In a few hours we would be exiting hyperspace and arriving in the Direkki system. Com Ops had agreed to our plan with a few provisos. I was glad that the ordeal was nearly over. I guess that was in part because of my marked hand. It had glowed every time we were in the area of a wormhole. I envisioned my future going from system to system to search for wormholes. That was something for the future but for now I had to focus on the tasks ahead. The only good thing to come out of this was that I wasn't the one that opened the wormhole from Nthus. That had been Marsha and her shuriken. Our jumps through the wormhole had been done by the Axon. Marsha's shuriken was locked in a safe in her quarters. Somehow she had been given command of our little flotilla. She in charge of naval operations while I was to oversee and co-ordinate ground missions if there were to be any. Com Ops had made it quite clear that this was a reconnaissance in force. Besides the Havoc, Com Ops had included both the Axon and the Orion. Captain Bartolomaios of the Sovran wanted to join us but Com Ops had nixed that. I could sort of see their logic in that since it was at Direkki that the Sovran lost their command and I had ended up in command, an inexperienced officer in charge of an inexperienced crew. We were lucky to get out with our skin intact. Another Terran phrase I had picked up. With Lottie's help I had pulled up my old training scenarios for the exercises I had planned for Farakas. My files contained planetary data and likely combat situations. When I say Lottie helped pull my files. The work was all hers but she had used my body to do it. I had to admit I would have never found them if it weren't for Lottie. Then again I could have had Vorra do it. The results would have been the same but with Lottie moaning about it in my ears. Currently I was sitting in front of the terminal in my quarters staring at the holoscreen trying to figure which of the twenty-seven complexes on the planet's surface the Rhosani had occupied or even if they had used current buildings or built one of their own. I had holo maps for them but if the Rhosani had built their own then we could be wading about in the dark. Logic stated they would have occupied one or even all of the complexes. We wouldn't know until we reached there and even then this was only a recon mission.
"You should rest if even for a couple of hours?" Lottie warned me.
I knew she was correct even if she had been the one to cause my lack of sleep. I couldn't very well sleep if she was in control of my body. Who knows what she would have been up to with my body if I hadn't been awake to keep and eye on her. Besides I was too keyed up about what we would encounter on reaching Farakas thoughts of the Sovran flashed through my mind. My wrist comms chirped.
"Yes?" I snapped. I was feeling a bit grouchy.
"Get some rest Sandra," Marsha ordered, "you'll be no good if you don't rest."
I glared at my comms unit. "How do know I wasn't resting!"
"I've been monitoring you heart rate."
Belated I remembered that Vorra had upgraded my comms unit linking it directly to Marsha's so she could monitor my life signs. I guess it had an alarm that would have alerted her to my state of health. "Ok I'm going," I protested adding under my breath, "bloody Vorra and her upgrades."
With fifteen minutes to exit I was glad of my nap. I felt better for it. I longed to be on the bridge with Marsha but we were going into an unknown combat situation and the regulations had been tightened up since what Com Ops called the 'Sovran Incident'. I knew all to well what happened and I definitely didn't want a repeat performance. My watch and I were in the auxiliary bridge a cut down version of the main bridge without the seats and a lot more cramped. I stood where the captain should be if this had been the main bridge overseeing my bridge crew. Unlike the Sovran my watch were all hardened veterans. Here in this situation a feeling of déjà vu crept over my spine. I doubted any of the crew were resting it was an amber alert and would remain so until Marsha changed it.
"Time to exit Mr Willmass?" I asked the Fandaren at the helm.
"Ten minutes ma'am," he replied not taking his eyes from his console.
Minutes ticked by adding to my tension. "Time?" I demanded instantly regretting the tone of my voice, "please," I added.
"One minute!" was the reply.
The lights flickered and we exited. I expelled the breath I hadn't realised I had been holding. "Maintain alert all stations."
"Ma'am," Ensign Alvanina my duty comms officer said to me.
