Space 2315, Chapter 5

Upon coming home from the victory at Mendus, Admiral Nancy Moore was welcomed home to Altair with a citywide parade in the capital of Parma. People all over the capital of the Allied Colonies for Freedom came out for it. The president of the Allied Colonies for Freedom declared the day a national day of celebration which pretty much resulted in everyone getting off work and gave people an excuse to party and get drunk.

Moore and her flag officers were invited to the president’s mansion in the capital city for a personal meeting and an elaborate banquet in their honor. Personally, Moore hated all of the attention; she wasn’t one for appearances but when the president personally called and invited you to his mansion you couldn’t refuse the offer. She’d much rather avoid all the limelight and get back to the job of prosecuting the war. The Human Federation wasn’t going to go away just because she beat them back at one star system. She needed to get back out there and do it a few more times.

She considered all of the pomp and circumstance a chore. The citizenry saw her as a hero, a larger than life person, and someone who gave the Human Federation a bloody nose that most people in the ACF felt they most richly deserved.

“The president will see you now,” the president’s personal butler said as he came through the doors leading into the president’s sanctum sanctorum. As Moore and her personal staff walked into the office the president stood up from his desk and welcomed them. Nancy looked about the room and couldn’t help but to notice that many features of the room copied that of the president’s office in Abu Dhabi.

“Admiral Nancy Moore,” President John Renalt said as he came forward to personally greet her. “It’s an honor to meet the admiral that brought the Allied Colonies for Freedom such a great victory over the Human Federation. You have given us all something to be proud of.”

“Thank you Mr. President,” Moore said as she walked forward to shake her president’s hand. “It’s an honor to serve you and this star nation.”

“Did you enjoy the welcome home ceremonies?” the president asked as he motioned for her and her staff to sit down in across from him. “I arranged to have the parade in your honor. It’s not every day that we have a massive victory over our enemy, you know.”

“Mr. President,” the president cut her off. “Please, call me John. I’m not an officer or anything like that. If you ask me, I’m tired of the title. Mr. President this, Mr. President that. The title can be so…”

“Heavy?” Moore asked.

“Yes,” John replied. “It’s like a damn ball and chain connected to my ankle. I feel like sometimes I can’t be myself and that I have to put on some kind of face. It’s very tiring. At least with you I can feel like I can be myself, be the true person that I am.”

“True, but you are my commander and chief.” Admiral Moore paused. “But if you insist, John, I will call you by name.” She looked at her staff officers and then the president. “If you want me to call you John, then call me Nancy, that’s my first name.” John nodded his head. “I know you describe this as a major victory but honestly if you ask me, I’m only doing my duty to my nation just like any officer and soldier has done. I’m no more important than the people who carried out my orders. I’m only human.” She shook her head. “I know that this may sound bad but I take no joy in having to do what I do, that is, destroy Human Federation ships and kill their crews.”

“How can you say that Nancy?” John leaned forward and clenched his fists as he slammed it down on the side of his chair. Nancy could see John’s face flush. “The Human Federation has done us a great wrong! They took everything we had in the form of taxes. They left us with barely anything. They raped our economy leaving thousands out of work and sending them to soup lines, all because they wanted our resources and that we Colonials should give them it. They said, and I quote, ‘It’s not our problem.’ Don’t you remember that?”

“I’m sorry,” John put his hand up and drew in a long breath. “I’m sorry for that outburst. It’s just that when it comes to the grave injustices that those people did to us I can’t help but to get angry. Because of what they did is the reason we broke away, or do you not agree?”

“Yes the Human Federation has done us a great wrong. I can’t agree with you more. But let’s not forget that they are still our brothers and sisters. Most of them are only following orders from people further up the chain of command. We’re all humans,” she paused. “We both call Earth our home. Those very officers and soldiers I fought against stood beside me not too long ago. I helped train a lot of them at Naval Academy Etajima on Earth. Some of those killed might’ve been former students of mine. We’re fighting our kin here. That bothers me sometimes.”

“I see,” John replied as he breathed out. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps we, and I include myself, have been blinded by our hate and our anger. We wanted justice but the hate for them turned it into a lynch mob.”

The admiral nodded her head. “For instance, the admiral I defeated at Mendus, Admiral Megan Kimery, was once one of my prized students at the academy. I taught her everything she knows today. And before you comment that the student hasn’t learned from her teacher,” she ignored the chuckles and quiet snorts from her flag officers, “She did face a set of unusual circumstances with our computer virus. She’s a good officer and a good person. I’m sure that my leaving the Human Federation hurt her deeply, to know that someone she highly regarded is now an enemy of hers.”

