Monday, January 26, 2015

April 17, part 3

Oses stared at me as I got up. Then he looked at Betra. “You ... how did you know?” he asked.

“First things first,” the Imdiko said. “Hand it over, Commander. Now.”

Oses reached into a pouch attached to his belt and withdrew a golden tapered tube. I recognized the Ofetuchan phase gadget. My heart gave a little flutter to see it again.

The Nobek gave it to Betra. He seemed at a loss for words, except for one. “How?”

Betra gave him a sad smile as he pocketed the phase device. “You left a piece of your uniform in Shalia’s closet,” he said. “I went into your quarters and found your uniform with the torn insignia. I also found Shalia's missing blouse.”

Oses’ shoulders drooped. “I wondered where I’d torn that uniform.”

“I know there are more important questions to ask,” I said. “But what the hell were you doing in my closet?”

He wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Stealing the blouse, of course. I thought if I kept something of yours close to me, the compulsion to constantly check on you would let me go.” He swallowed hard and finally looked me in the face. “I’m so sorry I scared you these past weeks, pet. It was the last thing I wanted to do.”

I had nothing to say to that. I couldn’t excuse Oses, but that he’d been lurking around the way he had told me something had gone really wrong with him. I couldn’t berate him. Besides, I wasn’t mad ... just scared as to why he was acting the way he was.

Oses looked at Betra again. “So that’s what gave me away? A little piece of a patch?”

The Imdiko shook his head. “Not really, although it put me on your trail. I’ve spent the day chasing my suspicions.”

Betra revealed to Oses what he’d figured out. The bit of red fabric could have come from a Ground Forces foot soldier’s insignia as he’d told me ... or a security officer’s Fleet uniform. When Betra realized that, he immediately thought of Oses.

“You were Shalia’s sworn protector on the Ofetuchan ship,” Betra said. “You were her Nobek. That’s not something a man like you can turn off just because you got rescued.”

Oses nodded. “I couldn’t get rid of the fear that I’d fail her again ... that she could be abducted right under my nose. I wanted to be able to check on her, to make sure Shalia was safe. I wanted to be able to get around unseen to pinpoint hidden threats. And I didn’t want everyone to know I had become obsessed over it.”

“Which is why you kept one of the phase devices and tuned it to your biology.” Betra patted his pocket where he’d put it. “You turned in all the rest of these to Captain Zemos. I commed him to find that out, to learn how many he had in his possession. He said there was a bunch of limited phase controllers, which was used by the imprisoned crew and security. Then there was the main one that you gave him, the one worn by Finiuld that permitted access to his entire ship. You never gave him the female Ofetuchan’s device. Zemos wasn’t aware there was a second one that had full phase capability. The only reason I knew was because Shalia told me about it.”

“I don’t remember telling you about that,” I said. “And Oses, you told me you turned in all of them!”

The Nobek’s gaze lowered in shame. “I lied.”

Betra turned to me. “Shalia, you told me about the second one while you weren’t entirely lucid, when we first got you back. You sometimes relived what happened to you while you were a prisoner. You kept saying, ‘I can’t get the other phase to work. I can’t get it to work. Oses says the controls for this one must be in Glidas’ quarters.’ You carried on about it quite a few times.”

Oses hunched his shoulders. “Before we left the Ofetuchan ship, I found the female’s room and control board for her phase device. I knew I was doing the wrong thing by keeping it, but it seemed more important to guarantee Shalia’s safety.”

“But why did you keep appearing?” I asked Oses. “Why did we keep seeing you ... or a shadow version of you?”

“Either there is a technical glitch or a distance parameter that we occasionally overreach,” Oses said. “The phase usually seemed to fail when Zemos’s destroyer fell back a little more from the transport. Since the Ofetuchan ship is on his vessel, I have to assume it’s a range issue.”

“Is that what happened that day when we were scouting locations for our dance club?”

He nodded. “I realized I was suddenly visible and that one of your companions saw me appear out of nowhere. I raced back and forth to keep from being identified until the phase took hold once more.”

“You showed up in Candy’s room one night,” I said, still trying to answer all the questions I’d had these past few weeks.

“Looking for you. When I didn’t find you in your room, I figured you were with her or Betra. I checked Candy's room first since it was closest.”

Betra’s expression was incredibly sweet. “You need help, Oses. You need to consult with Dr. Feru or one of his staff.”

“I already talk to Feru regularly. What I need is to be taken off duty. I am not fit for my rank any longer,” Oses responded. The only time I’d ever seen him more despondent was when we were prisoners.

“For being over-protective of a pregnant Matara? For being traumatized by seeing her threatened day after day and not knowing if you could get her out of there?” The Imdiko shook his head. “I think you’re wrong. Maybe Captain Wotref and Dr. Feru will insist on you taking some time off for more intensive therapy, but I can’t see you being stripped of your rank or position. The worst you’ve done is stolen a piece of alien technology and scared some people.”

Oses glowered. “All I can think about is how I must not fail in keeping Shalia safe. How can I be trusted to keep a ship secure when she’s more important to me than my job?”

