Leah looked at Cole. He smiled at her and nodded. She took a deep breath and tapped on the habitat dome door. A minute later, Owen Lykos opened the door.
“Good morning.” He sounded suspicious. “What went wrong?”
“Hi Owen, I was hoping to steal you for a couple of hours,” Leah said. “We were going to head up to that spot we were at the other day.”
After a couple of seconds he nodded. “Sure, let me get my boots.”
A few minutes later Cole was driving the quad to the meeting lodge site.
“So what’s going on?” Owen asked.
“It’s going to be easier to show you,” Leah said.
“You’re not making me feel better. Henry and Marie are okay?”
Cole nodded. “We had dinner with them last night. Marie found some interesting biological samples on the last day of their survey. She’s going to ask you for some lab time.”
Owen snorted. “All but two of my science specialists are dead. She can have all the lab space she wants. It’s been two weeks since they arrived, do you think you’ve got more help coming?”
Leah leaned forward to hear Owen and Cole better. “A few more people at the very least. If we could get some sort of jump capability on our ships, they’d already be here. A few will likely be on the Ericsson unless she’s hauling shuttles bound for somewhere else. The Pathfinder class can only carry three shuttles and the extra crew starts stressing their life support systems pretty fast so it’s not always easy getting a ride out of Hub.”
“I heard the Gyr were going to start installing equipment so the shuttles could use the slingshot gates,” Cole said. “But they said they’d get started ‘soon’ so that could mean tomorrow or a couple of centuries.”
“One of the many interesting issues dealing with a race of immortals,” Leah said.
Owen looked back. “I heard they’re not really immortal?”
Leah shrugged. “Their natural lifespans are ten times that of a human and they bud off new Gyr that carry the same memories as the parent. They might as well be. Marie mentioned there were two other teams that had arrived, both had already put in for warp transport when they left in the Aggie. I’d bet one of them is already hitching a ride with the courier drone. As soon as we file the report, there will be plenty of new faces.”
“If Gavin and his Puritans haven’t overthrown me by then.”
“Puritans?” Cole asked.
“Yes. Back during prep there was a mix-up with the New Plymouth colony. They got a bunch of ours and we got some colonists that were expecting a very different life. A lot of them are pretty angry about it and don’t mix very well with the rest of us, what with the beer drinking and card playing. I’ve had to deal with two separate requests to build stocks in the common. The rumor is that Gavin will let them start mandatory church services if he’s put in charge. I’m sure stocks are on the agenda as well.”
“We’ve got to get that report done,” Leah said. “Sooner that this place changes status, the better.”
Owen nodded but didn’t say anything else until they’d gotten out and were walking next to the massive trunk of the tree.
“Be right back,” Leah said, walking around one of the buttress roots.
Owen looked up at the framework of timbers between the three foundation trees. “Holy…you’ve made incredible progress up there.”
Cole laughed. “I haven’t done very much, there have been five Anek builders working on it.”
“Are those logs bent?”
Cole nodded. “If you go up there, you’ll see the Anek wove them together too.”
“Are they that strong?”
“No, they do something to the wood to make it soft temporarily. Henry’s hobby is woodworking and he says it almost looks the wood has been steamed. They have whole towns in the trees, it’s one method they use to keep them up there.”
Cole nodded. “The females seem to have a natural knack for engineering. I’m told the males are more into spiritual and environmental issues but there’s a lot of mental static around these conversations.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The mental communication isn’t like trading ideas, it’s literally a voice in your head. You don’t need a translation but some concepts just don’t translate.”
“Amazing. Where did your work crew go?”
“They were forced to leave when these guys showed up,” Leah said as she came back to the quad. There were several eloisha gliding along with her, using her head and shoulders as launch pads to get to the nearby tree. They were already grown to the size of sparrows.
The eloisha chirped happily when they saw Cole and three of them landed on him briefly before launching themselves back into the air, whistling and chirping to each other. They seemed drawn to Cole and Leah and one of the Anek “carpenters” had confirmed they were Cole and Leah’s broods last night.
“These are called eloisha, they’re immature Anek,” Leah said.
“Are they dangerous?”
“Not at all,” Cole said.
“They’re very curious though,” Leah said. “Don’t wear anything shiny or they’ll steal it.”
Owen held up a hand and one them landed on it and looked at him.
“Cute little buggers. Why did they chase your work crew away?”
“You remember that they use a scent communication?” Leah said. “Those chemicals are toxic to these little guys until their last stage of development.”
“So they’re on their own at birth?”
“Pretty much,” Leah said. “They’ll spend a few years growing, the ones that survive will eventually make their way to Anek settlements and join the community there. One of the many problems they’ve been having is the high predation rate of eloisha. Those large fliers you see around the colony? They eat a lot of eloisha.”
Cole blew a puff of air at one that was hovering and it hooted, riding the gust toward the tree. “The adults try not to spend long around the young, in spite of leaving them to the forest for years, they’ve still got fairly strong parental feelings for them.”
“That’s got to be rough. How long do they have to wait for these little guys to move on?”
“We’re figuring that out at the moment,” Leah said. “The eloisha are active from first light to later afternoon. Our tentative plan is to start work before dawn and stop when they start appearing. Then after they roost, we’ll go back to work until it’s too dark. They’ve got some limited artificial lights, we’re planning to get a few flood lights from the colony to help. Cole is planning a sort of coop for them to gather in, there’s another large invertebrate predator that attacks them at night.”
“I’m surprised they made it as far as they did with all these issues,” Owen said. One of them landed on his shoulder and examined his face. He turned to look at it and the eloisha hooted and pushed off into the air again. Owen laughed and it made a noise back that sounded almost like his voice.
“That’ll be a male,” Leah said. “They seem to be natural mimics. Remember I said that their reproduction cycle was complicated? One of the key elements, a symbiote, was affected by the meteor impact that made the colony. It seemed to create some kind of insanity or sickness and the Anek lost them all. They’ve been trying to invent a better method for the last few hundred years but nothing has been working very well.”
“They’re cute,” Owen said. “I’m glad we’re keeping them safe. So construction will be delayed some?”
“Once the basic platform is up, the humans can keep working during the day on smaller projects. I was thinking we’d steal Henry and Marie as they’re available to help. After you announce the news I’m guessing we’ll get a few volunteers.”
“Probably. I’m guessing you didn’t bring me up here to show me this.”
“It’s related to the eloisha,” Leah said. “They’re attracted to me and Cole for a reason…”
Cole was impressed that Owen didn’t interrupt, just listened as Leah told the whole story, from setting up that fateful night beside the creek, to the first official meeting with the Elders.
When she was done Owen sighed. “I knew there was something else. I’m not an idiot, I could see there was something more but I thought I could trust you.”
“I’m sorry we misled you,” Leah said. “I knew what your first reaction would be.”
“You mean placing you both under arrest and locking down my colony?” Owen snapped. “You’re goddammed right I would! How do I know that you two aren’t still under their control? Are you just setting us all up to be incubators? For fuck’s sake Captain!”
“They’re not being controlled,” Marie said from above them. “They’re exactly who they were before.”
Owen looked up. “And I suppose the other one of you is around here somewhere with a gun? I’ll have an unfortunate ‘accident’ if I don’t go along with this?”
“Henry doesn’t know about this. I don’t trust him,” Marie said, hopping off the root and holding out her hands. “They thought you’d wonder, so they brought me up here. I’ve never even seen an adult Anek.”
“And I’m supposed to just take your word for that.”
Marie shrugged. “I don’t care if you do or not, Leah wanted you to have some reassurance though. I know these two, Administrator. I’ve known them both for a long time and they would both die protecting your colony.”
“But they can make you feel things, so they could be lying to you as well. For that matter, you could have already been influenced and made to forget about it.”
“They’re not gods. And feel things is a little bit of a stretch,” Cole said. “The communication through touch is fairly simple for them. Creating a physical response is much harder.”
“Honestly, how am I supposed to believe that? Now that I know they can create emotions…”
“Not emotions,” Leah said patiently. “Physical responses. Lust isn’t an emotion, it’s a physiological reaction.”
Owen shook his head. “Not good enough. I’m seriously considering arresting all four of you for endangering my colony.”
“I’m sorry Administrator,” Marie said quietly. “You don’t have that authority. We’re functioning as a First Contact Team and nothing takes precedence over that. You’re welcome to take any precautions you like with your colony but we are beyond your authority.”
“I understand what’s going through your head,” Cole said. He sat on the edge of the root. “But if they wanted to take us all as incubators, they would have done it already. You couldn’t stop them. Not because they take over your mind. Physically they’re way stronger and faster than we are. Even with modern weapons you would have a very difficult time stopping even one of them. Think about the fact that they pleaded for our help instead of just taking what they needed.”