“I see,” John looked up to Nancy. “You have great respect for her then. I could make it so that you never have to face her again in combat if you feel so strongly about this officer. I could always have the Admiralty issue orders that keep you far from–”

He got no further than that as Moore shook her head, “That won’t be an issue Mr. President. She’s a former pupil of mine, yes, as are many other Human Federation Space Force officers.” She noticed how the president winced at her using the full title of their enemy. “It’s something we’re all going to have to come to terms with. This war has split apart families, friends, and even spouses in some cases. But that won’t distract me from doing my duty to the Fleet. If I can’t be trusted to do my duty then I’ll tender my resignation right now. Mine probably won’t be the last.”

The president waited ten seconds before he said, “No admiral,” he shook his head, “that won’t be necessary. You have my full faith and the faith of our Congress.”

“Thank you sir. I sided with our people because I thought we know better on how to govern ourselves; that the individual states of humanity know themselves better than those who live decadently on Earth. I was born and raised in the Colonies and they are my home. I will defend it until the day I die.” She paused. “We also have another issue, a major issue in the ranks.”

“Oh?” John asked. “What is it?”

“It’s something that relates to what you said before, the part where you said that perhaps we are too blinded by our hate.” John looked to her. “I found out through some people in my fleet that the XO on the ACS Thomas Jefferson, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Brady, looked away and even encouraged his crew to mistreat some of the POWs that we took after the battle. I investigated the situation during our voyage home in which ten POWs were beaten rather harshly. Some of them were beaten within an inch of their lives. He appeared before a formal captain’s board and it’s their recommendation that he be court martialed.”

“What?” the president asked. “Are you saying that our officers were responsible this?”

“Yes John, they were responsible for those acts. And I put a stop to it.” Admiral Moore paused. “They may be our enemy but they’re still human. Those that were responsible have been punished accordingly under the USMJ and the Articles of War.”

“What of those POWs that were hurt? Where are they now?”

“They were stabilized aboard my flagship as per my orders and have been transferred to military hospitals in orbit. After they’ve been attended to they will be transferred to the POW prison camp outside of Parma.”

“Good,” the president replied. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention; I will communicate this to the Admiralty.”

“Thank you John. The Human Federation may be our enemy but that doesn’t mean that we should be butchers to them. I hold myself and the officers under me to a higher standard than that. We can’t have shit like this happen, not now, not ever. If word of this were to get out then I would anticipate that the Human Federation would do the same to our own. I publically dealt with the situation and made sure all of the POWs, especially the injured ones, saw me personally seeing justice done. I made sure they were tended to by our best physicians and surgeons. I wanted to make sure they knew we weren’t just a bunch of jackbooted thugs.”

Richard Smith was standing in one of the many fighter bay galleries on the Martian Drive Yards. His ship along with the rest of the fleet limped back to the Sol system after the unsuccessful defense of the Mendus System. Although the auxiliaries were able to patch up some of the ships in the fleet for the trip back to the Sol System, many of the ships were so badly damaged that only time in a yard could repair those ships. Some were so badly damaged that they were sent to the breakers and stripped for usable parts. Richard’s ship, the HFS Valiant, was one such ship scheduled to be scrapped.

Richard didn’t at all blame them for wanting to send the ship to the breakers. The ship took a graser hit that damn near killed him. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was standing where he was, he would quite literally not be here to talk about it. The thought sent a shiver down his spine; it wasn’t something that he liked to think about; that is, being so close to death’s doorstep. And that wasn’t the only hit the ship took.

Richard had to wonder how the ship made it as far as it did, with the engines only working at half power. Getting the ship underway required a tow from one of the lesser damaged ships in the fleet to help it along. A ship could move and maneuver at half power but there was no reason it should slow the fleet. There were a number of times when Admiral Moore considered scuttling the HFS Valiant and others like her but they needed all of the ships they could get to transport the remaining crews back home.

Makeshift bunks were to set up in the cargo bays and other available spaces of the ship to take on added crewmembers from the ships too damaged to make the trip. Officers shared their rooms with officers from other ships because there weren’t enough quarters. Those officers that shared rooms simply took turns sleeping in the rooms. Richard and Rachel were no exception and were forced onto a three shift rotation with sleeping in order to accommodate the two other people using their quarters.

Richard stood with his duffle bag sitting on the deck while he was watching a shuttle begin its final docking maneuvers through a piece of transparent aluminum. He put his bag down on the deck on account that it was so heavy. All of his personal belongings from his quarters were in that bag, not that there were that many personal things but it was enough to make said bag heavy. Lying on top of the bag was a garment bag that held his spare uniforms along with his dress uniform and some civilian clothing as well. He knew he was going to Earth so he made sure to go to the Navy Exchange to buy some civilian clothes so as to not completely stick out like a sore thumb on Earth.

