable. The feeling of the cock enhanced by purple light was unnatural, not unpleasant but too strange for her to orgasm. Ashahosta thrust roughly, looking down at her with the same lust that had lit his eyes before, barely hanging onto the pleasure without finishing embarrassingly quickly. Alex closed her eyes and leaned back, smiling at the ceiling. It’s not bad, this seduction thing, she thought. The sensation was different from normal fucking even though the motions remained the same, his humping moving the whole bed on each thrust. Numbing feelings aside she enjoyed the pleasure as he took his fill of her body.

After a while the tingling sensations in her pussy grew a little uncomfortable, and Alex decided it was time for the Prince to get off a second time. She opened her eyes and started moving her hips in small circles, stirring his member inside of her.
“My prince, you’ve already wasted so much of your cum on me,” she ran hands from her stomach up to squeeze and play with her breasts. She knew he wouldn’t understand words like ‘already’ or ‘wasted’, but she was sure her hands smearing his semen across her breasts and nipples would send the right message, “I want the rest in my cunt.”
The Prince roared as he came inside of her, his fingernails digging into the skin of her hips where he held her. The tingling in her slit was making Alex’s sex numb, so she couldn’t feel his second load shooting inside of her, but for his sake she pretended she could, gasping and moaning and continuing to grind her hips against his. I may as well give him some material for his fantasies… The Prince kept on thrusting even as his arms shook, and Alex found the sensation of him thrusting as he slowly grew soft to be strangely endearing.

He pulled away with a gasp, and Alex flopped back with a sigh. Ashahosta rose to pull a small towel from the table, offering it to her for her to clean herself with. Alex considered him for a moment, conflicting emotions warring in her. On the one hand, the prince was certainly satisfied enough with her, she didn’t need to continue being mischievous…but on the other, she couldn’t resist. He was so innocent and single-minded, and teasing him was so easy. If the stakes weren’t so high she might’ve called it fun. She took the towel from Ashahosta and tossed it away.
“I want to feel your cum in my snatch for the rest of the day,” she said lightly, “I love the feel of it.” The Prince looked at her dumbfounded. Alex was delighted at the reaction, at the thunderstruck look that melted into a grin of his own.
“Perhaps I can give you some more to feel then,” he growled with a smile.
Out of the corner of her eye Alex noticed his member twitch, and she wondered if he could perform the same hardening purple light twice in a row. He was approaching her again, and she braced herself hopefully for another pounding. Maybe this time she could ignore the tingling enough to actually finish…

A knock at the door interrupted what Alex was sure would be the Prince’s third go ’round.
“What?” he barked sharply.
“The Dukes are here, Prince ASH” Ashahosta, second highest, leader, lord Alex winced at the unexpected charged word, glad that her prince was facing the door and didn’t see.
“They are?” Ashahosta’s entire demeanor changed, his dominant bearing shrinking back again. He grabbed at a fur on his bed and used it to hastily wipe the smears of cum off of Alex’s chest, fumbling for her clothing at the same time. Halfway between amused and befuddled, Alex helped, pulling her clothes on and shivering at the damp of the cloth.
“They say you are to bring one EX,” exile, forsworn, race-traitor “to them at once,” the man on the other side sounded nervous himself. Ashahosta turned to meet Alex’s gaze, almost pleadingly.
“Will you be CO?” he asked. Helpful, cooperative, willing and obedient. She considered the question. Of all of her squaddies, she was sure she had laid the groundwork the best. Perhaps she could use her reputation for being ‘CO’ to gain something from the mysterious Dukes. At the very least, she had a better chance than squadmates did.
“Of course I will,” she responded with a smile, leaning forward to kiss the Prince on the forehead. When he smiled, the expression was so anxious and tense that Alex wondered if she had made a huge mistake.

When the bag was removed from her head, it took Alex a few moments to re-adjust to the lights. When she did, her stomach dropped. She had hoped she would be taken to some small and comfortable room, somewhere private where she could perhaps work her seduction on someone with actual power. This was as far removed from those hopes as possible. The room was small, but it was also ornate and official. In front of her sat a large wooden table, three austere older men sitting behind it and watching her with serious expressions. They seemed representative of the three colors she had seen throughout the Terran’s world, one with faded blue hair, one with mint green, and one with lavender, all staring at her inscrutably. The table between them was empty, except for a large silver bowl that shone with multicolored light. To the right of the table stood what she assumed to be three princes, Ashahosta among them. On the left a spindly, thin man with a small stone tablet was watching her with a startling intensity, as if he was ready to take notes if she so much as scratched her nose.

“Please take one of the spheres and eat it,” the thin man broke the silence. Alex glanced at the bowl on the table. On closer inspection, she could see that the source of the light came from a collection of glowing spheres that filled the bowl. They were small, and looked like glass with tiny fires trapped within, fires of green and blue and purple. If nothing else, they’re consistent with their color schemes, Alex thought, reaching forward and selecting one. She chose purple in honor of the man she had come to think of as ‘her’ prince, and vaguely wondered if she was passing or failing a test with her color choice. When no one said anything at her selection, she popped the sphere in her mouth and bit down. The sphere crunched and her mouth was full of grainy powder; it clearly didn’t just look like glass, it was made of glass. Alex spat it out and gazed at the impassive three across from her. Did they really think she would simply kill herself as they all calmly watched?

