breathing in a vacuum
part four
      Under different circumstances I might enjoy this experience, Nina William thought as she brought the samples under UV light to kill off any contaminants. She glanced up at her guard, standing attentively in the lab's corner. She continued to slave away over the equipment, sorely missing her research assistant's aid. Unfortunately, John was dead back in her lab, gunned down by her kidnappers.
      Dirty aliens, she thought savagely as she sat down to check the results of the latest batch of samples. They wouldn't let her touch the original samples from her lab, or allow her any replication equipment to generate a new batch of her life's work. Instead they forced her to pervert it. And she had no choice if she wanted to live.
      She was not as naïve as they believed. Nina had no illusions of her survival past the project's completion, but she was a pragmatist. The more time she had, the more chances at escape, or at least some form of revenge. Besides, survival after her work was finished would be an exercise in futility anyway.
      And there was Alpha. That man, no, beast, frightened her more than she could express. He was colder that she had thought possible for a human. And his visits…she shivered as the thought passed through her mind. He would have no compunctions against her death, in a suitably horrible manner.
      So Nina Williams worked on the project all day and tried to fall asleep despite the fear at night. Her dreams were simple. Revenge and escape were the good nights, while Alpha visiting her in her sleep made up the nightmares.
      She glanced at her reflection in a beaker. Her blonde hair was pulled back behind her head, and the lab coat she wore had been with her in various incarnations since grad school. Nina's appearance had always been a source of pride for her, or at the very least a tool to get what she needed. But now it was a liability.
      She sighed heavily as her hands began to shake again. Not in fear, but anger. I'll get them for this, she thought, if it ends up with us all dead. Inside her lab coat pocket she clutched her locket, the picture of her family burning in her mind.

      Dan took two steps across his room and stopped. Not because he wanted to, just because his room ended. And he had a single. He flopped back on his bunk clanging his head against the bunk wall. He winced and held his head for a second. Dan went back to unpacking his duffel, stuffing his clothes into the little dresser at the head of his bed. He set up his posters on the metal walls, a simple wilderness scene gracing the space above his bed.
      "What did I do to deserve this?" Dan asked himself, glancing down at the tiny computer terminal that occupied most of his desk. He checked his email. He had three messages, one from the Captain, one from the Engineer and one from Sakura. He didn't have the heart to read Sakura's message just yet so he glanced through the first. It was the mission statement, in detail. Twenty pages of travel notes, previous intel and projected timetables. It was also too much work for him to go through right now.
      So he glanced through the tech readouts provided at the Captain's request. They were informative, but not especially detailed. He needed to get out of his room and explore the Damocles. He stood up, slowly as not to bang his head on the ceiling, and left his room.
      He wandered the halls for a few moments, still not quite at home with the layout of the ship. He nodded to the crewmates that passed by, trying to act like he belonged there. He finally passed by the small door that led to the fighter bay.
      "What the hell," he muttered and entered the flight deck. The door slid open, revealing a much calmer state of affairs than the last time he'd seen it. There were only a few technicians around and few of them were working on anything in particular.
      "Can I help you sir?" asked a young technician as Daniel stepped in.
      "Lt. Daniel. I've just been attached to the Damocles and I've been informed that I'm leading the flight group."
      "Yeoman Richards. Naomi Richards," the tech said, looking up from her work to reveal a cute young woman. "Pleasure to have you aboard."
      "Thanks. Might I take a peek around?"
      "I'd be happy to give you a tour. Where would you like to start?"
      After fifteen minutes of trading jokes and stories with the surprisingly well traveled young woman, they reached Shrike 1. Dan took a good hard look at it, starting a walk around almost unconsciously. Naomi smiled and went back to her magazine, having seen many pilots fall into the same trap in the past couple of days.
      Dan checked under the long swept back wings, checking for hard-points. There were no heavy missile mounts under the wings, nor fittings for gun pods, high intensity lasers or spook modules. He shrugged it off, not really being too fond of any of the additional junk outside his fighter. He found the ventral missile battery, hidden behind a heavy blast door. There wasn't much in the way of lettering on the hull, and no warning labels to be found.
      "Must be trouble to work on," Daniel muttered as he moved back towards the engines. The exhaust ports were nestled in with countless thermal camouflage bricks. They were angled to release as little heat as possible. Then he saw the booster assembly.
      "Oh man." The exhaust ports alone were as big as his torso. More than three times bigger than the booster ports on Tiger 1. Dan quickly tried to remember the equations relating port area to thrust, and settled on a value somewhere around twice what Tiger 1 had.
      He headed up to the cockpit, stopping to whistle at the beam cannon turret. The lead edge of the wing was the perfect stepping stone for getting into the cockpit, which had more than twice the volume of the older Valkyrie models, thick padding on the seat and a spacious control setup. He rested his hands on the HOTAS paddles, letting out a big sigh at the mass he felt there.
      "This might not be so bad after all," he said.
      Sitting on a hot response cart across the bay, Naomi fought back laughter at seeing the same series of events play out for the twelfth time that week.

      On the bridge of the Damocles Jonah Fitzroy sat in his command chair, glancing at the readouts on the armrests from time to time as his new ship glided into the depths of solar system. Under Reflex power it would take little more than a week to reach the first patrol zone, the moons of Jupiter.
      "Coffee?" a voice asked behind him.
      "If you don't mind Joshua." Jonah turned to his ship's physician. "How's the new ship treating you?"
      "Finally settled into sickbay. Its strange, but this ship seems to grow on you."
      "It grew on me as soon as I got to drive," Jonah joked. "And the new job of ship's Chaplain?"
      "Services are never full. But never empty either. There are a surprising number of believers onboard. None of them believes in the same thing. How is your family?"
      "Amanda's fine, but Zoe runs her ragged. My brother's looking after them until I get back. Your mother?"
      "Still fine. Here's your coffee."

      Alpha appeared on the bridge with no fanfare or celebration. One moment everything was normal on the bridge, and then next it was deathly silent as the ship commander belted orders to waiting subordinates.
      "There is a vessel departing for the Jovian moons. We will be elsewhere before it arrives."
      "Yes sir!" the young Zentradi helmsman reported. "What destination?"
      "I don't care," Alpha told him. "Zelk! I wish to leave the intrepid Earthers a surprise. Take only what you will need."
      One of the men who had been sitting down saluted and left. Alpha sat in his command chair, which had been left vacant since his last appearance on the bridge. The men sat silent and rigid, the rumors running through their minds. They remembered their elders telling of Alpha's coup to gain power from the last leader. Even the veteran Zentradi had shivered when they found the body. Or the first man to call Alpha a half breed. That story was told in hushed tones even when on leave, as if its telling could still bring down harm. Above it all, Alpha sat alone at his chair, hands mashed into fists from the effort of suppressing his rage. To all those who saw him, he looked deathly calm.

Copyright reserved 1999 Jerico Mele []

Disclaimer: Robotech is Copyright 1985 Harmony Gold, U.S.A, Inc./Tatsunoko Prod. Cp., Ltd. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.

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