Richard looked out the window and watched the shuttle as its pilot made the craft dance as it approached the docking collar. Moving on reaction thrusters only it slowed its momentum until the dock’s tractors reached out to guide it the rest of the way. It came to rest with a soft inaudible (at least to Richard’s ears) THUMP! As soon as the docking arms settled on it the personnel tube ran out to mate with the shuttle’s airlock. Richard looked over to Rachel and smiled. He couldn’t hide his happiness to be finally able to visit Earth again, especially with her.

“When was the last time you were on Earth?” Rachel asked as she looked to him. He shrugged, “I guess it was when I was at Etajima six years ago. After I was done at the academy I was posted to my first duty station on Mars and then after that I was assigned to a ship and ever since then I’ve never got the chance to get back to Earth.” Rachel walked behind him and put her arms around him.

Richard smiled as he took her hands into his as she looked over his shoulder with her chin resting against him. He breathed in deeply. The perfume she wore was intoxicating. He thought back to when he first met Rachel and remembered the perfume she was wearing then… he nodded; it was the same perfume. As he thought about the scent it brought the longing to have her all to himself.

“What’s that perfume you’re wearing?” Richard asked as he turned his head to look at her out of the corner of his left eye. “I remember that scent; you were wearing it when we met on that backwater planet.”

“Desire.” Rachel said.

“What?” he asked. “Is that what it’s called? ‘Desire?’”

“Yeah,” she said as she rested her chin back on his shoulder. “Why? Don’t you like it?”

“Yes. It does exactly as the name implies.”

By then the tube fully extended to the shuttle and he watched as the telltales above the tube flashed from red to amber to green to signify a good airlock seal and equal pressure. “Richard?” Rachel asked. “Is there something wrong?” He looked to her. “What are you thinking about? You seem… lost in thought.”

He turned around and looked at her. “Don’t worry; I just don’t like being this close to the fighter bay with merely a piece of transparent aluminum standing between me and space. This probably sounds strange coming from a person who grew up in space.”

Rachel agreed with him on that one. Standing so close to open vacuum with only a thin piece of metal could unnerve just about anyone, even the most experienced of Space Force people. It was something most people couldn’t get over even though there was never an accident before.

“But I sense something else is wrong,” she looked to him. “Tell me what’s wrong, Richard, please.”

He was at a loss for words; he didn’t know how to say what he wanted to tell her. “I don’t know how to put this so I’m probably going to sound really stupid.”

“What is it Richard?” She looked to him. “Is something wrong?”

Richard smiled. “No,” he shook his head. “I mean, yes… there is something wrong. It’s just that now that the ship has been scheduled to be sent to the breakers I can’t help but to think about what’s going to happen to us.” He paused to collect his thoughts as best as he could. “I know that we’ve only known each other for a couple of weeks but I feel like I’ve known you for much longer than that. I love you Rachel and I don’t want to lose you, you’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a very long time; I don’t want to lose that. At this point I can’t imagine my life without you.”

Rachel was floored. Whoa, she thought, love? He loves me? Does he… does he even know what that word means? I’ve had a lot of guys tell me that and they promptly broke my heart.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked her. Oh God, I did it, I scared her away. She’s probably heard those words so many times in her past that she probably doesn’t believe me; I’ve got to give her a reason to believe me.

“Do you…” Rachel found herself questioning him. In her heart she knew he meant every word he said but the side of her which was hurt so many times in the past was questioning the validity of those words. She thought she’d never hear them from someone who truly meant those words. One or two men told her those words before but none had meant it. Those previous ones said it as a way to help get her panties down and she was young and foolish enough to let it happen.

“Do you mean that? I’ve heard those words before and…” She couldn’t finish what she was going to say. The next thing she knew she was on the receiving end of a very passionate kiss. Every piece of her being melted into it as she returned it with just as much passion, everything she needed to know was in that kiss. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in her mind now; he meant every word he said.

“Do you believe me now?” he asked while mere inches between them.

“Yes,” she whispered just loud enough for him to hear, “Yes, I do believe you. And yes, before you ask… I love you too Richard and no, I don’t want to lose you either.”

“So what are we going to do about reassignments?” Richard paused. “You know the odds of us being reassigned to the same ship again are, well, the odds of that happening again are slim and none and slim just got blown out the airlock. New Vegas wouldn’t get within a parsec of that bet.”