"Captain says meet her in the briefing room,"
"Thank you Alvanina inform her I'm on my way," I wondered why she wanted to talk to me in the briefing room.
Marsha was already there by the time I got there. She wasn't on her own. Two of her bridge crew were with her. I nodded to the both of them.
"Ma'am," I said and saluted.
"Be seated XO," she indicated the seat beside her.
As I sat she tapped the keyboard of the terminal in front of her. Two faces appeared on the holo projector in the centre of the table Captain Bardeki a T'Arni dark haired with a permanent scowl on his face from the Axon and Captain Gordan from the Orion an older looking human female with grey hair and just as grim faced.
"What this about?" I asked.
"We aren't picking up any signals from the relay beacons," she nodded to her two officers.
Which explained why she had brought in her comms officer and sensors officer.
"Could they have taken the planet?" Captain Bardeki asked thoughtfully.
Marsha looked at me. "XO?"
That put me in a spot. "Lottie?" I asked in my mind.
"Not to my knowledge?"
"I can't be sure," I said to Marsha being honest.
"Ok XO," she reassured me.
She turned her attention back to the two captains. "This is what we'll do," she spoke outlining a plan.
I listened hoping that Lottie was taking notes. I would have to take over if anything happened to Marsha. Then if things got that dire then we were really in trouble.
"The Havoc will go in stealthy and launch decoys," Marsha explained, "you will follow just out of range. Your tepes linked to mine."
"They can do this?" I asked surprised.
"They can reach that far," Marsha replied with a warning look to her bridge officers, "if it is a person to person link. They don't make a big deal of it you understand?"
I understood the secrecy.
"Anything you want to add XO?"
I shook my head I knew enough know that this was her area of expertise and there wasn't anything I could add to her plan. "Nothing I can think of."
She seemed satisfied by that. "Captains?"
"All that needs to be said has been," Captain Bardeki replied.
Marsha turned her attention back to me. "XO you have plan for a ground mission?"
"A number of them depending on what we find on Farakas," that was as much as I could do at the moment. Until we reached the planet I wouldn't be able to put any plan into action.
"You will appraise us of any plans you implement?" Captain Gordan asked.
Any plan would involve squads from both the Axon and the Orion.
"Of course ma'am." I nearly said 'sir' but corrected myself at the last moment I wasn't on a Terran ship.
"That will be all captains," Marsha interrupted, "and XO get yourself back to the auxiliary bridge."
"Yes ma'am!" I saluted this was too serious to be informal here.
Returning to the auxiliary bridge I informed the watch of Marsha's plan.
No one said a thing so I left it there. The main viewer showed us on the move. The main viewer like the screens that flanked it was a duplicate of the screens that lowered when the shutters were closed on the bridge. We had the same view that Marsha had.
"Tactical on screen," I said.
The main viewer changed to a tactical view showing our position and that with our following ships.
"Rig for stealth," Marsha's voice floated of the comms system.
"All consoles to minimum," I told the watch.
All the lights dimmed, as did the console screens. We were trying to muffle our EM signature. No known ship could be that stealthy our objective was to lower our profile so it would be harder for an enemy ship to detect us. They could still detect us but they would see a much smaller ship, which would be to our advantage if it came to a fight. I kept my eyes the tactical display, which showed the Havoc and the other ships as simple icons.
I could be the tension building as we penetrated the system. Six new dots suddenly appeared on the tactical display. I wasn't unduly worried about them, Marsha had deployed her decoys. The decoys were there to mask and confuse any enemy ships. The decoys would put out as much of an energy signature as the Havoc was currently displaying.
"Picking up a ship on the decoy telemetry," Ensign John Davis said. He was my sensor operator short and squat he would have made a good Ezaran with his beard.
"ID?" I knew it was pointless to ask. We had no control over the consoles unless something happened to the main bridge. All we could do was watch.
"Just lost the signal from the decoy," John told me.
"All hands to battle stations!" Marsha's voice sounded loud over the comms system.