“These spheres are hideously expensive in both time and manpower,” the thin man said calmly, “if you waste any more of them like that, you will guarantee your execution.” With the threat of death, it took a moment for Alex to process the significance of what he had just said.
“Did you just say multi-syllable words without charging them?” She asked. The thin man made a sour face as he responded,
“I am one of the few who has bothered to learn to speak the tongue without magic. It is quite distasteful, but on those rare occasions when it is needed, it makes me invaluable. Now please, the sphere. It will not kill you.” Magic? They think their technology is magic? What kind of backward creatures are these Terrans? Did they get their tech from someone else, so they don’t understand how it works? Alex took another purple sphere, trying to ignore the gritty crunching as she ground it in her teeth and swallowed. Instantly she felt a fire burning in her stomach, along with a vaguely unpleasant pressure. The older man in the middle nodded as if satisfied, the action sending his tuft of mint green hair wobbling. The thin spindly man spoke again.

“Exile. You have been brought before the Dukes of the three great tribes to answer their interrogations. While your safety is not guaranteed, if you cooperate the fate of you and your companions will be better than if you do not. As you seem unable to speak normally, I will be acting as translator between you and the Dukes using low speech, speaking to you by tongue and to them by mind.”
Alex nodded her understanding. The pressure in her stomach was uncomfortable. The translator paused for a moment, not taking his eyes from her, and then spoke again.
“We are informed that your name is Alexandria. Have you ever attempted to kill one of our number Alexandria?”
Alex opened her mouth to protest, and although she could feel her lips shaping the word ‘no’, her voice rang in the small room,
“Yes, when they came for us in the tent I tried to shoot one of you in the head.” She covered her mouth with both hands, eyes wide, as the pressure and heat instantly dissipated from her stomach. The translator simply nodded his head and waited, clearly conversing with the three men behind the table in his mind.
“Please eat another sphere,” he said finally. This is unfair, Alex hesitantly took a blue sphere and slipped it into her mouth, I can’t lie, can’t even spin the truth…what kind of compound is this?

“How many of your Exiles’ moons now orbit about our planet?” The translator’s voice seemed dry and lifeless, and Alex was reminded of a ventriloquist’s dummy. She focused on the exact wording of the question. I’ve never been exiled anywhere, so I don’t consider myself an exile, she reasoned, and since a moon is a planetary body, technically the orbitals don’t count as moons.
“There are five of them, we refer to them as ‘Orbitals’,” Alex’s traitorous mouth seemed to move without her permission, and even as she felt the pressure in her stomach lessen, a knot in it was growing. I’m giving away everything….anything they could possibly ask…I’m helpless… even as the panicked thought crossed her mind she kept on talking, against her will, “their names are Academy, Techrider, Minera, Pivot, and Basura.”
The translator carefully made notations on his tablet with a thin writing instrument, and Alex felt more nervous and helpless than she had ever felt in her life. I can only pray that they don’t ask the right questions. At the translator’s indication, she took another sphere, but this time she held it under her tongue and pretended to chew and swallow.
“What is the goal of your balls of death and lightening? For what purpose do they attack?” Alex opened her mouth to answer, but the translator cut her off sharply, “please swallow the sphere before answering.”

Defeated, Alex swallowed the ball. There was nothing left to do. A thin sheen of sweat made her skin feel sticky in the too-hot room, and she could feel the Prince’s semen dripping out of her to dampen her pants. She regretted her decision to make him happy as she shifted uncomfortably, her mouth running on autopilot.
“The drones find a location where Terrans are situated, then clears the village out. Pockets of crysium can always be found just underneath the village, and the miners in Orbital Minera can harvest the crysium from orbit, as long as there are no Terrans in the way to interrupt the mining drones and beams. We’ve also found that a successful attack against a village will delay the next Drake attack by a few months.” Even through the feelings of helplessness, Alex could tell her words surprised them. Until then, the old men sitting across from her hadn’t changed their expression, but their faces now registered surprise. Maybe that could be capitalized upon.
“Why do you Terrans attack us with monsters?” Alex challenged. The surprised looks turned to looks of shock and outrage.
“You and yours have attacked and hounded us for far longer than we have sent Dracori to respond, Exile,” the translator spat. He hadn’t paused to mentally consult with the three before answering, “are we now at fault for defending ourselves against your blind aggression?” He stopped speaking suddenly, as if he had been silenced, and as he clearly worked to regain his composure, Alex pondered his words. It hadn’t ever occurred to her to wonder who had started the war between the Orbitals and the surface. It was simply something that always had been.

“Do you mean that if we stopped attacking…you would stop sending invaders and Drakes to attack us?” She asked carefully. To demonstrate her cooperative nature, she took a sphere and ate it without being told as she waited for an answer.
“The Dukes know that you do not have the power to stop your moons’ attacks on our people,” the translator answered after a pause, “each of our villages have already attempted peace. It is you exiles that lust for war, not us. Now,” he waited until Alex swallowed, smiling quite unpleasantly, “in what way might we destroy the Exiled moons?”
Alex blinked, horror settling in her stomach. She was so shocked by the question that she couldn’t even think of the answer, the sympathy that had been slowly building for the Terrans disappearing. So much for us being the war-lusting ones, she thought bitterly.
“I….I don’t really know,” she admitted, relieved that it was the truth, “maybe if you could send up five or six Drakes at once, or if you could get someone already on the inside to infiltrate and destroy the orbitals’ inner workings? Terrans can certainly hurt our orbitals, but I haven’t seen anything you could do that would bring one down, let alone all of them.”