“They seem to be amazed at the power of our minds as a matter of fact,” Leah said. “More importantly the Anek are highly ethical. In our first meeting, it was declared taboo for any Anek to use unwilling humans as tathinni, as ‘incubators’ as you called it.”
“Unwilling humans,” Owen said. “You really think anyone will do this willingly?”
“I will, and happily,” Leah said. “I spent too much time in the Van Allen radiation, I’m sterile.”
“We both are,” Cole said.
Owen looked at Marie and she shrugged and nodded. “It’s happened to most, maybe all, of the Vanguard. There’s bands of radiation around nearly every planet with a magnetic field and shielding can only do so much.”
“That’s not why you went along with this the first time,” Owen said.
Cole laughed. “Uh, no. Like Leah said, it was a surprise. A happy accident. They weren’t thinking straight, we were already focused on our…evening plans, so it was easier to influence us. I don’t know if I’d go through it again, but I’m glad I did it once.”
“Why don’t you meet one of them, Owen? I think it would clear a lot of things up.”
“I’m supposed to leave that to the FCT, only when diplomatic ties are formalized do the Administrators meet with Other civilization delegates.”
“Yay, so you read the manuals,” Leah said. “So what? Those are written by Committee members along with the Cultural Affairs department. Neither of them have anything to do with first contacts. It would help if you sat down with Anek.”
Owen sighed. “It doesn’t change the fact that what happened here could have gone so badly I don’t even want to think about it. Is there anything else I need to know here? Anything at all, Captain.”
“All three of you, listen. You’re not out on a mission by yourselves right now. There a lot of innocent people that can’t just jump in a shuttle and run away if things go wrong.”
“I have never run away.” Leah’s voice was dangerously low.
“Shut up. You wanted me to be in charge, I’m terribly sorry if I’m not your ideal puppet but you’re going to listen. We’re stuck on Arboreal and frankly, things here are fucked up. Gavin and his friends could destroy this place with this information. Did you think about that?”
“How hard would it have been to keep this information from you, Administrator?” Leah said. “Part of the reason we waited was to see if we could trust you.”
“It’s why we asked you to come out here,” Cole said. “We’re figuring he’s hacked your tablet at the least. Xerx and Aggie take care of ours but we’re still using your network. Assume he’s gotten into anything with a microphone in fact.”
“Oh shit, the quad has a sound pickup…”
“…and is behind that giant buttress root,” Leah said. “We tried it out already.”
“Xerx analyzed a piece of the bark,” Cole said. “There are a lot of metals present, her theory, based on a cross section, is that there’s an EM field generated by the movement of water up and down the trunk.”
“That sounds like it would take a lot of water.”
Cole grinned. “This is a lot of tree. Of course they’re not really trees the way we understand them, why would they be? Either way, we’re pretty safe from prying eyes out here.”
“Owen, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you at first, but we didn’t know you and we weren’t willing to risk the Anek over a mistake.”
The administrator sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, I understand what you were doing, I’m just going to have a lot of nightmares about all the things that could have gone wrong.”
“The thing to remember is that they didn’t,” Marie said.
“Owen is an avowed pessimist,” Cole explained.
“Speaking of which, remember that I’m making the announcement tomorrow at noon. You can figure Gavin will be using this issue somehow.”
“I don’t understand that,” Marie said. “Arboreal is going to have a big boost from the status change. Better access to supplies, more access to specialists and support teams. Life if going to be better.”
Owen smiled. “Your naiveté is heart-warming. A better life is not what Gavin is after, it’s power. If he held a coup and became Administrator while this was still a backwater colony the Committee on Hub probably wouldn’t pay much attention. When Arboreal changes status, we’ll move from the Civil Committee’s control to being run by the CMC. He’s smart enough to realize he won’t be able to strong-arm everyone once that happens.”
“I requested a security team since he could interfere with the FCT work,” Leah said. “But it’s two more days until the courier drone goes over and then another couple of days for transit, half of another day to get to the proper people, get a team together and get them in transit back here. We’ve got at least a week, probably two, before we get any real support.”
“All four of you need to realize that you are in his way as much as I am. It doesn’t matter if you’re CMC or not, Gavin and his people are as much a danger to you as they are to me.”
Cole nodded. “That’s why I think we should hang around the colony today for the announcement. We’ll visit Xerxes and come out tomorrow afternoon. I need to see the reactions to get an idea of what people are thinking. And you could use some backup.”
“What about the Anek?” Owen asked. “Getting this built is important.”
“Cole and Leah are both military specialists,” Marie said. “I’m science, so I’ll stay here.”
“And we’re not sure when the Anek are coming back,” Leah said. “They work on their own schedule.”
“I need to get back to the colony before there’s another uproar,” Owen said. “You want a ride, Captains?”
Owen dropped Cole and Leah at the field and they walked out to their shuttle.
“Hey! That’s a restricted area!” Brad yelled from behind them.
They stopped and turned around. Brad was standing in the doorway of the operations building, waving them back.
“When did this become a restricted area?” Leah asked him.
“It’s always been restricted. It’s a hazardous area, machinery moving around, stuff like that.”
Leah and Cole looked around. The area was completely silent and nothing moved. Owen had mentioned that he’d had to ground the colony’s gyrocopters since the lack of technicians or machinists meant they weren’t being maintained.
“Looks safe enough to me,” Cole said. “If you really need authorization for us to visit our own ship, I’ll come in there and show you the exact regulation.”
Brad sneered. “Yeah, well, regulations are changing now.”
Leah laughed. “You halfwits are going to try and take on the CMC?”
“What do you mean?”
Cole smiled at the sudden look of uncertainty on Brad’s face. “We’re governed by CMC regulations. We don’t answer to colonial authorities. Do you need me to point that passage out as well?”
“Stay right there. I’ll contact the administration office.” Brad shut the door.
“Come on,” Leah said and they walked across the open concrete to the shelter where Xerxes and Agamemnon were parked.
Henry was already there, arguing with a couple of technicians.
“What’s going on?” Leah asked.
“Aggie called me and I just got here. These two were trying to break in,” Henry said.
“No, I told you we weren’t breaking in!” the older technician protested. “Operations sent a work order to link these two AIs into our comm network.”
“No,” Henry said. “You’re not authorized access to either ship.”
“Sir, if you don’t comply, we’re going to call security,” the other technician said. “It’s an order from Operations.”
“Let me save you a headache,” Cole said. He opened a document on his tablet and held it up. “You have zero jurisdiction over CMC equipment, your Operations department has zero jurisdiction over our movement or access to our ship.”
“I don’t care what that says. We’ll let security will sort it out,” the technician said.
The older one rolled her eyes. “What security, Craig?”
“I’ve had enough,” the younger one said. “I’m reporting you and all the rest of this bullshit to Operations.”
He stalked out of the hangar.
The woman shook her head. “Captain, I’m sorry. I didn’t know about the regulations, I got thrown into this when the technical people died. I usually work construction, habs and that kind of thing.”
“Sorry for the mix-up,” Leah said. “You don’t have to worry about either of these ladies from now on. They’re in touch with us and we’ll arrange anything they need.”
“You didn’t hear this from me, but Craig and his friend in Operations were already planning to lock you up if you don’t let them inspect the ships,” the tech said, picking up her bag. “Things are getting weird around here.”
“If they manage to detain us, don’t be around these two ships,” Leah said. “The SI is hardwired to immediately get off into orbit if we are incapacitated, no matter what’s in the way.”
“Where they start screaming bloody murder,” Henry said. “It happened on New Plymouth to a CMC team that got thrown in the stocks for wearing pants or swearing or something. The Rangers that arrived from Hub weren’t amused.”
The tech nodded. “I’ve heard nothing good about that place. Brad, the guy in ops probably came up with it on his own. Wouldn’t be the first time he did something like that. I gotta go back to patching roofs but I’ll stop by the Administration office and give Owen a heads-up.”
Leah thanked her and followed Cole inside of the ship. He was unhooking latches on a locker set into the floor.
“Hi Miss Xerx, did anyone try and access your systems?” Leah asked.
“No Leah, I heard them say they’d start with Aggie. I’m concerned about the communications interference created by the planet. If they had begun work on this ship, I would have had no choice but to depart the planet if neither of you were available.”
“Pretty girl, I don’t want you to hesitate,” Leah said. “We’ll take care of ourselves until you can get us help.”
” I understand and will comply. But I don’t like that order, Captain. ”
“Why don’t we move her to visual range of the meeting lodge?” Cole asked as he pulled two bundles out of the floor. “It would be simple to run another laser link out to her. Anything in the open environment that would harm you, Xerx?”
“I have not detected anything yet, Cole. I think this plan has merit, Leah.”
“Let’s do that, then,” Leah said. “Would you discuss it with Aggie please? I think you two would be better off together.”
“She’s discussing it with Captain Rogeau now,” Xerxes said. “Once you are clear, I can begin moving to establish visual contact with the area you indicated on the map.”