Rachel couldn’t help but laugh at that. She heard something similar to that but the fact that he adapted it to space made it even funnier. “I know the odds of that happening. Don’t you,” she pointed at his chest and touched him there with the tip of her finger, “worry at all about that little problem. Let me take care of that.”

“How?” he asked. Rachel opened her mouth to say something but he put his hand up. “Wait, I probably don’t want to know. The less I know the better off I’ll be and the less confused I’ll be as well. Knowing you you’ll probably do some fancy computer stuff that’ll just go over my head with light years to spare. Hell, the less I know the less I can confess if it blows up in our faces.”

Rachel laughed again and closed in for another kiss. “Just let me take care of things and you won’t have to worry about losing me any time soon.”

“When did you realize that you loved me? I’m just curious.”

“Remember when we were going to the secondary bridge to investigate why we lost the link to the auxiliary bridge?” Rachel nodded her head. “That was when I realized I loved you and didn’t want to lose you,” he breathed in deeply, “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. Like I told you before, you’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”

Holy crap! He poured his soul into that! She thought. Wow, just wow. I might’ve finally found the right guy! And to imagine that if it weren’t for us serving on the same ship we wouldn’t have met. This is amazing! Even New Vegas wouldn’t have bet on these odds!

“How long have you been waiting to kiss me like that? How long have you waited to tell me all of this?” Rachel asked as the two stood forehead to forehead.

He smiled as he gave her another small kiss. “I’ve wanted to do that and tell you how I felt for some time but it never felt like the right time to do so.” He heard the sound of someone walking down the hall toward them and he quickly stepped away from her until the other person, a marine lieutenant, passed on.

“So, you haven’t been back to Earth since leaving Etajima?” she asked.

“Nope,” he replied as they embraced once again.

“Well, I guess I have to give you a proper tour of Earth then,” she kissed him again. “Who better than me to take you on a tour of Earth?”

“None that I can think of.” They grabbed their bags and only then noticed the two marines standing near the doorway to the rest of the station. Rachel took in a short, sharp breath as she realized that both men saw them kissing not even seconds before. When the marines saw Rachel and Richard looking at them the senior enlisted, a lance corporal spoke up, “We didn’t see anything sir and ma’am.”

Rachel and Richard nodded and swung out into the waiting personnel tube. As usual Richard found zero-gee to be comfortable. Zero-gee and low gravity environments were something he was used to. Rachel wished she could feel the same way about it. She was grateful when she found herself on the deck of the shuttle with its artificial gravity plating.

The pilot walked back from the cockpit, passing the flight engineer as she came forward. The ensign walked up to them and saluted. “I’m here to take you to the waiting transport that will take you to Earth. If you would like, I can assist in loading your bags into the cargo compartments.”

“Thank you ensign,” Rachel replied as she handed her duffle bag over. “No problem at all,” the ensign replied as she took hold of the bags. The ensign stowed their bags in the rear cargo hold and headed into the cockpit again.

The two strapped themselves into their seats as they heard the docking collar and the personnel tube disengaging from the shuttle’s exterior. Richard felt the shuttle rock a bit as it moved on reaction thrusters to gently slide out of the bay. He watched the white of the space station’s fighter bay slowly get replaced with the blackness of space.

The cutter touched down at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and the two descended to the tarmac below by a set of stairs. Now it was Richard’s time to feel relieved. He hated atmospheric reentry. Rachel noticed his nervousness and talked to him in order to keep his mind off the reentry. He knew all the things that could go wrong during atmosphere reentry. People often told him that it was strange that he didn’t like atmosphere reentry but was perfectly fine being aboard ship in deep space.

Richard stepped out of the cutter first and looked about. He gasped as he took in the natural beauty of Earth once again and the surrounding environment. For the first time in several years breathed fresh air; not the recycled stuff that everyone in space breathed. He looked up and smiled as he heard birds tweeting and a few Canadian geese honking as they flew by overhead.

“You know Rachel?” she looked to him as he scanned the horizon. “When they design the space colonies they try their best to make them look as natural as they can but I have to say that nothing compares to being on a planetary surface. I didn’t know what I was missing before I came to Earth to attend the academy. I have to come here more often. Say, where are we? It looks to me like we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“We’re about five clicks west of Cheyenne, Wyoming,” she said as she looked about. “I have plans to take you somewhere but I have to go home to get a few things first.” Richard nodded his head. What else could she possibly need? That girl has double the luggage that I have and I didn’t think that was possible aboard ship. Where the hell did she store it all?