The Dukes seemed very displeased with their answer, and Alex was glad. She took another sphere and popped it into her mouth somewhat smugly, which perhaps was a mistake. The duke with lavender hair barked a question, his dusty voice breaking the silence for the first time,
“Why do you shift in your seat so ONC?” shiftily, suspiciously, as if uncomfortable or hiding something
Shit, Alex blushed as the pressure in her stomach seemed to force the words through her throat,
“Because I let Prince Ashahosta cum inside me and it’s dripping out now.”
Ironically, the dukes seemed far less shocked at this answer, although the one with lavender hair glanced to his right at Prince Ashahosta, who was also blushing and looking straight ahead.
“Did you do this to convince him to free you?” The translator asked as if only curious, but he indicated the bowl as well. Alex took one and chewed slowly, her entire face flushed. This was almost worse than before. She refused to meet anyone’s eyes as she answered.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be freed, I just wanted to see my squadmates and help them be better off however I could,” she answered quietly, “And at first it was just about getting something from him, but after a few days I…” Alex struggled hard to stop talking, but whether it was magic or chemicals in the glass pills, it certainly kept her lips moving, “…I actually kind of like him. He’s kind and sweet. The kind of guy I’d sleep with even in other circumstances.”

The room was quiet for a very long time after that, a mental conversation occurring that did not involve her. Alex processed what she had just said as they carried on their silent talking. It was just as unexpected to her as it must’ve been to the dukes, but she knew the spheres forced her to speak the truth, even if she hadn’t wanted to admit the truth to herself. Glancing over at Ashahosta, she mentally shrugged. Why not? There was nothing wrong with enjoying the seduction of one’s captor. At least, she didn’t think so…
“The Dukes have decided upon your fate,” the translator broke the silence, and Alex stiffened. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and she had no clue what the quiet men across from her would decree. The translator didn’t say another word, but the door to the room opened and guards entered, clearly silently directed by the dukes. Gently but firmly they each took her by an arm, and escorted her out of the room.

The problems of betraying the names of the orbitals or revealing embarrassing details of her sex life seemed disgustingly trivial as the guards walked her down the hallways. It was the first time that Alex had seen her surroundings without a bag over her head, and she tried to calm the fluttering in her stomach by taking it all in. The halls were the same sandy stone that her cell had been made of, but every few feet there were glassless windows that looked out onto a village. Alex had assumed she was being kept underground since her cell wasn’t lit by sunlight, and she tried to catch glances outside at each window she passed. The village was a little smaller than her classes said an average Terran village ran. She could see glimpses of forest on the boundary, but the buildings themselves made a large ring that was clear of plant growth. People milled busily back and forth across the clearing in the middle, and Alex noted that every single one had hair of purple, blue or green. Are they letting me see all of this because I’m going to die soon? A small forlorn voice asked in the back of her head. She wasn’t entirely sure how to answer.

The guards stopped next to a large double door made of a heavy dark wood. On either side stood two more Terrans, and they glanced at the three with half-hearted curiosity. Alex’s heart hammered in her chest as the guard on her right knocked on the door. She contemplated making a break for it, but the Terrans had proved they were a match for pistols and weaponry; they would have no problem gunning her down before she reached the end of the hall. The door swung open slowly, and a familiar voice flooded Alex’s chest with relief.
“God damn Alex, who’d you have to fuck to manage all of this?”
“Preston, you fucking douchebag asshole…” Alex was so overwhelmed she couldn’t even finish the insult, rushing forward and wrapping him in a bearhug. The other squaddies gathered around to join as she laughed and cried at the same time, and the guards closed the door behind them, leaving the squadmates alone.

The room was huge and comfortable, as far from the jail cells as could be. Each of the squadmates had a small bed covered with furs, although from the multiple furs piled on one indicated that Julia and Tess had decided to share. A separate room contained facilities, including a bath made of a single piece of carved wood. As soon as she could extract herself from her squadmates she closed herself in the room and filled a steaming hot bath, surprised to find running water in the primitive compound. As the room filled with steam and she lay in the water, Alex finally let herself relax, shaking with nerves and wondering what the future would bring for her and the rest of the rookies.

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Focus
Next Chapter (NSFW): Missing You

4.2 – Focus

Inside of Jackson’s head, a small reminder alert pinged, and he took a breath. The ping was vaguely musical, and for the nanosecond it lasted Jackson enjoyed and appreciated the fact that he had a snapshot of music that only he could enjoy. The breath ended and he returned his focus to the problem at hand.

Very occasionally Jackson would wonder what it would be like to have a normal human brain. He would probably be lazy, perhaps absentminded, maybe talkative. Perhaps he might’ve even had a say in how his personality developed. His mother had taken that choice away from him with her extensive use of cocaine and critz and alcohol. When he was born his mind was so malformed there were only two options; augmentation or no augmentation. Without a CPU he would be a ward of Orbital Minera, his brain running a single function where a normal human could handle several, barely classifiable as alive much less intelligent. So really, the social worker hadn’t had a choice either, giving the techs and medics permission to use him as a test case for their latest augmentations.

The alert pinged, and Jackson took a breath. There were a lot of items stored in his long-term harddrive, but the currently focused goal was to get food. In theory he could switch goals, thumbing through the items in his mental to-do list, but choosing a different goal wouldn’t help him obtain food, so he dismissed the thought. If he ever bothered to inform them, the techs would probably be embarrassed about that serious flaw in their design. A chip designed to force his single-function-brain into achieving a goal wouldn’t ever allow him to willingly choose a different one. The only time a goal changed was due to outside factors, like someone talking, or a change in the environment.

Jackson stepped down from the pod’s ramp, absentmindedly helping Missy and Aimee off as well. The crowd parted for him as he made his way towards the doorway leading to the mess hall. They think I’m mourning my fallen comrades, the information registered to him, but he couldn’t empathize with it. What possible use could moaning and wailing have in accomplishing any of his goals? Of course, they’re important, Jackson admitted, mentally scrolling through his tasks to make sure goal 11125 still had a high priority, but who can spend so much time not doing something?