“We’ll be in the immediate area until this evening or tomorrow morning,” Cole said. “I’ll message you when we’re moving back to the meeting lodge area. Continue with the restricted access plan in the meantime.”
“Understood, Cole. The Agamemnon has received instructions to follow me to the new parking area. I note that you have accessed the weapons locker, Cole. Both of you be careful, please.”
After Leah and Cole promised that they would be careful they left the ship and walked back across the concrete toward the Operations building.
“Let’s warn them that she’ll be moving,” Cole said, heading for the door. Leah smiled, knowing that the weapons they were now carrying provided their own warning.
Brad and Craig were talking as they walked in but were immediately quiet. Everyone in the room stared at the side-arms and assault weapons the two of them carried.
“Wanted to let you know, both shuttles will be moving to new parking areas,” Cole said.
“Then I need to know where and when you’re moving them.” Brad said. “That’s in the regulations.”
There was a beeping alarm from outside as the Xerxes powered out of the hangar and turned in place. She pulled ahead and waited as the Agamemnon completed the same maneuver. They both rolled down the runway, leaving the operations building behind.
“Just about now,” Leah said.
“Who’s driving them?” Brad demanded, staring out the window.
“They’re SI controlled, they’re driving themselves,” Leah said. “You won’t have to worry about trying to access them now. Since they’re outside, both shuttles have armed their security turrets, I’d recommend everyone keeps their distance. The stunner rounds aren’t pleasant at all. We’ve got to get to work now.”
No one said anything, just stared as they turned and left.
“Security turrets?” Cole asked as they walked to the Admin building. “Stunner rounds?”
“If they don’t know about SI controls, they’ll believe anything at the moment,” Leah said and Cole laughed.
There was a system wide message posted to their tablets as they walked down the path to the colony. Owen had announced a mandatory meeting for all residents after lunch.
“Let the games begin,” Leah said.
Leah and Owen met Henry in Owen’s office. They kept working through all of the material that had to be included in the initial report. Since the intervals in courier contact were far apart, there were a ton of other messages as well. Everything from requesting the status change from colony to scientific outpost/embassy to requesting specialists and equipment. Owen carefully encrypted everything before uploading it to the colony’s servers for transmittal.
Cole sat back and stretched. “I really need the bathroom, be right back.” He went into the outer office where Maya was sitting at her console.
“Seems like there’s suddenly a lot going on around here,” she said, smiling at him.
“Too much if you ask me. Sorry, too much coffee,” Cole said. He was hoping she’d be busy with something else when he came out but she’d gotten up and was waiting for him beside her desk, standing between him and Owen’s door.
“You wouldn’t be trying to avoid the question, Captain?” she said in a teasing voice. Maya was shorter than average, Cole guessed she was a meter six with breasts and hips that were large on her petite frame. She had long black hair and dark eyes and her golden brown skin reflected her Central American heritage. She was wearing the khaki shorts that most colonists wore, although hers were shorter and fit more snugly. Instead of the t-shirts that most people wore, she was wearing a tight white oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled past her elbows and the top three buttons undone. She gave him a lazy smile and unbuttoned the fourth button. “Can I have just one little hint?”
“Hmm, one little hint. Okay, some changes are coming and Owen will be letting everyone know at lunch today.”
“Come on, I figured that out on my own. That’s not much of a hint,” she said with a trace of a pout.
“It was only one button,” Cole said, giving her his classic fighter pilot grin.
She smiled and looked down, undoing another button. She looked back up at him, pulling her shoulders back slightly to open the shirt and expose the white lace of the bra underneath. “What does two buttons get me?”
“Hmm, a little more I guess. He’ll be filing a request to change Arboreal’s colony status.”
“Really? To what? Did you guys find something important?”
Cole winked. “I don’t think you have that many buttons, but you can try to change my mind if you’d like.”
She laughed. “I heard rumors about CMC officers, are you all this naughty?”
“Some of us are even worse. I should get back in there before they start wondering what happened to me.”
“Before your wife finds you out here trying to get me out of my clothes you mean.”
Cole give her the cocky grin again. “True, but only because she’s a lot better than I am at getting pretty girls out of their clothes. Gets embarrassing, you know?”
Maya smiled at him. “You’re doing just fine so far, sexy.” She reached over and opened Owen’s door for him without moving. As he squeezed by, she pushed herself against him and her hand brushed his crotch. “Mmm. Maybe we’ll talk about more hints later.”
“Can’t wait,” Cole murmured and went back into Owen’s office.
The other three were going over the data. Cole sat back down and Leah glanced at him and back at Owen’s screen and then gave him a longer look. “I know that look. What are you up to?”
“What makes you think I’m up to something?” Cole flicked his eyes at the door and shook his head slightly.
Leah smiled and looked back at the screen. “You’ve got that bad-boy look on your face.”
Owen looked up at him and then at Leah who smiled innocently at him. “I don’t want to know,” he muttered, looking back down. “I think we’re good on this one, I’m going to send it to the message queue.”
Leah held up her hand without saying anything and reached over and selected the special encryption option and entered a ten-digit number. “There, let’s just get rid of this comma and put one down here.”
“What are you…”Owen glanced at his door. “Oh. You’re a grammar nazi on top of everything else? Okay, that’s done. Next, I want to talk about this biological EM interference. Henry said he had a few ideas…”
As they talked, Cole texted Leah a long message. She looked down at her tablet and read it and then looked at him.
ruthless and evil, it’s perfect. go for it!
There was a tap on the door forty-five minutes later and Maya stepped in. “Excuse me Owen. Brad called from operations. Both shuttles were moved to new parking areas and he’s concerned that unscheduled arrivals won’t be able to land.”
“There were some questions about maintenance this morning,” Leah said. “Both of them were moved to the auxiliary area halfway down the runway. He must have finally found a regulation that he could use.”
“That should be fine,” Owen said. “Are they taking up too much space there or something?”
“I’ll go ask him,” Maya said. A minute later she was back. “He’s…being Brad. He wants you to go look and personally okay it. I told him you’re busy but he’s kicking up a fuss. Do you want me to go take a picture or something?”
“That would be an idea. Cole, you should go too, that way you can move them around if there’s a problem,” Leah said. “Work for you, Owen?”
“I think Brad is just being a little overcautious…” Owen started to say. His tablet chimed and he looked down and frowned and read the message. “But let’s nip this in the bud. You don’t mind, Cole?”
“My legs could use a stretch actually.”
“Could you guys give me the room, I’d like a quick word with my assistant,” Owen said. They got up and filed out of the room.
“Maya, you know there’s some big changes coming. I’d like you to be ready to assume more responsibility…” they heard Owen say as the door closed.
“What are you two up to?” Henry said quietly.
“She was trading cleavage for leaked intel,” Cole said. “It’s a good opportunity to do a little counter-intel since she’s feeding data to the troublemakers.”
“No, it’s the best way to deal with a mole, tell them what you want your opponents to hear. Haven’t you read any spy novels?” Leah said.
“That’s not what I meant. How much cleavage are we talking?” Henry whispered.
Leah rolled her eyes and Cole laughed. “Got a peek of her bra.”
“You lucky bastard. Let me know if you need me to play a role.”
Leah raised an eyebrow. “Even seducing Gavin?”
Henry shrugged. “I guess he’s cute enough, in a brutish sort of way. Why? You think he goes that way?”
Cole and Leah laughed and Henry looked outraged. “Bitches, I’m fucking sexy, don’t you think I couldn’t turn him! I’d have to read up on how it works but…”
Please stop,” Leah laughed. “Far be it from me to doubt your skills. Cole, if you don’t see her nipples before lunch I’m going to be disappointed in you.”
“I’ll do my best, Captain.”
“And I expect details,” Henry said.
“And pictures,” Leah said and Henry nodded quickly.
The office door opened and Maya came out, smiling. “Are you ready to go, Cole?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. Leah winked at him and followed Henry back into the office as Cole followed Maya outside.
“What was that all about?” Owen said when they sat down. “Keeping him away from Maya if she’s digging hard might be a better idea. She’s probably not above making some serious attempts at finding out. Like, the naked kind.”
Leah waved a hand. “Then she’s got her work cut out for her. Cole was a fighter pilot and usually got panties moist just by smiling. We think she’s leaking data to Gavin, correct?”
“Right. Why do you ask?”
Leah smiled and Henry did his best French villain laugh.
Owen’s eyebrows went up and he shook his head. “I don’t know if I want to know. You people are beginning to frighten me.”
Henry spoke up first, surprising Leah. “Look, first contacts are too important to risk because you’ve got some malcontents. If we can start disrupting them now, it’ll make the job of the security team easy. The less disruption, the better. Right?”