“You seem to be doing fine with that,” I pointed out. “You’ve been pulling double shifts as well as constantly checking on me for weeks now. Talk about taking multitasking to the extreme!”

Betra grinned. “She’s right. You’re essentially doing the work of two men, sometimes three.”

Oses wasn’t mollified. He looked more humiliated than he’d ever managed to make Betra feel. He eyed the Imdiko. “How did you detect me when I came in here?”

“Captain Zemos again. I checked his reports on how he tracked the Ofetuchan ship. The sub-space field was disturbed by that vessel’s passage, which the destroyer’s motion detectors were able to pick up. I was able to do something similar with my handheld settings and a detection grid emitter.” Betra nodded to a small cube that he’d placed on a shelf prior to getting into bed with me. Candy would probably love one for her next ghost hunting foray.

Oses gave him an impressed look. “You would make an excellent security officer, Betra.”

Betra waved him off. “I prefer taking care of people. Like I’m going to take care of you.” He got that domineering tone he likes to use on me when we have sex. “Commander, you and I are going to Dr. Feru first thing in the morning. It's time to discuss this matter and start a new course of treatment. With his help, we’ll approach Captain Wotref and find out what has to happen next. From there, we’ll take it one step at a time until you’re back to your old sweet, smiling self.”

Oses had never looked anything like sweet. I still got the impression he was touched. “You’d think we were clanned, Imdiko.”

Betra swallowed, as if he’d just gotten slammed by some great emotion. He still sounded demanding, however. “Yes, you’d think so. Be warned, an Imdiko is never to be crossed when it comes to the welfare of his clanmates. He will take on even the toughest Nobek in that case. And Oses ... the Imdiko will win.”

“I see.” Oses almost did smile then. “All right, Betra. We will see Dr. Feru in the morning. And ... and thank you.” He then turned to me. “Will you ever forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I said. I went to Oses and wrapped my arms around his waist. “No more than you guys had to forgive me for hiding in the closets after I was rescued.” I smiled up at the Nobek. “You’re still my hero. You always will be.”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

April 17, part 2

I stared at Betra after he told me all he’d done that day and what he’d discovered. I wanted to say it wasn’t possible. Hell, I wanted to scream that it wasn’t possible. Yet except for a few little details, it all made sense. In the end, I had to admit Betra was probably right.

“How bad is this going to be?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “It all depends on who has to get involved in the matter. I want to keep it as quiet as possible, at least for now. The biggest thing is to find out why this is happening. Once we know that, we can go from there.”

I set my dinner aside, half-eaten. My appetite was gone.

We had a long wait. Betra cleaned up after our meal, insisting I lie down and take it easy. “You’re off bed rest, but it could be late before he shows up ... if he shows up,” he told me.

“I’m sure he will,” I said. “If you’re right about all of this, we can pretty much count on it.”

“At any rate, you’ll wake up when the shouting starts. Feel free to sleep if you like.”

Betra got his room in order while I watched and worried. I’d never felt less like sleeping. Even three hours later when Betra switched off the lights and got into bed with me, I lay wide awake.

Would the ghost come? Would he take the bait and come searching for me?

My heart seemed to beat too fast. Thinking of the hypertension and how stress could put me in bed for another week or longer, I whispered to Betra, who spooned against me. “Can we talk while we wait? I need the distraction.”

“Of course,” he whispered back. “Everything is set for our guest’s appearance.”

“Okay. I’ve been talking to a clan on Kalquor. They’re in the lottery, and they had the highest compatibility rating on my list. They’ve checked out with my Nobek dad and Oses.”

“Really? Tell me about them.”

I was glad Betra didn’t mind me discussing Clan Seot. I had to admit, it was a little uncomfortable talking about potential clanmates with a current lover. I was glad I’d already had a conversation with Oses about them. Had the weapons commander not been so matter-of-fact about it, I never would have dared to bring it up to my more sensitive Imdiko paramour.

I even said, “If talking about them makes you feel bad, just say so. We’ll find another subject.”

Betra’s whisper held no hint of hurt or displeasure. “Not at all, Shalia. I’m glad you want to tell me about them. I’ve been worrying that I would know nothing about the men you might end up with.”

“It doesn’t make things harder considering what we have?”

He took a long time to respond. I felt he was mulling the question over. Is it strange that I was glad Betra didn’t just hand out a quick answer designed to make me feel better? I was grateful to get the truth, no matter how guilty it might make me feel.

At last Betra said, “I will miss you. When we part, you will tear a piece of my heart out. I’m sure it will be hard to find joy in my life for some time after that.”

“Ouch,” I said. “You’re tearing out chunks of my heart right now.”

He chuckled softly. “Don’t let it bother your conscience, please. Knowing that it is coming, I take nothing with you for granted. Besides, our relationship is more than I ever had a right to hope for. With no hope to clan or warrant a Matara of my own, this has been the greatest gift I could ever imagine.”

“Nine months,” I said, tears prickling my eyes. “Nine months in an entire lifetime. I can’t understand how you can be grateful for that.”