He had reached the mess and was filling a plate when the goal priorities shifted with a click, goal 87546 stashing away like a satisfying piece in his mind’s puzzle as soon as he successfully acquired food. While he looked for a table, he enjoyed the leisurely process of flipping through his tasks to select his next goal. Goal 11125 was one of the highest priorities at the moment, since the sooner he mounted a rescue attempt the more likely it would be to succeed. That one will have to be divided into several subgoals though… He set his tray down and browsed through for smaller goals that he could quickly complete before tackling that one, pausing only to breath when the alert ping reminded him.

“Jackson!” Even in the crowded and bustling mess hall Jackson recognized Cynthia’s voice; it was one of the most attractive things about her. It was silvery and light, almost musical. Like the breathing alert, he realized, I wonder if that’s why I like it so much. Her voice was concerned now, and he liked the thought that she worried about him. Deeper, more instinctual feelings stirred in him at the sound of her voice, and goal 71609 slid upward in priority by several places. Part of him was slightly ashamed as he selected it, that he was prioritizing such a animalistic goal over saving his squadmates, but it had been a few weeks since he’d last satisfied those urges, and he always planned better when they were satisfied.

He almost winced when he turned. Just behind Cynthia, Samantha was also approaching, glancing at the other girl with confusion. A guy just can’t catch a break around here, Jackson mentally sighed, as the CPU in his head whirred with the incoming data. His goal split into subgoals in a picosecond, and he immediately felt disoriented until he could translate them into words. Seeing the two girls next to each other highlighted their differences and brought them into sharp contrast. Cynthia had clearly just come from the hangars, since her face was still smudged with carbon stains and engine grease. Her red hair was tied back with a piece of black ribbon, and Jackson spared a moment to appreciate the single strand that had fallen out of the tie. Samantha had also clearly come from the hangars as well, but her work was far more clerical. Smooth unblemished skin and soft hands set her about as far apart from Cynthia as she could be, but with the proximity Jackson realized that the ringlets around her face were almost the exact same shade of red. I guess I have a type after all, he pondered, cute red-haired scrubs. The alert ping reminded him to breath, and refocused him on the task at hand. Right. Don’t want to end things with Cynthia. Don’t want to end things with Sam. Don’t want to lie to either. You can never give me a simple goal, can you? Jackson scolded the chip. On the next ping, he took an extra deep breath.

“Cynthia! Sam!” he gave a small smile and stepped forward, putting one arm around Sam’s waist and using the other hand to pull Cynthia forward. He kissed Cynthia on the forehead, Sam on the cheek, and then turned back to the table, “Fuck have I missed you! Come on and join me, please!” He indicated the empty seats at his table, smoothly sitting and hoping the ice in his stomach wouldn’t show on his face. To his relief, both girls sat, though both now looked unsure of themselves.
“I heard about your planetary,” Samantha said cautiously, breaking the slightly awkward silence, “Jackson I’m so sorry.”
“They’re not dead yet,” Jackson began eating as he spoke, “their beacons are still lit.”
“Jackson…” Cynthia reached across the table to place a comforting hand on his, an action that Jackson noticed made Samantha frown.
“It’s okay, I’m not in denial or anything,” Jackson chewed thoughtfully, trying to decide how he would handle his current goal, “if their beacons go out I’ll deal with it at that point, but until then there’s still hope.”

Samantha opened her mouth, and the highest priority goal demanded that he interrupt her. If he could stop them from addressing the elephant in the room, there was a chance that he could simply keep them both by pure inertia. Both girls were a little off-balance, and the chip was telling him to keep them that way. Instead he kept quiet, letting her speak. He knew it was his imagination, but he sometimes felt like he could hear his CPU screaming and grinding as he ignored the route that would technically work the best, but he would much rather opt for open communication than for manipulating his way to his goals.
“Jackson, I know this probably isn’t the best time,” Samantha said, unaware of the conflict in Jackson’s CPU, “but…who is this?”
“I’m sorry, that’s rude of me,” Jackson apologized, “Sam, this is Cynthia, she works in fuel processing. Cyn, Samantha, she’s in ship transfer admin.” He took another bite as he waited for the inevitable follow-up questions. Cynthia’s hand was still on his, which was a good sign, and he idly ran a thumb back and forth over it as the girls exchanged glances.
“Pleased to meet you,” Cynthia murmured, looking at Jackson instead of Samantha with narrowed eyes, but a half smile playing around the corner of her lips.

“Likewise,” Samantha sounded unsure of herself, and Jackson’s CPU informed him that his chances of goal completion would increase vastly if he simply played to her unsureness.
“You two are my two best friends on the entire orbital…” Jackson continued. The techs told him the chip couldn’t actually form commands, that it simply allowed him to focus better, but he could swear he heard it talking to him; “Confuse her! You’re so close if you can just keep her on her toes! Lie!”
“…and in answer to the question neither of you are asking, yes, I’m sleeping with both of you.” Jackson powered through the chip’s instructions.