“It’s a nice day, let’s take a shortcut through the park,” Maya said. Cole shrugged and followed her. There was no way this was a shortcut but it was secluded. Cole put his hand in his pocket and switched the tablet to record mode. He didn’t know about pictures, but if she was playing games, an audio record would be useful. He let Maya do the talking as they walked. Mostly it was the usual gossip; who was sleeping around, who had cheated at the poker tournament, that kind of thing.
“We can cut through here,” Maya said, taking the path into the trees and Cole followed her into the dappled shade. On Earth this would have been a grove of pretty good sized trees, but these were just saplings. At some point in the future they’d become the gargantuan specimens of the forest.
“These have grown three meters since we arrived,” Maya said, patting one as she walked by. “I hope I get to see them reach full size. What’s the big forest like? I wish we could go see it but it’s off limits.”
Cole was surprised, she actually sounded curious. “Beautiful actually. The trees get even larger further away from the colony and the really big ones generate their own microclimates, moving the air around. It can get rough to move around in places between them, the roots come to the surface and wrap around each other. If you don’t mind me asking, I got the idea that the colonists didn’t like the forest.”
“That’s just people like Gavin and his friends. Lots of us love them, when I saw the first pictures of the planet I immediately signed up for the colony. Gavin thought he’d be able to come here and start a lumber business.” She laughed. “Even if a saw could get through the bark, how would you cut down a skyscraper? What would you do with it when you cut it down? Did you see different kinds of animals while you were out there?”
“A few of them, but we weren’t actually looking too closely on that pass, just making maps. Our preliminary reports will be available on your net, probably by tomorrow or Friday.”
She stopped and looked up. They were standing near the base of the largest group of trees in the grove. “Are the animals interesting? All we see around here are those giant flyers and some insect looking things”
“Some of them are spectacular for sure.”
“I can’t wait to read it. Hey, I want to show you something.”
Cole raised his eyebrows and she laughed. “Not what you’re thinking. It’s my favorite spot in the park.”
She led Cole off the path a few meters. Roots from the largest tree came to the surface and wrapped around several house sized boulders. There was a spring between them somewhere, Cole could smell it and hear the water trickling.
“I like coming here to sit,” Maya said, pointing to a smooth rock covered in dappled sunlight.
“I can see why, it’s gorgeous.”
She sat on the rock and looked at him. “And pretty private. So, those hints about what’s going on. Want to negotiate?”
“I’m tempted to say yes, but my conscience is getting the better of me. By the time we get back to the office it’ll be lunchtime and everyone will know.”
“I don’t mind. I just like knowing a secret before everyone else. So let’s talk about what I can I do to get a little more data here.” She unbuttoned her shirt and leaned back.
Cole shook his head and she frowned. “Why not?”
“I told you, it wouldn’t be fair. As much as I’d like to see what’s under that shirt, I’m not going to mislead you. Tell you what, promise you’ll stay quiet until the meeting and I’ll tell you. But I don’t want you to steal Owen’s thunder.”
“Oh, that’s why he’s keeping it such a secret? I mean, I know he doesn’t like me, but I wouldn’t do that to him.”
“Why do you say he doesn’t like you?”
“Well, you know what it’s like being in a new place, right? Maybe not, were you ever a refugee or a colonist? I got left in a group of people I didn’t know. You have to start all over and finding someone you like and trust is the most important thing, to me anyway. When I got here, I noticed Owen right away. I really liked him but he just ignored me. It was kind of rude, but I got over it. He probably thought I was just hitting on him because he was the Admin. But I like working for him, he does an amazing job for us.”
“You ended up partnered with Gavin, right?”
“If you can call it that. Mostly he hangs around his drinking buddies and just comes home to screw and sleep. But I guess people put up with worse, he leaves me alone most of the time and I’m not too lonely.”
“Maya, I’m surprised you didn’t know this already, but Owen is gay. Maybe it’s not common knowledge.”
Cole almost laughed at the look on Maya’s face.
“Ohhh! That’s why he keeps to himself, I never would have guessed. Oh my god! I thought he was just being stuck up! But there’s a couple of guys here that are gay, more that are bi, he’s never hit on anyone at all. Not that I heard anyway.”
“Finding a partner isn’t as important to some people. He seems pretty married to his job, right? After the outbreak this place has gotten a lot trickier to run and there are people making it harder on him.”
“Now I feel awful, I had no idea.”
“But I don’t know if it’s common knowledge or not,” Cole warned.
“Oh, I never tell any of the secrets I find out! That would be so bad!”
Cole raised his eyebrows again. “Never?”
“No! Well, if there’s something I can’t stand to keep to myself, well, it’s kind of stupid…”
Cole smiled. “I’ll trade you that secret for mine.”
She laughed. “Okay, but you’d better keep this to yourself. When I was little we lived way up in Alaska, my dad was a geologist. There weren’t any other kids my age and so I had imaginary friends. I called them invisible, they weren’t imaginary to me.”
“I understand, my dad was Air Force in Germany but my mom was a German national and we lived off base. So I didn’t really fit anywhere.”
“Then you know what it’s like. There were other kids around when we moved to Montana but I was kinda chubby and got teased.”
She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. “Since I already had my invisible friends, I just kept to myself. When I went away to college, I just got in the habit of writing them letters. I guess it’s more of a journal really. I know, it’s stupid.”
Cole shook his head and sat beside her on the rock. “I think that’s a pretty smart way to deal with things.”
Be careful you’re not getting played here, Morgan, Cole thought to himself.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Then I was the first one from my town to qualify for the colonies, my degree was in chemistry. I had some friends and my parents were on the list too. But then the attacks started and I don’t think any of them made it to the emergency evac ships.”
“Yeah, they didn’t manage to get enough of those ships off Earth before the rocks started falling. Then the fighter attacks on the way to Hub took out even more.”
She glared at him. “Don’t you dare say anything bad about the defenders! What were they supposed to do? Even the Commonwealth couldn’t stop the Dominion, what were humans in tiny fighters supposed to do? A lot of them died saving the rest of us you know. Now everyone acts like an expert and blames them…”
“Maya. I wasn’t saying a single bad thing about them, I promise. I know how bad they wanted to get everyone to safety and I know the pilots in the Defense think the same thing. There just wasn’t enough time is all I’m saying.”
“Sorry. I hear people bad mouth them and I get so angry… Anyway, I got to Hub and then there were more than a few people who wanted to be ‘friends’ but I’m not an idiot, I know I’m not a chubby shy kid now. Well, on the outside anyway. Growing up, I already learned not to trust people who wanted to be ‘friends’ to try and get something out of me. So I stuck to myself and started writing to my oldest friends again so I wasn’t so lonely. I don’t even put them in emails, it’s just text I put in a folder.”
Suddenly things started making sense to Cole. “Maya, do you let anyone else read your letters?”
“God, no! Some of it, well, it’s silly. I always keep my tablet password locked.”
Cole watched her carefully, he was pretty sure she was being honest. Still, the Mati Hari routine, trying to trade some skin for data didn’t really fit here. And ending up with Gavin after being careful around people before? Was anyone ever that lonely?
“Anyway, we should get to ops before Brad has a meltdown,” Maya said. She let go of her knees.
“Yeah, well, Brad pissed me off this morning,” Cole said. “He ordered a maintenance crew to access our ships without asking us.”
“CMC property? On whose authority?” Maya said. “Owen wouldn’t do that!”
“Someone mentioned he went off the rails sometimes, I guess he was showing initiative. I ordered the shuttles to move and I know Xerxes is too smart to be in a dangerous place on a runway. But I don’t mind letting him sweat a while.”
“Ooh, he makes me so mad,” Maya fumed. “He’s always trying to order me around, even after hours. Or he’s hinting he wants to hook up when Gavin’s not around even though they’re supposed to be friends.”
“I’m kind of surprised you ended up in that crowd,” Cole said, helping her to her feet.
Maya shrugged. “Gavin was charming at first, I liked him when we were first setting up. When we found we were going to be on the same work schedule he talked about hooking up. I didn’t know anyone else and I was pretty lonely. I’d already tried with Owen, I figured Gavin wasn’t too bad. He’s okay, but yeah, his crowd is kind of rough.”
“Okay, I owe you one secret. Promise me you won’t write any letters before lunch?”
She looked at him like he was an idiot. “That’s something I do in the evenings. I’m not that lonely. Are you really going to tell me?”
“Yep. While we were out last time we were contacted by sentient natives.”
Maya’s eyes got very big. “No!”
“Truth. Owen is announcing that the status of the colony is changing to scientific mission. They’re in trouble and asking for our help.”
“Wow. But now we’ll have to leave since they’re sentient?”
“Only if you want to. We’ve been working with Owen so he can remain the administrator. CMC will want to leave people here if they want to stay, outposts use the same kind of support staff.”
“That’s amazing!” Maya hugged Cole who laughed and hugged her back. She stepped back and looked at her open shirt and then at him. “You know, you could’ve traded a lot for that.”
“Nope, I told you it wouldn’t be fair.”