“You forget that I have been resigned to having nothing at all. You can’t imagine it, having been on Earth where there were plenty of men, plenty of opportunities for everlasting love. Even if I had been born able to enjoy sex with my own gender, I still would have had little to no chance of finding a female lifemate. That is why I can be thankful for the little fate has sent me.”

I sighed heavily. “I still hate the thought of you alone.”

“But I won’t be. I have Oses now.”

I turned my head, searching to see something of Betra in the almost non-existent light of the room. “Not really. You might like the humiliation thing, but it’s not real sex. Is it?”

Betra laughed softly. “It’s more than we had before. I can’t be everything Oses would like me to be, that is true. But we have something now. Take sex out of the equation, and I can love him as an Imdiko should love his Nobek. His welfare means everything to me. I feel how he wishes to keep me protected. When you take the lust out, that’s what a good clanship boils down to. That’s what I want for us, and I think we can have it. As for the other things I’m not good with ... I have some ideas.”

I couldn’t help sounding hopeful. “Ideas that I can play a part in?”

“Perhaps. You’ve already been a bridge for us.”

I smiled. I was glad to know that when they left me on Kalquor, Oses and Betra had a chance at some sort of decent relationship.

“Now, tell me more about Clan Seot. Particularly this Imdiko ... Cifa was his name?”

We spent probably an hour talking about my most likely suitors. Betra reminded me I needed to vet others as well, and I was glad I could report that I had sent out a message to a second clan. I should be hearing back from them any time now, if they have an interest in me.

Then we went quiet for a bit. I was still well aware we were waiting for the ghost to show up, but I started to get sleepy. I was warm in Betra’s arms. I felt good for him, for all of us. I thought we might be okay in the end.

A frantic beeping from behind me made my eyes fly wide open. It was Betra’s handheld computer he wore on his belt ... and it was telling us the ‘ghost’ was in the room.

Betra was out of bed and dashed to the door in an instant to block it. “Lights up half! Oses, turn the phase device off!”

A moment after the lights came on, Oses shimmered and appeared by the bedside. His eyes were wide with shock.

Monday, January 19, 2015

April 17, part 1

Betra and I caught a ghost. The mysterious haunting is over.

Betra was late showing up at my quarters last night. I’d gotten the crazy idea he was avoiding me because he somehow knew I was going to interrogate him. The moment he stepped in my sitting room, I bombarded him with questions: “Where have you been? Why are you late? What do you know about that scrap of material you found? Does it belong to the ghost? Why aren’t you telling me anything?”

He stared at me like I’d been yelling at him in Tragoom. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and eased me towards my lounger. “Why are you so upset? What’s happened?”

“What’s happened?” I could have cheerfully strangled the big lug. “You tell me! You found that bit of someone’s insignia and then became all mysterious and shit. You’ve been out of your office for most of the day. What’s going on?”

Betra took a breath and nodded. “What’s been going on. That’s an excellent question, Shalia. I believe that tonight we will have our answer.”

“Really?” I stopped acting like a nag in my excitement. “You know who the ghost is?”

“I think so.” A shadow of worry crossed Betra’s face. “Only it’s no ghost. The person who has been stalking you is flesh and blood and very much alive.”

My heart nearly jumped out of my chest at his words. “Tell me,” I begged.

The Imdiko considered. “We’ve got other things to do first. Get your stuff together to spend the night with me. For my plan to work, we need to move fast. Dinner has already begun.”

“Dinner?” I was completely flummoxed. “What does dinner have to do with anything?”

Betra shooed me towards my bedroom. “Almost everyone will be in the dining hall. The security guards switch out about now too. We may be able to get from here to my quarters with no one seeing us. Get a move on, Shalia. Figure out what you want so I can pack it.”

He was a man on a mission, and I could tell I wasn’t going to get anything out of him until I did what he wanted. So we packed me a little overnight bag. Betra already knew a lot of what I would choose to bring, so it was done pretty quickly.

Minutes after his arrival, Betra poked his head out of my door to check and see if anyone roamed the hall. The coast was clear, so we hightailed it to his quarters. He gave the surveillance vid recorder a little scowl as we went, and I wondered what the problem was. I was even more confused when I heard him mutter, “Well, there’s no help for it.”

We met no one on our way to Betra’s quarters. I guess we timed it just right on the guard change. Security in the Matara area had been enhanced since our ghost had started roaming about. Still, for those few seconds we were in the hall, no one was around.

Betra grinned at me once we were in his quarters, looking like he’d won a victory. “Great. I think everything should work out if I’m right about what is going on.”

“Have you informed Oses?” I asked. “Is he part of this?”

Betra shook his head as he set my bag on the bed. “Oses is working another double. Don’t worry, Shalia, I’ve got this handled. I think.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “Enough of this nonsense, already. What is it that you think you know?”

“Sit down and I’ll tell you.” He handed me a takeout container. “Eat your dinner while I talk.”

I perched on his bed, opening the container. I didn’t remember Betra promising me a special meal until just then. Even though we ended up eating in his room, my liaison made good on that promise. Ronka strips roasted to perfection, the most tender, flakiest pilchok ever to grace a tray, and chocolate cake with fudge and nuts were my reward.

It’s just too bad that Betra’s news was so shocking that I barely tasted any of it.