Samantha’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Cynthia folded her arms and leaned back, but she was grinning.
“The balls on this one,” she chuckled.
“You…you’re just going to say that? Just admit it to both of us?” Samantha spluttered.
“Course, why not?” Jackson took another bite, “it wouldn’t be very nice to hide that information would it?”
“But it’s ‘nice’ to sleep with both of us at the same time?” Samantha almost exploded. Jackson shrugged,
“I suppose I didn’t assume we were exclusive,” he said, “that’s why I didn’t mind you banging your co-worker on the side.” Samantha blushed bright red, and Cynthia threw her head back and laughed aloud. She not only didn’t realize I knew… But she also thought we were exclusive at the time? Jackson considered whether or not to be offended, and finally shrugged it off.
“I didn’t…I wasn’t…” Samantha stammered. She turned to Cynthia, no doubt hoping to find someone to back her up, “and you’re okay with this? With him just going back and forth between the two of us?”
“I never made an assumption about what we were,” Cynthia raised both hands, “Jackson’s fun to talk to and he’s a good lay, we never put expectations on each other beyond that. Although,” she reached forward and grabbed Jackson’s spoon, pointing it menacingly at Jackson, “last month when I needed help cleaning the capacity core on your cruiser, and you said ‘oh I’ve got physical training to catch up on’, I swear to god if you blew me off to get some action from her…”

Jackson grinned, “Actual PT, I swear,” he said, truthfully, “I like to think I’m a little more respectful than ditching one of you for the other.” Cynthia used the spoon to steal a bite of chocolate paste from his plate, and he didn’t stop her. Samantha seemed completely out of her element and bewildered, but she wasn’t leaving. His CPU stopped screaming at him, and he felt his shoulders imperceptibly relax.
“I guess it’s just…different…to me,” Samantha finally mumbled, “I’m not used to this kind of situation. It seems weird.”
“Weirder than when you thought you were both cheating on each other?” Cynthia asked brightly around a mouthful of chocolate. Samantha blushed again.
“You’ll have your hands full if you get with these admin types Jackson,” Cynthia grinned, “full of strange expectations.”
“No call for that kind of talk Cyn,” Jackson broke in before Samantha could respond, “Sam’s a fine lady, and alongside you she’s one of the people I care about most on this station.”
“You’re right, that was uncalled for,” Cynthia agreed, “I’m sorry Samantha.”
“I’m not a prude or anything,” Samantha said defensively, “I just don’t like the thought of sharing Jackson back and forth.”
“Well…” Jackson said thoughtfully, carefully, “if that’s the way you feel, we don’t have to do this back and forth.”

Samantha looked at him uncomprehending, but Cynthia clearly saw what he was implying almost instantly.
“Jackson Carter Rade,” she leaned back in her chair, fixing Jackson with a stare that was halfway between incredulous and impressed, “let me get this straight. Your two girlfriends meet each other, and even though you managed to stretch your luck enough to avoid a major blowout, you now think you’re smooth enough to turn the situation into a threesome?”
Jackson carefully finished his last bite, considering how to answer. In the end, he opted for honesty.
“Yep,” he said. Cynthia and Samantha looked back and forth between him and each other. Jackson had to admit that the stunned looks on their faces was amusing enough to be worth whatever answer he got.
“Well, say what you will about him, the boy’s got stones,” Cynthia finally said. Samantha was opening and closing her mouth like a fish, but she finally managed to stutter,

Jackson tried to gather his thoughts for a whole several alert pings. His head was beginning to hurt from the strain of the CPU, and he was painfully aware that several goals were slowly creeping higher in his priority list. He looked up to meet the eyes of the two girls.
“Look, I’ve had…the most hellish few days I can ever remember,” he admitted, “I’ve just about fried my brain by keeping it running too hot for the past few days, because there’s just too many tasks to get done. I’ve got another rough patch coming up, so right now, in this brief bit of quiet before the storm, I’d really like to do something that will let me relax and forget about all the shit that has come before and is coming up.” He shrugged, “I meant what I said earlier. You two are my closest and best friends here, and I’m really glad we still have that,” he raised his eyebrows to make it a question, and was relieved when both girls nodded. “I like having you for friends, that would be true even if you both weren’t as good in bed as you are. I mean…damnit I’m normally smoother than this…” The sound of gears grinding in his head was makinh it ache. The chip doesn’t even have fucking gears, he mentally grumbled, rubbing his temples.
“Aw, honey,” Cynthia said sympathetically, standing and rounding the table to give him a hug. She took his hand and pulled him up from his seat, turning and moving toward the door.
“Come on,” she said over her shoulder, and Samantha rose with a confused look.
“Where…what are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m gonna help this fuckin’ idiot relax,” Cynthia replied with a smirk, “and you’re going to help me.”

Cynthia’s room wasn’t far from the mess hall, within easy access of the hangar. As a “scrub”, one of the valuable mechanics on the Orbital, she had the luxury of a private room. Jackson smiled wearily as he stepped inside. Though it was slightly cramped, a single large room and adjoining bathroom, Cynthia had made it her own. Small gears and wires, twisted into pieces of art, decorated the walls, and hand-made blankets and quilts lined anything that could be used as a bed or seat. The entire effect was one of instant comfort and coziness, an effect that Cynthia herself had on Jackson. Samantha looked around the room curiously as Cynthia pulled Jackson towards her strange bed that sat in the corner, made up of a pile of layered blankets and pillows as high as her waist.

“This place is…really nice,” Samantha sounded surprised, “comfortable.”
“What better place to comfort someone?” Cynthia untied the fastenings on her rough mechanics jacket, shrugging it off and tossing it in a corner. She always seemed at ease, but Jackson noticed she was a little more herself when she was in her room.
“Um…about that…” Samantha was blushing, looking down at her feet.
“You don’t have to do this, Sam,” Jackson watched her face carefully, looking for signs of hesitation. It didn’t matter how helpful his CPU could’ve been in convincing her; if she wasn’t willing to do this, he had no desire to force her.
“No,” Samantha seemed startled, “no, that’s not it at all, I really do, it’s just I…I don’t know how.”