She gave him a funny look. “Thank you Cole, that was really sweet of you. I’m impressed that you turned down a peek at some really spectacular tits.”
Cole laughed. “I bet they are, but it wouldn’t be as fun if I cheated.”
She buttoned up her shirt. “And your wife’s are probably just as good.”
“I won’t lie, they’re also spectacular.”
Maya grinned and shook her head. “Come on, let’s get to the landing strip. Did she know I was trying to get secrets out of you?”
“Of course. She said she’d be disappointed if I didn’t see at least a nipple.”
Maya laughed. “I should’ve known.”
They continued on through the forest and were almost out when Cole stopped. “I’ve been wondering something and I can’t think of a diplomatic way to ask.”
She stopped and faced him. “So don’t be diplomatic, just ask.”
“You said you avoided people that wanted to be friends for physical reasons, but before…”
Maya smiled and started walking down the path again. “I see what you’re asking. First I’m the little shy girl with no friends and suddenly I’m offering you a look at my rack. Well, there’s two things at work there; I’m using my available resources to get what I want.”
Cole laughed. “Fair enough.”
“The other thing, well, you hear about CMC officers and how you guys party. I’m tired of a few thrusts from Gavin before he rolls over and starts snoring. I wouldn’t have traded a fuck for a secret if that’s what you’re wondering. But you’re hot and flirting with you is fun. If it led to a little adventure, so much the better. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t tempt you, I would’ve liked showing you my tits.”
“What makes you think you didn’t tempt me? I just have a really strong conscience.”
She looked at him and smiled as they followed the path around the park to the operations building. She was quiet until they were almost there.
“Wait. Now I want to ask you something and no bullshit. Was this walk a ploy to get me out of the office?”
“I don’t think so, but sending me along was.”
“And you got really interested in my letter writing. Goddammit!”
Cole saw tears in her eyes.
“I’m not stupid. You guys think I ‘m a leak, don’t you? That dirty motherfucking son-of-a-bitch hacked my tablet, didn’t he? He’s been using me all along for his ‘Culture of Resistance’ bullshit!”
“I think that’s probably what happened,” Cole said gently. “If it’s any consolation, I believe you.”
“I hate people so much,” she said as she wept. “And those assholes in Operations will know I was crying and that’ll be all over the place and…”
“Tell you what, let’s walk back. We can deal with Brad after lunch.”
They headed back up the path and Maya sniffed as she kicked a rock across the ground. “I should have known Gavin was just another asshole out to use me, I should know how men get by now. Now I’ve got resign and I really liked this job, and I was good at it. I’ll talk to Owen and transfer to one of the farms. God I hate farming.”
“What do you think about letting me help you out?”
She looked at him and wiped her eyes. “Why? What do you want from me? Don’t think you’re getting in my pants.”
“Okay, relax. First reason is that I don’t want you to get hurt over this. You were tricked and that’s no reason to punish you, you did nothing wrong.”
“I was stupid.”
Cole shrugged. “Even if you were, that’s hardly a crime. I think you were lonely and making the best of things. Second, I’d try to help anyone in this situation, so don’t start with the sex thing. I know how you women get.”
She smiled a little through the tears and swatted his arm.
“There’s a third reason but it’s a little selfish. We have to deal with Gavin and if you’re interested in helping us with that, I think we could help you get some revenge.”
“How much revenge?”
Cole smiled. “People will be making fun of him instead of listening to him after we’re done.”
“Really? Then I’m in. Hell hath no fury and all that.”
“I’m still working it out, but it’ll be fun. We’ll sit down with Owen and Leah after lunch and talk this out.”
“…so there’s going to be some big changes in the way the colony is administered,” Owen said. “I’m still working on the details with Cole and Leah but I’m going to work very hard to keep disruptions to a minimum. I can answer a few questions now but if I don’t get to yours, submit it on colony net and I’ll post answers there.”
Not surprisingly, Gavin was first on his feet. “Administrator, how long have you kept us in the dark about this situation?”
“Kept you in the dark? No one was kept in the dark, Gavin. Leah notified me a few days ago, we’ve been working on some administrative issues since then.”
“And you think that’s responsible leadership? We all should have known, immediately so we could take steps to protect ourselves!”
“Protect yourself from what, exactly?”
“The aliens! Are you simple or just criminally negligent?”
There was a mutter from the audience at that but he ignored them.
“You don’t need protecting,” Leah said. “They’ve been observing your colony since you arrived. If they were going to be hostile, it already would have happened.”
Gavin sneered at her. “No one asked you a question, CMC stooge.”
People were turning in their seats, looking at him now.
“I’ll ask her then,” an older woman said. “Excuse his rudeness please, Captain. You’re sure they’re not hostile?”
“No ma’am, they are not. Very much the opposite in fact.”
Brad jumped to his feet. “How are we supposed to believe anything the CMC tells us? They’re not accountable to anyone here, how do we know there’s aliens at all? Maybe they just want to grab the colony for themselves!”
“All four of us you mean?” Leah asked and there were some laughs.
“No one’s talking to you. This is a colony meeting, why are you even here?”
“Because they’re the experts on this, Bradley,” Owen said, rubbing his eyes. “And colony-wide meetings aren’t closed, never have been. Next question please, Andy.”
Another of Gavin’s supporters shouted over the man, demanding to be told how they could best defend their land from the alien menace. The meeting quickly turned into a shouting match and Owen nodded toward the door. He left with Maya and Cole and Leah followed them out a minute later. A few other people got up to leave as well but everyone else was on their feet, shouting at each other.
Leah told Owen they’d meet him back in his office. They hadn’t had a chance to eat and she and Cole were going to grab a bar from the hab. As they walked down the path, Leah shook her head. “Owen is a goddamn saint. I would not have had that kind of patience.”
“You and I need to have a serious talk with Owen,” Cole said quietly.
She chuckled. “But did you see nipples?”
“Even better.” He stopped and hugged her closely. “Not around the tablets,” he whispered in her ear and she squeezed his ass. “Somewhere secluded with no comm-net. There’s a good spot in that forest park.”
There were a couple of whistles as some colonists walked past.
“You keep blowing in my ear like that, there’s gonna be trouble,” Leah announced and there was laughter from the passersby.
Cole opened the door and looked at Maya and nodded. She got up without saying anything and left with him. A few minutes later Leah went into the admin building and leaned on the doorframe to Owen’s office.
“I’m tired of being inside, let’s go for a walk,” Leah said, walking in.
“Kinda busy here at the moment. Go walk by yourself.”
“You’re neglecting your body, Administrator. Do I have to order you to get some exercise?”
He looked at her curiously. “I guess not. Where are we going?”
Maya and Cole were waiting just inside the forest and Maya led them off the path to her rock.
“God, this is gorgeous. You’re right Leah, I need to get out more,” Owen said. “But this isn’t a chance meeting.”
“We already know there’s no tablet access in the trees,” Leah said. “And you’re right, it’s pretty. Cole, you said it was urgent that we all talk.”
“It’s about me,” Maya said. “Administrator Lykos, I want to apologize to you. I was careless and that has made your job much worse. I was talking with Cole earlier. I figured out you didn’t want me in the office before but I thought you just didn’t like me. I didn’t realize that everything was my fault.”
“Go a little slower, Maya. What are you apologizing about?” Owen asked.
She started tearing up again. “You thought I was blabbing secrets, but I wasn’t. Not on purpose. I admit I like to know what’s going on behind the scenes but I’d never tell anyone else. I just write letters to friends but they’re not real people. I never send them anywhere.”
“Oh for fucks sake, are you kidding me?” Leah said. “That asshole hacked her tablet.”
She sat beside Maya and took her hand. Maya looked surprised but smiled at her.
“It wouldn’t be hard as the network and system admin,” Cole said.
“Administrator, I’ll resign if you want, I didn’t think it was against the rules but I was stupid and careless with information.”
Owen shook his head. “You got played, kiddo. I’m sorry about that but you’re a great assistant, I don’t want to lose you over this. I wasn’t kidding before, I’m going to be depending on you a lot more in the future. I can think of a lot of unpleasant things to do to Gavin Sinclair however.”
“I’ve got a plan for that,” Cole said. “You could arrest him, but then he’d be a martyr for his followers.”
Leah laughed. “I know what you’re thinking, magnificently sneaky man. We destroy his credibility across the colony and ensure no one ever listens to him again.”
Maya wiped her eyes. “And it sounds like fun.”
Leah and Cole began to explain what they were thinking about. Owen looked at the three of them and shook his head. “Okay but I want my assistant back from the dark side when this is over.”
The four of them walked back to the Administration building. Leah and Maya walked a little behind the other two. They looked like they were whispering and laughed several times. There were several dour looking people waiting at the doors of the administration office.
“Absent again, Administrator,” a hatchet faced woman in a long dress and hat said. She looked surprised when he held up a hand for her to stop talking.