Richard heard the sound of the cutter’s pilot walk up towards them from behind. Rachel turned to the pilot. “Where can I arrange transport to Newcastle?”

The pilot shrugged her shoulders, “Ma’am, I don’t rightly know. I’m not from around here, I’m from Thailand.” Her accent kept Richard guessing where she was from all the way from the orbital transfer station. “I’m sure if you head over to the Headquarters building the people there can tell you. I can radio for a car to come pick the both of you up or you can walk there, whichever you prefer.”

Rachel looked out across the tarmac and noticed that Headquarters wasn’t very far off. Rachel turned to the pilot. “That’s alright, we’ll walk.”

“Right sir, just be aware that it is 1650 local time and the flag will be going off soon,” the pilot told them.

“Thank you,” he said to the pilot as they started walking toward the HQ building. “Hey Rachel?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” she hummed.

“This might sound stupid,” he explained, “but this wide open space we saw when coming down from orbit isn’t what I expected. I kind of expected to see the planet more… built up, like Coruscant from ‘Star Wars’.”

She looked at him and kept herself from laughing. “I have to remember that all you saw was Etajima and the areas around it. The Earth doesn’t have too many ‘megacities.’ I know, I know,” she waved her hand in the air; “it’s all you hear about on TV and Galactic Internet news since that’s where anything big happens. There are only a few number of them, yet between them are many regular cities and wide open areas. I think people here on Earth would be pretty upset if they urbanized the whole surface of the planet.”

“I see,” he replied as he gave the countryside around the base another long look. It looked like miles and miles of miles and miles as far as the horizon. “So where are we going? Why are we here in Wyoming?”

“I grew up here.” She looked about. “Still as dull as I remember it. Nothing much happens here, at least, nothing really exciting that is.” She shook her head. “If this isn’t God’s country, you can definitely see it from here. Nobody comes here unless you have a reason to be here and the locals like it that way.”

“Yeah, I agree,” he replied as they walked across the base. Human Federation Air Force personnel paused to salute and look at the two every now and again. Although the Air Force and the Space Force were completely separate military services they more often than not shared military bases. Someone probably felt that it was cheaper to maintain one set of military bases that often served the same purpose.

From far away a bugle call sounded on the PA system across the base. Everyone around stopped in their tracks and turned toward the sound. Rachel and Richard dropped their bags and did the same. Within seconds the melody of the Human Federation national anthem played. The two raised their hands in salute as the notes sounded, signifying that the national flag was being lowered. When it ended they dropped their salutes, picked up their bags and resumed walking.

“I see,” he replied as he looked on. “Say, you never did tell me why we’re here.”

She looked to him. “I told you already, I need to stop off at my house to pick up a few things.” He was hoping that she would’ve tripped up and let him know more than what she told him before by asking again. So much for that idea, he thought.

“What about your father?” He asked before remembering that she didn’t like to talk about her father. “I’m sorry, forget I mentioned that. You don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to; I know you don’t like talking about him.”

“Yeah,” it was obvious from the look on her face that she still harbored a lot of hate for her father. Fortunately it passed as quickly as it appeared and he hoped to never see it again; she was a beautiful woman and one that shouldn’t at all be wearing a scowl like that. “I’ve already called ahead and made sure he wasn’t there.” She shook her head. “I have no intention of seeing that man! If I never see him again, it won’t bother me at all.”

“What do you need to get?” he asked as they passed some random office on the base. “I just need some clothing for our trip,” she looked back at him and smiled. “I have something very special planned for the two of us to do while we’re here on Earth.” He looked to her with a look on his face that demanded to know more. “Nope,” she shook her head, “that’s why it’s a surprise. You’ll find out soon enough. But trust me, you’ll enjoy it and it’ll be a lot of fun.” She turned back to look where she was walking and continued to smile. Richard is going to freakin’ die when he finds out where we’re going and what we’re doing!

The car came to a stop and parked itself in front of Rachel’s childhood home sitting on the outskirts of Newcastle, Wyoming. If you asked him, Newcastle was too small for his tastes. He was used to areas that were more built up than this quaint little town. If Newcastle boasted even four or five thousand people he’d be surprised. Most, if not all of the businesses in town sat along the main road and everything else branched off from that. It was a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere and it seemed from the looks of the people that they passed while driving down the road that they liked being in the middle of nowhere.

He got out of the car and looked about. He still couldn’t believe just how beautiful Earth was. He couldn’t believe that in a little over two hundred years humanity was able to rebuild and clean up the planet after the Third World War between 2055 and 2062. There was lush grass and trees everywhere. Birds were tweeting and as he looked on he saw two squirrels chasing each other.