"Stay alert!" I ordered the bridge crew.
"We've lost a second decoy," Davis reported.
"What?" I said startled and glanced at the tactical screen a as another dot vanished.
"We got an ID on the enemy ship before we lost decoy three," Davis sounded uncomfortable, there was a moment silence before he spoke again. "It's Terran."
I was aware of the silence around me. I stared hard at Davis. "Terran or not it has no right to be here," I said firmly.
"All non essential power to shield and weapons," Marsha's voice echoed over the comms.
"It will be ok ma'am," Lieutenant Blake assured me.
I misunderstood what he was saying at first. Then it dawned on me that he was saying he was on my side even if it was I a Terran on a Confederacy ship, which was attacking a Terran one. "We have a duty to the Confederacy no matter our origins," I said loudly making my point heard.
"Lost decoy four," Davis announced, "Main drives are coming back online."
"Time to range?" I asked Ensign Merradie a female T'Arni and my weapons officer.
"Fifty-seven minutes ma'am," she said without looking up she was concentrating on her console even if she had no control over it.
The sound of the door sliding open behind had me turning. I was surprised to see Lieutenant Armaradies standing there. She looked as if she had eaten something distasteful and was apologetic at the same time.
"What are you doing here!" I demanded, "it's against the regs."
"So sorry ma'am."
I had to stare at her Armaradies never apologised for anything. "What?"
"Captain's orders, ma'am I am so sorry. You've been relieved of duty and you are to report to your quarters."
Anger flashed through me and I quickly suppressed it. It was no good for me to get into a shouting match with Armaradies none of this was her fault. I had no choice I had to follow orders. Having Lieutenant Armaradies here actually made perfect sense. She had more ship to ship combat experience then I did. I did the best I could and saluted.
" All yours Lieutenant," try as I might I couldn't keep the bitterness out of my voice.
She had the decency to wince a bit at that. I headed back to my quarters my reputation in tatters.
Shawna was outside my quarters as I approached. I saw her shudder at the expression on my face. I had been on a tight reign all the way back.
"Sorry ma'am," she said.
"Not as half as sorry as Marsha will be when I get my hands on her!"
Shawna's face grew red. "Don't you dare blame this on her!" she snarled at me.
"Whatever!" I snapped back past caring, "she can find herself another poor sap to be her XO we're finished." I wanted to say more but my feet propelled me into my quarters before I could say another word.
"You know you can be a real bitch when you put you mind to it?" Lottie said harshly.
"Shut up!" I growled back, I was in no mood to put up with her antics.
"But you can't make me can you?" Lottie said smugly, "you have to listen to me as much as you don't want to. Perhaps I should march you down to the medbay and talk to the doctor. I'm sure he'd sign you up for a section 192 straightway. When you're angry you are very easy to control."
Her comment swamped my anger quickly.
"Good," she said, " now stay calm and take deep relaxing breaths."
"I've been humiliated," I tried hard to argue my point.
"Perhaps sending Lieutenant Armaradies wasn't the most tactical of moves. There must be a logical reason for Marsha's actions?"
"What reason? I've been relieved of command, I'll never regain the trust of my watch."
"Yet Armaradies didn't say permanently otherwise Marsha would have put you under guard and marched you to the brig."
"Well what other reason she would she have!"
"Whatever her reason she put her most precious possession in close proximity to you?"
The door opened before I could respond to that. I was surprised to see Doc Brown and Ocynca enter.
"Before you say anything!" Doc Brown pointed his finger at me, "I overruled the captain on medical grounds."
I stared at him shocked.
"I've been monitoring your heartbeat it was irregular."
"Who the hell else in monitoring me!" I don't know where that had come from I hadn't meant to be that snippy.
"Only those worried about your health. You did suffer a cardiac arrest recently?"
"And if I'm ok I can return to duty?" I asked hopefully. This was a chance to for me to regain the trust of my watch. I had ruined my chances with Marsha. I doubted that she would ever speak to me again.