“Hold on, Elizabeth. You three, go away. You’re all going to be useless to me until you get this out of your systems. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Or maybe a couple of days from then,” Leah said, leaning back to check out Maya’s ass and the group waiting by the doors looked at each other, scandalized.
Owen shook his head. “No. One day, so get your hormones down to a manageable level and be here bright and early. Sober and fully clothed.”
Leah looked at her watch. “We’d better get started then.”
Owen rolled his eyes at the little group waiting for him.
“Galactic Playboys,” he sighed, unlocking the doors for them. “Come on in, I’m sure you have some complaints to file.”
Cole made drinks when they got to the hab and Leah rolled a joint and sat down with Maya. Cole brought the drinks and went to get food.
Leah looked at Maya. “Before we tear it up, let’s figure out where we’re at. Did Gavin ever mention we had a meeting?”
“Once, kind of. He said you were bugging him while he was out working.”
“Nothing about approaching me last week? Okay, I need to explain this. The first meeting was scheduled at his office but he didn’t show. I finally tracked him down to remind him of it. He said he was busy so we ended up sitting at a table in the park and talking. I was…well, really horny. Not for him specifically, but he saw I was hot and bothered and got the idea I was trying to hook up. He came to find me last week and tried to set something up between us.”
“What an ass. And why would you bother with him when you’ve got that waiting for you?” Maya said, pointing at Cole.
Leah shrugged. “You know how it is, heat of the moment and all. He looks like he’s hung and my imagination ran with it.”
“Oh, he’s big enough but he doesn’t have a clue what to do with it.”
“All for the best then,” Leah said. “Like we said, the first part of Operation Jackass is spreading the rumor Cole has the hots for you.”
“What rumor? She’s a doll,” Cole said, putting a plate down with cheese and fruit.
“See what I put up with?” Leah said and kissed him when he set the other food down.
Maya ate a piece of banana. “You know, I think a rumor will be too subtle for Gavin and most of his friends are already hot for me. Just remove any doubt and make the rumor that we snuck off into the park today for some fun.”
“It might work better, but I don’t want to make your life here any more difficult than it has to be,” Leah said. “Cole mentioned the Puritan contingent here.”
Maya shrugged. “I really don’t care. It’s too late to be respectable anyway. There are a couple women that call me a slut because I was single when we landed and fooled around with a couple different guys. After Gavin they just ignored me. So I’m beyond caring about my reputation and keeping the first contact safe is the most important thing.”
“Hmm, you’re wasted as an admin assistant,” Leah said.
“Not a lot of need for chemists yet.” Maya smiled as Cole came and sat down beside Leah. “It’ll be a fun rumor, your husband is hot and your neighbors are obsessed. I’ve heard them talking about watching him work out. So let them be jealous of me, it’ll get them talking and spread the rumor further.”
Leah nodded. “You’re going to be good at this. Okay, that’s what we’ll say. What else do you think?”
“I was wondering, did you really tell him to try and see my nipples?”
Leah laughed. “Yes. I’m incorrigible. But he told me he failed, he’s going on report.”
“He was too much of a gentleman, that’s why he failed.”
“Then you’re forgiven,” Leah told Cole and leaned over to kiss him.
“So, people already saw us walking around together and I’m sure they saw Cole and I go to the park earlier. I’ll leave here in a while with messed up hair and a smile on my face. It’ll get people talking even more that you were here too. We’ll probably turn into a scandal.”
“She’s a natural,” Cole said to Leah. “Now remember there’s a second part of the plan. Let’s figure some ideas about that this evening.”
“That’s going to be my favorite part but I wanted to ask you something first, about the CMC. Are the stories true? The ones about all you guys fooling around together I mean.”
“It’s not just Mapping,” Leah said. “But the answer is yes, most people are pretty playful and affectionate. A lot of us grew up in a really liberal environment, so we tend to have relaxed views about sex. The other part of it is the danger of the job. It makes for really strong bonds.”
“Are there extended marriages and poly-families, that kind of thing?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure. Until recently we stayed monogamous, we’re kind of new to this part of it ourselves.”
“Really? Why did you change your minds? If that’s not too personal.”
Leah shrugged. “I guess we just got to a point where we were ready to try it with some good friends. Does the idea bother you?”
“Bothers me because I’m jealous maybe. There’s so many prudes here. There was a mix-up with New Plymouth and a few families are Neo-Puritan. Owen got them to sign our charter finally. They wanted us to sign theirs, it was quite a meeting. It doesn’t matter, they still manage to make things uncomfortable for anyone they don’t approve of. That’s why some people here really don’t like you two. Just the rumors about CMC, helped along by Gavin of course.”
“From what I’ve seen, CMC aren’t the only ones getting frisky,” Cole said. “I hear it’s a physiological reaction to losing so many humans. Whatever the reason, bed hopping isn’t uncommon on Hub or Sanctuary. It’s been the same way most of the places we’ve visited.”
“I just ended up in the wrong place I guess,” Maya said. “Leah, you weren’t there when I was talking to Cole about my life. I was an ugly duckling until college and found out I really liked sex. I’ve always liked the idea of an extended family. I’m glad people are loosening up about that kind of thing, I just wish people weren’t so old fashioned here.”
“I will never understand why some people are so obsessed about what other people are doing in their bedrooms,” Leah said. “Haven’t they even met CMC crews before? And what do they care?”
“Welcome to the human race,” Cole said. “Did you never hear about that?”
Maya laughed and Leah finally smiled.
“It’s disturbing is all.”
“I grew up outside of the project,” Cole told Maya. “I was a little surprised by the attitude at first but it certainly doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to do their job. If anything, the close bonding makes them better.”
“That’s kind of why I asked,” Maya said. “If there were details I needed to know for my ‘confession’ letters later. I know you guys don’t know me very well, I’ll make a story up. It’s not like he’s very smart.”
Leah looked at Cole and raised her eyebrows. She laughed when he nodded quickly. “If you’re interested in us, we’d love to spend some time with you,” she said.
“Okay, good,” Maya said, immediately standing up.
Leah laughed. “As long as you’re sure.”
“Oh, I’m sure. Bedroom or right here?” Maya said.
“Bedroom,” Leah said, pulling Cole to his feet. Maya followed them and unbuttoned her shirt, letting it fall off her shoulders.
Leah pointed Cole at the bed. “I want you to watch me.”
Cole sat back against the pillows and Maya smiled at him. She reached back and unhooked her bra and pulled it off. Her breasts were larger than Leah’s and looked even larger on Maya’s small body. Her dark upturned nipples crinkled as they watched.
“She’s gorgeous,” said Leah and Cole nodded.
“So are you,” Maya said, unzipping her shorts.
“Thank you,” Leah said, getting up and standing close to her. Maya reached down and pulled Leah’s shirt over her head and then they kissed. Leah’s hands ran down Maya’s back and over her ass. Maya moaned against her lips.
“It’s been so long since I’ve had a decent fuck.”
“Yeah? Then let’s take care of you first.”
Maya gasped and pushed her hips toward Leah as Leah’s fingers went between her legs.
“Her panties are soaked,” Leah said to Cole.
“I’ve been horny since you started patting my ass,” Maya said and pulled Leah back into another kiss.
Cole leaned against the headboard as the two women made out. Maya was trying to push Leah’s shorts down as Leah fingered her. Maya had Leah’s shorts over her hips when Leah made her orgasm the first time. Maya clutched her tightly, whining as Leah’s fingers stroked her.
“Oh fuck, that’s so good! You’re making me cum, please, yes! Right there, oh you beautiful…YES!”
Leah held Maya as she came and then guided her to the bed as she caught her breath. Maya laid on the pillows beside Cole and Leah licked her fingers as she watched. “She tastes good too.”
Maya pinched her large, dark brown nipples. “That is so hot, I want to do everything with you two.”
“Everything covers a lot,” Leah said, pushing her shorts off.
“I hope so,” Maya said. “Get up here, I want to taste you.”
Leah laughed and slid her body over Maya’s. Her fair skin and smaller breasts made a lovely contrast to Maya’s. They kissed and Maya slid lower, pushing Leah higher on the bed. Leah kissed Cole and then moaned against his mouth.
“Oh fuck that’s good,” she moaned. Cole looked down to see Maya’s head between Leah’s legs, her tongue and fingers busily exploring her sex. “Oh baby, her tongue is so long…oh shit, I’m cumming, I’m cumming!”
Leah pressed her lips down on Maya’s mouth as she orgasmed.
“You were too far away to really see how long,” Maya said as Leah caught her breath. “Sit up and put your cunt on my mouth, now.”
“She’s a dirty girl,” Leah said to Cole.
“Better do what she says.”
“Uh-huh!” Leah pushed herself up and Maya grabbed her hips, pressing her mouth to Leah’s sex.