Jackson shot a look at Cynthia, hoping she wouldn’t make fun of Samantha’s embarrassment, but the mechanic was looking at her kindly, almost affectionately.
“It’s not so hard,” Cynthia smiled, reaching out and hooking a hand around Samantha’s neck. Samantha blushed harder, but Cynthia gently steered her towards the bed where Jackson was sitting, “do you like kissing our jerk of a boy here?”
“Yes,” Samantha answered hesitantly, and Cynthia gently pushed Samantha’s head forward to meet Jackson’s lips. Jackson held the moment in his mind as the kiss deepened. It felt like so long since he had touched her, touched either of them, and he wanted to savor the sensation of every moment. Samantha’s kiss tasted like strawberries, and her tongue darted playfully across his lips. He ran his fingers through her bright red curls as he lay back on the bed, pulling her with him.

“Good,” he heard Cynthia say approvingly. As if encouraged by the other girl’s approval, Samantha straddled Jackson, sitting on his upper stomach and bending down to keep on kissing him.
“Now,” Cynthia murmured, and Jackson vaguely registered the sound of clothing hitting the floor, “we’ll see if you’re a good enough kisser to keep his attention during what I’m about to do.”
She is a very good kisser, Jackson mused, as Samantha gently tugged at his lower lip with her teeth, but I have an idea about what Cynthia is going to do… As if on cue Cynthia’s fingers deftly unfastened his pants with a practiced ease. Samantha broke the kiss, panting, to turn and watch as Cynthia pulled his pants off and threw them into the growing stack of clothes by the bed.
“You’re wearing too much,” Cynthia said. Samantha was blocking Jackson’s view of her face, but whatever expression Cynthia was wearing must’ve been enough to allay Samantha’s reservations.

Samantha slowly slipped her shirt over her head just as Cynthia wrapped warm nimble fingers around Jackson’s shaft. The combination of Cynthia’s fingers and the sight of Samantha’s breasts dropping free was enough to make Jackson’s hips involuntarily buck, and Samantha giggled she almost fell off of him. He couldn’t see what Cynthia was doing, which made each touch unexpected. Instead he was treated to Samantha’s large boobs hanging over his face as she leaned down again to pull his shirt off. He didn’t mind in the slightest. Her strawberry-flavored kisses resumed again, keeping his attention as she made complicated motions to remove her own pants.

Sudden warmth and wetness around the head of his member informed him that Cynthia had started using her tongue, and Jackson dug his nails into Samantha’s naked back at the feeling. Samantha was rocking her hips back and forth, grinding her sex against his stomach while she kissed him and clearly enjoying his nails. He could feel how wet she was growing, and the heat of her cunt pressed against his body felt almost as good as Cynthia’s tongue, which was sliding up and down his shaft at a steady, maddening pace.
“God,” Samantha broke the kiss again with a gasp, turning to look back at Cynthia, “I want him,” she panted, “I need it, please?”
“Mmm I can see what you see in this one Jackson,” Cynthia purred, “she begs so prettily.”

Samantha squeaked as Cynthia’s arms wrapped around her, squeezing her generous breasts and then yanking her backward onto the bed. Jackson leaned forward as Cynthia stood, both looking down at the naked woman as she blushed furiously. Jackson let his gaze travel back and forth between the two of them, appreciating the uniqueness of their bodies. Cynthia’s breasts were quite small compared to Samantha’s, but her body was harder, rougher. The smudges of oil and dirt made patterns on Cynthia’s skin that showed exactly where the lines of her clothes had been, and where there was no dirt her freckles showed clearly, speckling her cheeks and tiny breasts. Samantha’s mound was smooth, while Cynthia had a patch of flame-red hair between her legs.
Like night and day, these two, Jackson mused, so how are they both so hot?
“I’m feeling very self-conscious right now,” Samantha murmured under their stares.
“Jackson, for god’s sake fuck the poor thing before she bursts into flames,” Cynthia laughed, hopping lightly up onto the bed. She straddled Samantha, scooting back so that her pussy was rubbing against the other girl’s mound and leaning forward.
“Is this alright?” Jackson could hear Cynthia murmur, and the girl beneath her nodded.

Samantha squirmed as soon as Jackson touched her, sliding a finger up and down across her slit. Cynthia’s small ass moved in the air as she rubbed her clit against the her, and for a moment Jackson was mesmerized at the sight of the two perfect pussies so close together, both pink and wet and inviting. The scent of their juices mingled and combined into a heady aroma that sent shocks of lust through him even as he looked.
“Samantha’s too embarrassed to say it,” Cynthia grinned over her shoulder, “but she would very much like your cock inside of her now.” Her words snapped Jackson out of his trance, and without further hesitation he positioned his member at Samantha’s opening and thrust inside. Samantha threw her head back on the bed and gave a long moan, cut off almost instantly by Cynthia’s tongue. The sight of Cynthia kissing her made Jackson so hard it almost hurt, and he struggled to keep a steady pace as he slammed into Samantha over and over again. Even through the kiss he could hear her moaning, and the sound drove him to push into her even harder.

Jackson pulled out completely, moving his hips so that when he next thrust forward his cock slid inside of Cynthia’s waiting cunt. His breath was coming out ragged as he thrust faster and faster, first slamming into Cynthia then switching back to Samantha. Even their pussies were different, gripping his member in different ways, and he couldn’t tell which he liked more. He was already feeling the orgasm building in him when Cynthia came, her sex clamping down and quivering around his length as her whole body shook. Samantha murmured something in the other girl’s ear, and whatever it was it made Cynthia cum even harder. The tightness around him was bringing him close, and without thinking he pulled his member out and slid it between the bodies of the two girls.