"In time," Doc Brown replied, "now we can do this here or back in Medbay your choice?"
"Best be quick," I said, "we're on red alert."
I sat patiently as the doc ran his scanner over me.
"Well?" I asked anxiously.
"As I first thought you have a hormone imbalance, it was triggered by your cardiac arrest."
"Being under stress and your cardiac incident will do nothing for good for your hormone imbalance."
"Can it be fixed?"
"Certainly," Doc Brown said and smiled gesturing to Ocynca who was holding a medical pack.
"It's affecting your aura," Ocynca said to me he was looking at me strangely.
I felt a jab in my arm. I hadn't even noticed Doc Brown press a hypo onto my arm.
"That should do it?" Doc Brown said putting his hypo back into his medical kit.
"I can go back on duty?" I knew what his answer would be but I had to hope.
"Not for a while," he paused and continued, "and don't get any ideas I can still sign you medically unfit!"
I heard his warning. I wasn't going up again him. I might be able to twist Marsha around to my way of thinking but I had no chance against the doc. Although it was unlikely I'd that ever be able to do that again I had effectively alienated my closest friends.
Doc brown left but Ocynca lingered behind obviously he had something to say something he didn't want to say in front of the doc.
"I'm troubled by your aura," he stated bluntly.
"What's wrong my aura?"
"Used to be a steady golden glow."
I didn't like the sound of that. "And now?"
"It flickers between golden and blue."
I looked at him confused. "I don't understand?"
"It almost as if you are two different people. Even someone who is bipolar has only one colour aura."
I wondered what the Guardians had done to me.
"Tell him about me," Lottie whispered in my mind.
"We or I am," I said and went on to explain what the Guardians had done to me.
Ocynca listened without comment he spoke when I had finished. "May I speak to the other person?"
"It's been a long time since anyone has addressed me as a person," Lottie said surprised.
"You're the blue," Ocynca said, "quite remarkable."
"Blue?" I asked it must mean something to him.
"Every race emits a coloured aura that specific to them. Humans, pure humans are blue."
"Hey I'm human!" I protested, "you said mine is golden?"
"Enari are golden."
"Hang on a minute?" now I was really confused, "that's not possible I'm only partly Valkyrie and that's in my distant past."
"And I'm only what's left after the government turned me into a machine," Lottie said, "I shouldn't have an aura by any standard."
"The golden aura was there when you were Sandra's implant. The blue is recent."
"What have those Guardians done to us!" Lottie growled.
I was still confused and things weren't getting any clearer. "But why is my aura golden?" I pressed my point, "both my parents are human and I don't have any Valkyrie traits." By that I meant blonde hair, blue eyes and tall. Luckily the contacts had dissolved but I still had the colour in my hair. It was growing out slowly I could see my brunette roots through the blonde.
"What is, is," Ocynca replied.
I wasn't about to let it slide. "Oh yes!"
"I must go," Ocynca said hastily, "the doc will need my aid. We can discuss this later."
It reminded me the Havoc was about to go into action, into action without me on duty.
"I should be out there helping but I've been confined to my quarters and I don't know what's going on!" I complained. I forgot that I wasn't technically alone.
"You should be able to pick up the tactical on your terminal. You not be able to participate but you can see what going on?" Lottie told me.
I stepped across to the terminal and keyed in my ID code. The image on the screen was basic at best. Little triangles to represent our ships and a square for the enemy ship. Suddenly a series of dots appeared on the screen and streamed out from our ships toward the enemy ship.
"Missile launch," I said.
"Yeah I can see that," Lottie replied in my mind, "are we too far out for them to be effective?" She sounded uneasy.
"We are within range," I told her. I wasn't going to go into specifics here, I had my eyes glued to the display. Several of the dots disappeared before the reached the vicinity of the enemy ship. I couldn't think of it as a Terran ship. Ellie had the fleets recalled months ago when she had stopped the war. I know because I made it my goal to verify the locations of all the Terran ships involved. I had accounted for all the ships that had participated in the war. That didn't account for any the Usurper had sent like the Tunis whose task it was to kill Ellie and be destroyed and then have it blamed on the Confederacy.