“It really is beautiful, isn’t it?” Rachel asked as she put an arm around his waist.

“Huh?” he looked to her and then he realized what she asked of him. He quickly nodded his head. “Oh yes,” he smiled and drew in another deep breath. “It’s absolutely beautiful here.”

“Come on,” she stepped forward led him along up the driveway. “Hopefully nobody’s home and I’ll just be able to slip in and get what I want and we’ll be on our way.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he replied as he noticed a shade in the front window move aside and noticed an older woman standing in the window. Rachel looked up as the front door to the house flew open so fast that Richard wondered if it was going to fly off its hinges.

“Rachel!” the older woman exclaimed as she ran out to meet the two. Richard assumed that the woman was Rachel’s mother. “It’s so good to see you! I’ve not seen you in years.” That reminded Richard, the next time he got leave, and depending on where he was, he’d try and take the fastest transport to Alpha Centauri. He tried to make a video call every chance he could to his parents but a video call wasn’t the same as seeing them in person. In fact, he was planning on making a video call on the night whenever they got to where they were going.

“Hi mom,” she replied as she returned her mother’s hug. “Good to see you too,” she barely made out from being nearly crushed to death by her mom.

Her mother let go and stood back to look Rachel over. “It’s good to see that the Space Force has kept you in shape. You’ve grown into quite the woman over the last couple of years.” Rachel’s face turned red as she said that. “How long has it been since you’ve been home? Nearly six years, right?”

Knowing her history and how she disliked her father as much as she did he wasn’t really too surprised that she hadn’t been home for that long. People in the service didn’t get home often but it seemed like Rachel didn’t even bother to try to go home on leave.

“Yeah,” Rachel paused as she looked to her mother. “It has been quite a long time. Most of the time it was the military that kept me away but it’s also been personal reasons as well. I don’t think I need to say why.”

Her mother shook her head, “You’re not going to have to worry about seeing your father again. I divorced him nearly three years ago. He’s been God knows where for the longest time and I haven’t heard from him in just as long. I have a restraining order on him. He can’t come within six and a half kilometers of me and this house.”

Rachel’s jaw dropped. “You divorced him?” She composed herself quickly. “Why? What did he do to you? Did he hurt you?!”

Her mother shook her head and laughed at her daughter’s surprised outburst. “You know how he treated you. Well, when you left he turned to me and started treating me like that and I wasn’t going to have any of it. I contacted our family lawyer and got separation papers drawn up. A couple months after that I got a judge to issue a restraining order when he wouldn’t leave me alone. I had the judge extend the same courtesy to you and your sister. Then I filed for divorce.” She shook her head. “You know, your father was such a loving man when I married him. I don’t know what happened to him, he used to be such a nice person and then all of a sudden he turned into what he is today. I think it started when he started drinking. Alcoholism runs in his family and that means you have to be careful as well.”

Richard nodded his head as listened to the two of them, a part of him filing away the fact that Rachel had a sister she never mentioned before. Now the dislike that Rachel held for her father made sense to him, her father was an alcoholic and from the sound of it he was of the abusive type. He remembered having a childhood friend who also had an alcoholic father. His friend would come over at odd hours in the evening wanting to stay the night. He never knew why until years later. It was a shame now that he thought about it, the father was a nice guy but if he got a few too many drinks in him he could be heard yelling half way down the street. One night his friend came over with a black eye and when Richard asked how he got it his friend said nothing. He often wondered what happened to him but it had been years since he had talked to his childhood friend, he didn’t even know where he lived now.

“Yeah,” Rachel frowned. “I know, I remember you telling me that once before. How did you keep the house?”

“The court awarded me the house during the divorce proceedings. He got that old rusty piece of shit car; I don’t know what he did with it and I really don’t care. It barely ran anyways. As for the money, I got quite a bit out of the divorce settlement and have been living on that for the last two years. Part of your and your sister’s income also comes to me because you put me down as a dependent when you two went to the academy.” Rachel nodded her head. “Needless to say, I’ve been living pretty well as of late and got a job as a clerk at city hall. I even bought a new car a year ago, it does everything including drive itself.” She paused. “But enough about him, let’s change the subject to you.” She looked at Richard, then back at her daughter and winked. “Who’s your guy friend that you have?”

Rachel’s face turned slightly red. Even after all these years her mother could still make her blush when it came to her boyfriends. “I’m sorry; I should’ve introduced you to my boyfriend.” Richard couldn’t contain the smile as she introduced him that way. It felt so sophomoric but he didn’t care. “Richard, this is my mother Leslie.” She turned to her mother. “And this is Richard Smith.”