“Ohhh fuck!” Leah said. “Her tongue, holy shit, it’s so deep! OhfuckI’mcummingagain!”
Cole moved down the bed, watching as Leah humped Maya’s mouth. Leah leaned back, her back arching as she screamed out another orgasm. She fell to the side, panting.
“I think she liked it,” Maya said to Cole. “You want to try me next?”
Cole kissed her and she moaned, pressing her body against his. He could taste Leah’s cum in her mouth and on her lips. Her tongue pressed into his mouth and Cole realized why Leah had been so surprised, Maya had the longest tongue he’d ever felt. Cole ran his hand over her breasts as he kissed her and licked her face clean. Maya reached for his cock and opened her eyes and glared at him.
“How are you still wearing clothes?”
“Apologies,” Cole said and she helped him pull them off.
“That’s better,” she said, gently touching his cock with her fingertips.
“You can play with it later,” Cole said, kissing his way down her neck and over her chest. Maya’s nipples were very sensitive and Cole was amazed when he found he could make her orgasm just by sucking them.
“You’re killing me,” Maya gasped finally and pushed his head lower. Cole licked his way over her stomach and Maya spread her legs wide, lifting her sex toward his mouth. “Please, please, please,” she whimpered as he teased her. She groaned as Cole spread her lips and licked along the length of them. Cole traced her opening with his tongue and Maya grabbed his hair, pulling him tight. Cole pushed his tongue inside of her and Maya’s legs clamped around his head and her body arched, taut as a bowstring. Her sex got wetter and wetter as he ate her through several orgasms. He only stopped when she pushed him away, gasping for mercy.
Cole rolled onto his back and grinned at the ceiling.
“You look very pleased with yourself,” Leah said.
“He does look a little smug,” Maya said, lifting herself on her elbows.
“There’s a fun way to take care of that,” Leah said, leaning over him. One of her nipples rubbed against his face and he sucked it into his mouth.
“Don’t be bad,” Leah said, after letting him suck and nibble. She went lower, licking along his shaft. Maya met her there and they put their mouths on either side of his cock and then began to kiss. Cole groaned. He didn’t know if the sensation or the visual was better.
Maya looked up at him. “Don’t cum yet. I want you to rail me good.”
“He does that very well.” Leah said.
“Good. Jackass’s cock is too big to be much fun and I want to be fucked hard and fast with this beautiful thing.”
“I want to see that,” Leah said, pulling her up the bed. “Cole, you heard her. Spread her legs and rail her.”
“Please,” Maya whimpered as Cole pushed her onto her back. “Make me scream.”
Leah took Cole’s cock and slid it up and down Maya’s slit. “Are you ready?”
Maya nodded, spreading her legs wider. “Uh-huh, put him in me, please.”
Cole pushed as Leah put his cock against Maya’s opening, making her moan as half of his cock slid into her. Maya lifted her hips as Cole thrust again.
“Come on, pound me into the mattress,” she whispered and her eyes went back in her head as he pulled back and began to ram her, over and over.
Leah kissed her and Maya groaned into her mouth as the first orgasm hit her.
“I want both of you, get on my mouth, I want to eat you while your husband fucks me with this magnificent dick!”
“Happy to oblige,” Leah said and knelt over her face. Maya began to lick Leah’s thighs and outer lips.
“She’s gonna make me cum so hard,” Leah said to Cole.
“She’s amazing,” Cole said. Maya was squeezing and massaging his cock with her cunt as he fucked in and out of her.
“Both of you, cum in me,” Maya gasped. “I want to feel you cum in me.”
“Such a pretty girl and such a dirty mouth,” Leah said, pulling Maya’s mouth back to her sex. “I want to watch that dirty mouth on you baby, I want to push her head down while you cum in her mouth.”
Maya moaned and Leah grinned at Cole, reaching down to tweak Maya’s nipples. “Ooh, I think she liked that.”
Leah pinched harder and Maya screamed into Leah’s sex. She bit Leah’s clit and then began to fuck Leah with her long tongue. Leah grabbed Maya’s tits as her hips began to thrust back and forth.
“Fuck her,” Leah gasped. “Fuck her hard. Pound your cum into her tight little hole.”
Maya moaned agreement, lifting her hips into Cole’s thrusts. Cole groaned, slamming into her and holding tightly as he shot his cum deep inside of her. Maya’s body tensed as she came and she pressed her tongue hard against Leah’s clit, making Leah cry out as well. After a few moments they collapsed onto the bed, breathing hard.
“Damn, if I had known it was this fun, I would have gotten you a dirty girl like this a long time ago,” Leah panted.
“Uh-huh,” Cole gasped.
Maya laughed. “Okay, I think I have a good journal entry.”
“Already?” Leah asked. “I thought you said everything.”
“Oh god, we might have to space that out over several nights,” Maya said.
“That sounds like fun,” Leah said, sliding down her body. “But I can’t let you go home all messy like this.”
“What? Oh fuck, you’re going to…” Maya’s head went back as Leah’s tongue found her sex.
“Yes I am,” Leah said. “Cole, you should make sure I didn’t leave any in her mouth.”
“Good idea,” Maya said, pulling Cole down into a kiss.
“Where were you?” Gavin demanded when Maya came through the door.
“What do you care?” she said. “I don’t ask you where you’ve been.”
“I heard that you were hanging around with those two CMC clowns.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah? That’s because they’re working with my boss. I heard something about you too.”
“You were trying to get in Captain Jones’ pants and she shut you down.”
“Bullshit, she told you that?”
“Doesn’t matter who told me. Is it true?”
“No, I said it’s bullshit. They’re going to be saying all kinds of shit about me now that I stood up to them.”
Maya shrugged. “Whatever. I’m going to go write. Are you going to the bar?”
“Got my own meetings. What are you writing?”
“Letters to my friends. Why?”
Gavin immediately held up his hands. “No reason. I’ll leave you in peace then.”
“Don’t wake me up when you come home.”
It was early morning two days later. Leah stopped the quad underneath the lodge and Cole got out. There were some sounds from high overhead, the Anek were already at work by the sounds of it and the sky was barely turning gray.
“I’ll see you later,” he said to Leah. “Be careful today.”
“I’ll keep my eyes open, promise.”
They kissed and she wheeled the quad around and headed back for the colony.
Cole put his pack on and got in the hand cranked basket they’d rigged as a temporary measure.
“What a strange device.” Cole looked up, there was an Anek above him, looking down.
“I’m a few arms short to climb the tree,” he called up.
She climbed lower, the motion reminded Cole of a documentary he’d seen about Capuchin monkeys. “I am offering to carry you up.” she said.
“I happily accept,” Cole said and she gathered him up in the thick bearing arms.
(Hello Cole) There was a flash of an endless vista of treetops that he recognized. It was the youngest of the Elders.
(I’ve chosen a name for you to use, Tallia. This is acceptable?)
“It’s very pretty.”
(This is close to a word we have for a flowering vine. I enjoy the smell of the flowers.)
She hopped onto the platform and set him down carefully. The floor was already in place. There were eight large timbers connected high overhead that would form the meeting lodge.
(You look impressed.)
“I am. This work would take us much longer.
There was laughter. (As you said, you are a few arms short. We will stop soon, the eloisha will be awake when the sun looks over the trees. I would like to take you to a place nearby. A male has come and would like to speak to you if you are willing)
“I noticed during the meeting that you were the only one that spoke much of the males.”
(I am one of many that feel that the differences between males and females are not barriers, just complimentary ways of looking at the world)
Cole really wished Lakshmi was around. He didn’t feel any bad intent from Thalia and he finally nodded.
(You are uncertain about males. Understandably so, but they are quite different when not in the breeding fever. You will be safe, I promise you this)
“Then I’m ready when you are.”
She swung through the trees and Cole realized that Lakshmi had probably been holding back on their trip home.
They moved up vertically as well. The mammoth trees had branches at different heights, all of them with differently shaped leaves. It was probably the most efficient way to use sunlight. They crossed the level of the third canopy and Thalia angled toward a trunk, slowing to a walk along one of the main branches.
(He will meet us at the join) Thalia pointed ahead to where the branch joined the tree trunk.
Cole was still surprised at the scale of the trees. Where the branch met the tree, there was a broad space that could have easily held a couple of habitat domes. In the middle there was an Anek waiting for them. A few bundles and a strangely shaped pole were neatly arranged nearby.
Thalia made a whistling noise that quickly climbed out of Cole’s hearing. In return there was a low thrumming noise.
(I have made the sounds that announce us and indicate we will not battle him for territory. He promised the same and welcomed our approach. It is an old formality)
Thalia stopped and Cole stepped forward and extended his hand. “I’m Captain Cole Morgan, Colonial Mapping Command.”
One of the Anek’s human sized arms reached out and touched his hand. “This is the ‘handshake’ we have seen on the device.” The oddly shaped hand enfolded his and shook three times and let go. “Are you aware that males do not touch-talk except in certain instances?”