Suddenly the square for the enemy ship blinked out. I sat staring at the screen for several minutes.
"That was too easy," I said to Lottie.
"What do you mean?"
"We destroyed that ship too easily," I repeated, "I wonder if they scuttled it?"
I wasn't so sure about that Terran ships didn't carry scuttle charges like Confederacy ships did. In our fights with the Orsini they often used captured equipment against us. I had seen this first had on Anoxi. The very MRECV that we would have relied on used on us. At least now I didn't shudder and run cold at the thought. I turned my attention back to the display. Marsha was taking it slow. There wasn't anything further I could do.
"Can I?" Lottie asked me.
"Can you what?" I replied.
"Borrow you for a while there's something I want to look up."
"That hasn't stopped you before."
I sighed. "Ok, it isn't as if I've got anything better to do."
I felt a sense of dislocation as Lottie took over. I had been feeling it for a while but it had taken me until now to realise it. I sat at the terminal a disinterested party as Lottie busied herself looking up statistical data from the battle.
"Interesting," she said suddenly.
My comms unit chirped before I had a chance to reply it seemed like there was no end to the interruptions.
"The captain wants you in the ready room," the voice on the other end informed me.
I wondered why the ready room and not the briefing room. I was going to get a dressing down that's how my mind saw it. "I'm on my way," I said reluctantly.
Anger wrestled with despair as I made my way to Marsha's ready room. I noted the absence on anyone on the way up which made me more uneasy. Marsha was seated behind her desk as I entered. She rose from her seat and I walked in.
"You!" she snarled.
"Shut up Marsha!" Lottie yelled, "and you can shut up as well Sandra!"
Marsha stared at me shocked but she wasn't half as shocked as I was.
"You can both calm down!" Lottie continued her rant, "now sit down Marsha! We'll sit this side and have a civilised conversation and not brawl like children in a playground."
Marsha sat back down a glare on her face. I was thankful she wasn't directing at me even though she was looking at me.
"What's this all about?" I asked glad I was back in control of my voice.
"That Terran ship did you know it was here?" Marsha accused me.
"No!" I spluttered my anger rising.
"Well it's a good thing someone was paying attention," Lottie interrupted.
I tried to get a word in edgeways and failed Lottie had firm control of my vocal cords.
"The energy signature was the same as the ship that attacked the Sovran if you had cared to check first before pointing an accusing finger at Sandra!"
I shrugged helplessly at least I was in control of the rest of me even if I could stop my runway mouth.
"The same?" Marsha asked cautiously.
"The same," Lottie started firmly.
"That would mean that the ship has been here before the war?" I actually managed to get a word in, "that's not possible it would need to be re-supplied?" I hesitated. "Unless it went pirate then we would have known about it."
"Remember a Rhosani was in charge of procurement and supply," Lottie remarked.
I hadn't wanted to think about it but Lottie made sense. It was how they smuggled an assassin aboard the Havoc.
"That could be possible?" Marsha conceded, "possible but unlikely." The chirp of her comms interrupted her. "Yes?"
"We completed our scans of the Terran ship there are no life signs," the voice on the other end of Marsha's comms sounded troubled. "We can find any sign of organic material in the wreckage."
"What, scan it again?" Marsha said."
Marsha looked at me.
"You can scan it again," Lottie said, "but I doubt you'll find anything. It was either on remote or computer controlled."
"Certain?" Marsha sounded thoughtful.
"I'm only running on speculation here. I suspect it was computer controlled when the Sovran encountered it. Otherwise Sandra wouldn't be standing in here. I suspect whoever programmed the thing wasn't expecting Sandra to use the tactics she used. It was either expecting to be attacked or the ship to flee. What Sandra did was attack and flee at the same time."