Both of them obligingly rubbed against him, sliding their mounds and clits over his wet cock. The stimulation was enough to send Jackson over the edge, moaning as he came. Neither girl stopped their rocking grinding, and the sticky wet contact made his orgasm last longer than any he could ever remember. He grabbed Cynthia’s ass and Samantha’s thigh as he shot his load between their bodies, his mind blanking out at the pleasure.

Jackson leaned back with a sigh, catching his breath, as Cynthia sit up. Samantha’s hips were still rocking as if against her will, and a slight whimper escaped her lips.
“Oh you poor thing!” Cynthia murmured, “we had all the fun and left you frustrated! Let me help you with that.” Jackson watched with a smile as Cynthia moved downward, burying her face between Samantha’s legs. If Samantha had any more reservations they were gone now; she reached down to run her fingers through the other girl’s hair as Cynthia worked her magic with her tongue.

Jackson’s eyes drooped, and he yawned. Even as he enjoyed the sight of his two girls playing with each other, the CPU in his head flipped through his goals without being directed. Goal 72999 was selected and locked in. Jackson was surprised, but shrugged…it had been nearly 48 hours since he had last slept. He settled back as Samantha started moaning again, watching the pair with a smile. Cynthia had started to play with herself as she ate Samantha out, Jackson’s cum dripping off of her stomach to land on her wrist as her fingers slowly slid in and out of her own pussy. With the explicit scene in front of him, Jackson closed his eyes…

Jackson was told that he slept differently than other people, the process more akin to defragging a computer than typical sleep. He didn’t really know how it compared, but he knew he felt refreshed in every way after sleeping. It felt like only an instant later that he opened his eyes, mind fresh and sharp. Cynthia was asleep on his right, her red hair mussed and spread over his shoulder. Samantha lay on his left, awake, dragging a finger back and forth across his chest and looking pensive.
“Something wrong?” He asked quietly, taking advantage of the brief moments he could focus on everything around him as he mentally flicked through his tasks.
“That was…a lot nicer than I thought it would be,” she replied thoughtfully, “I thought it was going to be all nasty and kinky and a little gross but it was…I dunno, more tender. She’s sweet,” she nodded at the sleeping girl on his other arm.
“I think so too,” Jackson replied. Goal 11125 clicked into place, and Jackson sighed when the alert ping reminded him to breath.
“I think I like this. It’s better than with Aaron. The co-worker,” she clarified at Jackson’s questioning glance.
“You don’t have to give him up you know,” Jackson assured her, “I was serious about that. We don’t have to be monogamous.”
“I just…I think I want to do this all the time,” Samantha said carefully, “Just the three of us. Not monogamous but…tri-nogamous.”
“I think I would like that too,” Jackson smiled, sitting up. It was what the CPU told him to say, but happily it was also the truth, “we should talk about it, the three of us.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have to save my squadmates.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” The offer was made without hesitation or reluctance, and Jackson smiled at her.
“As a matter of fact, there is.”

The conference room was small, but even so the empty seats were clearly gnawing at his squadmates’ minds. They all sat at one end, Jackson at the head of the table, Missy, Aimee and Li on his left, Cynthia and Samantha on his right.
“I should start by letting you all know that what I’m going to propose is probably stupid and definitely dangerous,” Jackson didn’t mince words. “You two,” he indicated Cynthia and Samantha, “could lose your jobs. The four of us,” he indicated his squadmates, “could be killed.”
“We’re going down to rescue them,” Missy murmured. Jackson was gratified to see the hope spring so instantly into her eyes. One recruit accounted for already, he thought.
“We are. There’s more to it than that, but yes, we’re getting them back.”
“Jackson, Missy,” Aimee began, awkwardly, “you know we want to get them back too, but even Captain Appet won’t let us go, let alone the people we actually need clearance from.”
“No, they wouldn’t,” Jackson agreed, “which is why we’re not going to clear it.”

Before the protests or arguments could start, Jackson had pulled displays up on the screens in the table, historical data from planetary runs.
“Do you know why we use a complicated systems of a satellite and drones to run planetaries, instead of just flying through with cruisers?” He asked.
“Drones are easier to replace than human life,” Li responded, but Jackson shook his head,
“If they were worried about human life we would’ve come up to an alternative to planetary runs altogether. No, the difference is the fuel. Cruisers burn jet fuel, and satflyers use hover thrusters.”
His squadmates gave him blank looks, and he forced himself to hold back and keep calm. He sometimes forgot how slowly normal brains were at following a path, sometimes you had to spell it out for them.
“Back when we used cruisers for planetary runs, according to the records, it took an average of five minutes before winged opposition engaged them. Ever since switching to satflyers, the fastest an air team has been attacked is fifty minutes,” he selected numbers, pulling them to the forefront so that his squaddies could follow his train of thought, “this is true even though the satflyers are bigger, slower, and less armed.”

There were still blank looks, and Jackson clenched his fist. Don’t lose your temper, the subgoal is to get them on your side, he cautioned himself.
“However the Terrans find our aircrews, it’s not by sight or radar,” he patiently explained, “it’s by the fuel traces somehow, or maybe the noise.”
“That seems like a really inefficient way of finding us. Why wouldn’t they just use radar?” Aimee asked
“I don’t know, but it’s clear that they don’t. The air team can identify Terran movement on the ground, but on every single planetary that encountered resistance,” another data set flitted up onto the screens, “the Terrans on the ground attacked out of sync with their aerial units. As if they have to find the ground team and the air team independently. They can’t see us as well as we can see them, that’s the only answer that makes sense. Everyone assumes the Terrans have better technology, but what if it’s not better, it’s just different?”
The room was silent at the suggestion, as his squadmates pondered the question.
“Even if that were the case,” Li said slowly, “and that’s a big fuckin’ ‘if’, by the way…how does that help us get our team off the ground?”
Jackson grinned. He was rather proud of this part. “We land on the planet in cruisers.”