“Your boyfriend?” Leslie asked as both of their faces turned a bright shade of red.

Richard stepped a bit forward as the embarrassment faded. “Yes ma’am.”

“How long have you two been together? How did you two meet?” Leslie asked as she looked him up and down and finally at the rank insignia on his uniform blouse’s lapel. “You’re a lieutenant commander, right?”

“Yes Mrs. McFarland.”

“Please,” Leslie replied as she patted him on the shoulder, “Call me Leslie, Mrs. McFarland is so formal, and besides, that’s his name. I’ve decided to take my maiden name again, Hall. How long have you been together? How did you two meet?”

“A couple of weeks,” Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “We’ve not been together long but after what we’ve lived through it has, shall we say… brought the two of us close very fast. We were in the last battle, the one that’s been all over the news.” Leslie nodded her head at the two. “God knows how we made it through it alive when so many others didn’t. Richard’s CPO was killed in the battle and from what he told me it’s pure luck he wasn’t as well.” She put her arm around Richard and drew him closer. “Living through all of that tends to bring people closer together. It kind of makes you realize what’s really important in life. We were on some base awaiting reassignment when the two of us first met. Later that night we went to the local officer’s club and then a local diner to grab a late night dinner, it was then that the two of us hit it off.”

“Well, it does certainly show that you two get along great with one another.” Leslie said, “It’s been years since Rachel had any kind of relationship, even when she wasn’t in the military.”

“Mom!” Rachel squealed. “Don’t say that! You’re going to scare him away.” Richard merely drew her closer with his arm to reassure her.

Leslie had to laugh at them. “I’m just giving you both a hard time.”

“I know that mom, but please don’t. You’re embarrassing me.”

Leslie nodded her head. “It’s my job though; it’s a mother’s prerogative.” She paused as Rachel let out a sigh. “So what brings you two here?”

“Richard here hasn’t been to Earth since the academy, he grew up on a space colony so this is the only time he’s ever seen anything else on Earth,” Rachel explained.

Her mother nodded her head slowly. “Where did you grow up Richard?”

“I grew up in the Alpha Centauri Colony Cluster, specifically Cluster B. Rachel invited me on a trip to Earth and she’s going to take me on a tour.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea what she’s going to do but she’s said that it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

“Well then,” Leslie laughed. “You’re definitely in for a treat. This planet is far better than any space habitat if you ask me. Whatever Rachel has planned you I will definitely say that you’re going to have a lot of fun on Earth. Now did you come to introduce your boyfriend or are you here for something more?”

“I came to get a few things before we headed out.”

“You’re not going to be staying long?” Leslie asked. She was hoping that Rachel would stick around for some time since she hadn’t seen her for so long.

“No, we need to see about catching a flight from Cheyenne,” she paused, “we have a very tight itinerary. We need to get to that airport quickly if we want to get through security and make it to our flight on time.”

“Alright,” Leslie hugged her daughter. “Now that you know your father is gone, don’t be a stranger and come back home more often if you get the chance. And bring Richard too; he’s more than welcome to come with you.”

“I’ll try to come back more often, I promise. Let me go get my stuff and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’ll be waiting in the car, alright?” Richard said and Rachel ran up to the house and disappeared for some time into her old bedroom, rifling through her closet and dresser for what she needed. She came back out running toward the car. “Did you get what you needed?” Rachel nodded her head as she looked down at the car’s computer console and punched in the Cheyenne Airport as the destination. The car proceeded to drive itself without any more input from them.

“You know Rachel, next time we have leave, I’m going to take you back to my place,” Richard said as they started for the open road again. “I know that it’s not going to be as beautiful as Earth is but it’ll be your first time in a space colony.”

”Oh really,” Rachel asked as she took hold of his hand. “Your place, huh?”

Richard squeezed her hand. “Well, I got to see where you lived so I only think it’s fair that you see mine. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have a problem having a house guest for a while, we have more than enough room.”

“Well then,” she looked at him out of the corner of her eye and smiled. “We’re just going to have to plan that, aren’t we?”

Dropping the car off at the rental station at the Cheyenne Airport was a simple matter. Richard paid for the car inside and filled out the forms to return it while Rachel went into the airport terminal to pick up their tickets. Richard found her fuming inside. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“We can’t get there from here!” she exclaimed. “We’re going to have to take two flights. I’ve never liked transfers; they’re a pain in the ass if you ask me. We have the ability to jump from one star system to another yet we can’t make a simple jump from one city to another.”