"Why didn't it attack the salvage ship we sent after the Sovran returned?" I asked.
"That's where my speculation fails I'm sorry," Lottie apologised, "though it might have been that you were at war that would have instigated a fleet action."
"That may go part way to why it attacked my decoys so aggressively," Marsha said, "it would go on to explain why it suddenly stopped attacking and dropped it shields. It ran out of fuel." She commed the bridge. "Have the Orion send a salvage team to the wreckage and pick any data recorders they might have."
Marsha turned her attention back to me. "We have one more thing to discuss."
Her tone made it all too clear she was still angry with me and I didn't know why.
"You mean Sandra upsetting Shawna," Lottie said before I could say a word.
Her constant interruptions were starting to wear on my already tattered nerves.
"That wasn't it but we can make it so," Marsha glared at me. I wasn't sure if Lottie or I was the target.
"Sandra will withdraw her resignation it was done in the heat of the moment."
"She does tend to jump in head first," Marsha conceded.
"Exactly, fools rush in where angels fear to tread," Lottie said, "and she'll apologise to Shawna that acceptable?"
Unable to speak I silently cursed her she was using expressions I hadn't heard before.
Marsha sat there a perplexed expression on her face for a minute or so before speaking. "That would go a long way to help."
"And you will assure her that relieving her of her duty was not your decision?"
"Doc Brown overruled me."
"See Sandra," Lottie addressed me directly, "you we worrying over nothing. I'd say kiss and make up but that would be inappropriate here."
"Perhaps later," Marsha said half joking or at last I hoped she was joking. I wasn't going down that road again she had Shawna for that.
"What did you want to discuss with Sandra?"
"You seemed to have covered it all. I want my XO back," Marsha stated.
"Good, now apologise to Marsha, Sandra and withdraw your resignation."
"Like you're giving me a choice," I complained.
"Sandra!" Lottie warned me.
"I'm sorry Marsha I overreacted. I withdraw my resignation."
Marsha's stern expression faded and slight smile replaced it. "We both did. Go back to your duty your watch hasn't finished yet."
"Doc Brown?" I asked. He would be my stumbling block.
"I'll deal with the doctor and I have a report to write."
"Later Marsha," Lottie said.
I stopped in the corridor before the auxiliary bridge angry with Lottie. Again and again she had showed me how vulnerable I was to her.
"You have no right!" I spluttered.
"No right?" Lottie's tone mocked me.
"To keep taking over. It's my body you're only an unwelcome lodger."
"Unwelcome lodger I may be. I'm just trying to steer you right," she reproached me, "you Sandra have a tendency to jump into things with both feet and damn the consequences."
I hated it when she was right and on this she was right. I made to step forward but found I couldn't move. "Let go of me!" I growled my anger rising.
"Not until you see reason. I'm here to help so let me help and be your advisor."
"Advisor when you keep taking me over?"
"I speak, you listen," there was no mistaking the anger in her voice, "take the time to think things through. Tell me you are capable of doing that? Think logically and don't jump to conclusions, like you did with Marsha. You have a good brain in your head I just wish you'd use it? You are intelligent when you want to be but at the moment you are letting your emotions rule you."
I knew she was right, too many times lately I had let my emotions rule me. I was at a loss to explain why. There wasn't any way I could say sorry I had been acting stupid. Lottie was correct, then she always was correct. Perhaps that was what I hated then when I thought over that wasn't the cause. I was hard pressed to see where to start. I turned my thought back and spoke in mind.
"I'm frustrated," I said finally.
"I know, you unconsciously think of him all the time," Lottie stated.
I was confused. "Who?"
"Tony, you miss him he kept you balanced."
I shuddered at the thought again Lottie had shown her wisdom.
"What can I do about it?"
" Nothing at the moment. But you have duty ahead and plans to make. We can worry about Tony later."
I felt her release her hold on me. With a clearer head than I had for a while I entered the bridge. Time would tell if she was right.