Blank looks again… Jackson mentally sighed.
“Right, from step one then…” He ran through the plan once more in his head, fine tuning it on the spot before he presented it to his squadmates.
“Cynthia fuels and preps four heavy cruisers. Samantha clears them for takeoff,” he turned to them, “If you get into hot water later, you can say I manipulated you into doing it. It’s on my record that I’m augmented, they’ll believe you.”
“What, you be manipulative to get what you want? Nooo…” Cynthia grinned, absentmindedly rubbing her shoulder where Samantha had left a small bite mark.
“Wait, Jackson you’re augmented?” Li looked shocked, but Samantha interrupted.
“We’ll do it, for you Jackson.” She may have been hesitant about their relationship at first, but Jackson appreciated her loyalty now that she was committed to him. That was another difference between her and Cynthia; once Samantha decided she was on your side, nothing would get in her way to help you. Night and day, he thought affectionately, before re-launching into his explanation.
“The four of us squaddies will boost towards the planet in the heavy cruisers. The Orbital might yell at us, but they won’t shoot us down. As soon as we hit the fog, we cut engines.”
“That’s insane,” Aimee looked incredulous, but Jackson powered through,

“By my calculations, we turn the engines back on at about halfway between the fog and the ground and hit the thrusters full blast, pointed down. The fuel vapors won’t kick up until we’re past the treeline, whatever tech they’re using to detect fuel vapors can’t find them beneath the treeline. I know this,” he held up a hand to stop the interruption he knew was coming, “because the drones use jet fuel, just like the cruisers, and we’ve never had a planetary in which the Terrans found the drones. Not one. Now, even with the cruisers at full thrust we’ll hit the ground pretty hard, but from there we’ll be in position to mount a rescue, well supplied and with the element of surprise on our side. The heavy cruisers can accommodate a second passenger, so we’ll have enough space to get everyone back off the planet, with a little squeezing. We head back to the orbital at full speed, and a heavy cruiser at top speed can outrun anything the Terrans have ever thrown at us in the past.”

Jackson stopped, and waited for the objections. He himself had a couple, but he wasn’t going to volunteer the information while the others were still on the fence.
“I’m in,” Missy stated flatly, as he’d known she would.
“That’s…a really good plan, Jackson,” Aimee sounded impressed, “why don’t we take that plan to the General? Maybe, if he heard how well you’ve thought it out, he would okay the mission?” Jackson shifted his weight uncomfortably.
“I…don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. The others looked at him curiously. Jackson had to think about it for a few moments, a few breathing reminders pinged by as he put his words in order. The thought had occurred to him as soon as he’d woken up, his freshly defragged mind making the leaps necessary. Now he had to explain it to normal brains.

“The air team wasn’t being attacked when it went down. Terran forces didn’t attack the ground pod either,” he tried laying out his thoughts sequentially, “but we both lost power. There’s no common technological link between the two, there’s no simple explanation for why they would both fail on the same mission. At least, no explanation for an accidental error.”
“Are you saying someone sabotaged the planetary?” Missy’s eyes were burning, and Jackson was startled at how much venom was in her voice.
“Not only that, but someone in the Academy. No one on the ground would risk their own lives like that-”
“And one of us wouldn’t do that to our squaddies,” Aimee interjected,
“-right, that too. So assuming someone on the orbital wanted some or all of us to die on this mission, who is able to make that happen?”
“Are…are you saying it was one of the scrubs?” Aimee asked uncertainly. Jackson was about to sigh again when Missy’s voice, cold and quiet, cut him off.

“General Auspus,” she said, her voice iced with rage. Jackson nodded,
“General Auspus. He had no logical reason for sending us down in the first place, it surprised everyone, Captain Appet included. The sabotage must’ve been a just-in-case measure. The only problem is that I have no clue why he would want anyone on our squad dead. We’re good students, and if he didn’t want us here he could just expel us-”
“We saw him.” Missy’s voice was still cold, but there was a dullness there, like an ache in the depths of it, that sent shivers down Jackson’s spine.
“We saw him, Preston and I did, in a conference room. He was using some kind of tool that was covering him in purple sparks. He told us if we told anyone he would expel us.” Tears streamed down Missy’s face, and Jackson had no clue how to respond to what she was saying. Instead he turned to the scrubs, who were watching the proceedings silently with wide eyes.
“Two of us knowing this almost got all of us killed,” he said quietly, but earnestly. Cynthia nodded her understanding, but Samantha looked confused. “Please, for your own safety, don’t ever tell anyone about this,” Jackson clarified. Samantha’s eyes widened even further, but she nodded her understanding.

“We’ll use your plan then,” Li awkwardly patted Missy on the shoulder, and the others murmured agreement.
“Good. Let’s get some gear together and plan on taking off early tomorrow morning,” Jackson stood.
“Even after we rescue them, won’t we be back in the same position?” Aimee asked tentatively, “won’t General Auspus still want to silence us? It would probably be good to have a plan to not die after we rescue everyone.”
Jackson mentally scrolled down to that very goal, 48657, increasing its priority.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said grimly.

Previous Chapter (NSFW): Memorium
Next Chapter (NSFW): Ingratiated