“No, I wasn’t told that.”
“We make it up for it by a better mastery of the sounds around us. I have chosen the name Thorn. It means the sharpness of the branch?”
“That’s correct,” Cole said. “Were you in the group that found the injured humans?”
“Yes, I was also keeper of the device. To be honest, we call it a name that means ‘scale of bark.’ No offense intended.”
“None taken. We refer to them as tablets, an archaic name that refers to the objects that humans first wrote on.”
“Ah, the writing,” Thorn said. “I’ve been curious about that. I would enjoy a discussion of your adaptation in the future. I am very curious how a civilization without memory works.”
“The team of Elders would provide a better answer than I could. They know the story of our civilization far better than I do.”
Surprisingly, Thorn laughed. “So you do have limits, Captain Cole. I wondered if you would attempt an answer to a question that badly spoken. Thank you for meeting me so quickly. My sister-friend Thalia has said before that the male Anek were not represented well at your first meeting. This is my fault but I judged the moment was too soon for us to meet again.”
“Again…so that was you beside the river that night?”
“Thalia, you should have said. This was not done well.”
(It was done very well, thank you) Thalia said in their heads. (If I had told you who this was earlier, you would still come?)
“Yes, of course,” Cole said.
(And of that, I had no doubt. But you would have been…stressed, unhappy during the trip and that would have flavored this conversation. I can feel Cole’s surprise but none of the feelings he might have had otherwise)
“This is how the females are. They turn their faults into virtue and our virtues into fault,” Thorn said to Cole.
Cole laughed. “I think our people might have a lot in common.”
“I don’t understand why you’re both amused. And what virtue do you have, Thorn? Other than crawling into the shelter of the sky people and making them tathinni, I mean.”
Thalia’s physical voice was smoother than Lakshmi’s but it still was intimidating. Worse, the Anek’s faces didn’t really do expressions well and she sounded pissed. He could hear her laughter in his mind though.
Thorn’s laugh sounded remarkably human. “You leave me without defense, sister. However, it is an opening to begin to speak of our unfortunate meeting. I cannot ask you to forgive or forget what was done,” Thorn said. “So I am concerned my part in our meeting will cause your people to fear and scorn the males and want to know how I can keep this from happening.”
“No, that issue is not part of the story my people are told,” Cole said. “Lakshmi explained why it happened but didn’t attempt to excuse either of you. My partner and I accept that mistakes happen. We also trust that something like that will never again.”
“Thalia shows me the thoughts behind your words and I am humbled. If you are willing, I would like the opportunity to tell you of my half of the People.”
“Thank you, Cole. Please, sit if you are more comfortable that way. You already know that my brothers and I live apart from the females, only meeting during the breeding fevers. Friendships are rare, but they do exist. It was not always this way but no stories are known about the time when we diverged. I think it has something to do with the tathinni sicknesses but I have no proof.”
“How do friendships like you two happen?” Cole asked.
(An accident. We share a mother and Thorn confused my scent for hers when he was becoming. He was wounded and found me. I kept him safe and helped him heal)
“I’ve heard of other relationships where proximity and cooperation over time create relationships as well.”
“That’s common for humans,” Cole said.
“So the device told me. Beyond our outer differences, males and females have different talents and ways of living. We do not form the lodges and permanent places to live in the same way. Males form groups but we tend to wander more than the females so our ties are much looser. This is part of why I asked Thalia to meet with you. Stories and news between the males does not flow as easily as between the females. In my kin group there are four that have not been contacted with news of the humans yet. They are absent from us while they compose their songs.”
“It is a complicated thing to explain. Our minds are mostly different from the females. They value mechanisms and building, shaping their world through cooperation. We value more the essence of the world, your word is chemistry I believe. Of course there are males who build.”
(And females who sing)
“I heard you singing at the council,” Cole said.
(That is singing for the pleasure of it. Very different.)
Thorn made a motion with his hands. “Our song is for the dreahnnai hoom, sharing their wisdom and asking what questions they will answer. To become fully ourselves requires a time apart, avoiding others in order to learn hoom, the song. These missing four are living apart in silence while they learn hoom. My fear is that one or another will enter breeding fever and another mistake will be made. I do not feel it is likely, but this event is far too important to risk.”
“What can we do then?”
“Thalia carried a question to her Elder sisters, if a male would be allowed to live near the lodge you are constructing.”
(Our decision is that this is a meeting place for all, male and female, Anek and human. However, the humans must choose as well)
“Of course we would welcome the males,” Cole said immediately.
(I said that would be his reaction) There was no mistaking the smugness of the thought.
“Would there be ill feelings if I was that male?”
Cole shook his head. “Like I said, we understand the mistake. You are welcome there.”
(And I predicted that correctly as well)
“So you did, we know you are pleased with yourself. I can assure you Cole, I will not feel the breeding fever for another two seasons, you will be safe from me. I will warn off any males who come near that are in their fever. It will not be necessary for long. The hoom has already begun to shift, to include you in the song.”
(We have felt it as well. I think that soon there will be a mighty harmony)
Cole had assumed that the dreahnnai hoom was just a system of belief but the matter-of-fact assurance in their voices made the hair on the back of his neck stand up for some reason.
Henry set a framework of louvers into the side of the eloisha house to test the fit. Two of them were intently watching him and Henry nodded at them as it slipped into place. “You’ll have a safe place to sleep soon.”
They whistled at him and Henry smiled. Both of them glided over and began to crawl over the louvers. Henry watched to make sure they fit and then went and began to smooth down the pegs that would hold the frame in place. The inside was simple, several boxes with small holes with large slabs of bark lining the wall. The louvers had been surprisingly complex, especially with the pieces of wood the Anek left for him. He didn’t really mind, it had been too long since he’d been able to work with his hands like this.
There was a thump as Cole and an Anek landed on the deck. Henry swallowed and made himself walk over. A few seconds later another, smaller one landed. It took everything Henry had not to scream and run.
“Henry, this is Thorn,” Cole said. “He’ll be staying here for a while.”
“We must not stay.” Thalia said as an eloisha swooped past.
Thorn said something to her that was so high pitched Cole could barely hear.
“We will return after they have settled to sleep,” Thorn said.
Both of them leapt into the trees and quickly disappeared.
“You okay?” Cole said.
Henry nodded. “I’ll be fine. I was just putting the finishing touches on the eloisha house, take a look.”
“They really bother you?” Cole asked as Henry showed him how the louvres pegged into place.
“Yeah. I know they shouldn’t but their shapes make my skin crawl.”
“I’m sorry about that. Have you ever tried dealing with it?”
Henry shrugged. “Some, but not much. It won’t matter really, I’ll be gone with the Ericsson in a couple of weeks. I was planning to stick closer to the colony until then.”
Gavin didn’t notice Maya was gone until he was almost dressed. He’d been pretty hammered when he got home and collapsed into bed without thinking about it. She usually slept on the couch when he went to bed drunk. She was always complaining about his snoring.
When he went into the main room of the hab, he was surprised to see that she wasn’t asleep on the couch. She wasn’t in the other room they used as an office either. He shrugged. Maybe she’d gone into work early or something.
Gavin got his tools and was headed out the door when he finally noticed the note on the table.
I’d do this face to face but I’m tired of dealing with your shouting and tantrums. I’m not interested in partnering with you any longer. You’ve constantly embarrassed me with the way you act (drunk AND sober). I’m tired of you making me look bad at work too. Don’t come and argue with me about this, my mind if made up. The hab is all yours, I got all my stuff out already.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Gavin said. “You stupid cow eyed bitch!”
He balled up the note and threw it at the wall but the paper was too light and landed on the table instead. Gavin roared, picking up a chair and throwing it across the room.
“You don’t know how good you had it, babe!” he yelled. The tool bag was the next thing to hit the wall. By the time he was done, the habitat had been torn apart. Gavin stood in the middle of the mess, wild eyed. There was a knock on the door.
“Fuck off!” Gavin yelled. Whoever it was didn’t knock again.
“Let’s just see how long you have a job when I drop this on your tablet,” Gavin said. He set the table back on its legs and sat down. He opened his laptop and called up the file he’d made a while ago. It would incriminate Maya for a series of small thefts and vandalism. The best part of it was that it was set up to appear on his weekly security scan and he’d be the one to tell her idiot boss.
“Hope you enjoy cutting sugar cane,” he laughed, leaving the file on her tablet. “And while I’m thinking about it, let’s see what you’ve been telling your pathetic ‘friends’ lately. And I know all about your super secret ones. Stupid bitch.”
Gavin copied the last couple of letters and started reading. His mouth fell open when he started reading but he was smiling by the time he finished. “Game over. You, your moron boss, and his CMC goons. Game over, bitches.”
Thanks for reading! Everything comes to a conclusion in the next installment: Mapping Command: Insurrection