Richard couldn’t help but snort derisively at the airlines. The Space Force had ships that could traverse many light years yet the average citizen still relied on an archaic system which forced them to take many flights to get from one city to another. It was the same thing going from star system to star system even though all it took to go from star system to star system was a simple trip through a jump gate.

“Where are we going?” he asked, trying again to get that little bit of extra information out of her. He was desperate for any kind of information for she was very tight lipped about where they were going. She had to tell him at some point.

She smiled at him. I might as well tell him myself. He’ll see it the minute he looks at that electronic boarding pass. “Oh, nowhere special,” she said smoothly, “just Hawaii and we’re flying first class.” She started to walk toward the gate where two Transportation Security Administration officials were checking passengers. She had the pleasure of watching his expression light up at the thought of going there.

“You’re good,” he said with a laugh. “Oh, you’re very good.”

“I could make a joke with that, but I won’t,” she answered with a laugh of her own. “First we have to catch an atmospheric shuttle from here to Los Angeles and then from there another one to where we’re going. A pain in the ass since you’d think that shuttles these days can go from Point A to Point B without stopping,” she shrugged. “I suppose that Cheyenne, Wyoming, is too remote for this kind of flight.”

The two approached the TSA men and handed their identification over. Richard would’ve thought that the Space Force Duty Uniform would’ve been enough not to ask for it. He watched Rachel calmly reach into one of the many uniform pockets of her uniform pull her Common Access Card (CAC). It served as not only a holographic picture identification card but also a basic military record storage device that was used by everything from physical security to logging into government computers. If these guys decided to put him on report it could land him in a load of trouble for his efforts. After their IDs were scanned they stepped through the scanners and proceeded through the security checkpoint. Afterward, the more he thought about it he realized that it wasn’t that hard to get your hands on a Space Force uniform if you knew where to look, and not even on the black market! If one knew where to look in places like Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing, and Baghdad you could find vendors that sold them. One could even find them in London, Berlin, and New York City.

The two of them practically ran down the concourse of the airport terminal until they reached their assigned gate. Once there they sat in by the gate. “Why Hawaii though?” he asked her as they settled in.

She turned to look at him and chuckled. “Oh, come on Richard. You’re about to take off on a vacation to one of the most delightful places on Earth with a woman and you ask, ‘Why Hawaii?’ I wanted to take you there, that’s why.”

He thought about it for barely two seconds before he put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. “When you put it that way, it was worth the surprise.”

She traced a finger up his chest. “Think about it. There’ll be sun, warm ocean breezes, clear skies, palm trees, knocked-out beaches, and pristine blue waters. And you want to know what the best part is?”

He nodded his head very slightly. She placed her lips near his ear and purred. “It’ll just be you, me and,” she turned his head to kiss him on the lips before continuing, “as little clothing as possible. How does that sound?” Her smile would’ve made the Cheshire cat jealous.

“I like the sound of that a lot,” before he kissed her. “Now love, what was it that you picked up at your mother’s house?”

She jerked her head back and gave him a sly grin. “Now Richard, what is that you, um, ‘like the sound of?’ Is it the idea of this trip or is it the thought of me barely wearing anything?” she teased her finger across his chest as her voice turned sultry.

He kissed her again. “Both. I can’t wait to see you barely clothed or naked.”

“I should hope so!” she exclaimed.

He stopped and thought for a second. “Are you always like this?”

Rachel wasn’t a slutty woman in any sense of the word; at least that’s not how Richard knew her so far. Maybe this was a side he hadn’t seen yet. Her words suggested she was like the women he and his friends used to date. Maybe he was reading too much into it. After all, he and his old friends knew how to spot the easy ones. She didn’t strike him as easy; at least not easy for anyone. But he wasn’t just anyone.

Rachel knew he was with other women before, his confidence around her certainly made that clear. Not that that bothered her at all; he was hers now. And besides, she liked confident men. She kissed him gently. “Is it making you uncomfortable?”

He paused for a second before answering, “Thoughtful is a better word.”

“Look at it this way; I’m a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.”

He smiled at her. “Okay. And that is?”

“You,” she said as she poked at him. “I want you and only you.” She thought for a moment, thinking maybe she was going against his notions of her. “I’m not like this with just anyone. You’re special and I love you and that’s why I’m like this now. If you weren’t the one I loved I wouldn’t be this way at all. Did you think I was new to this sort of thing?”

“Um… yes, I kind of did think that way. Maybe I was being a bit foolish.”

“Why’s that?” She asked wondering just what he meant.

“Your history,” Richard thought. “You came from an overly protective home, so I figured that maybe you wouldn’t act like this. It just wasn’t what I was expecting from a… um…,” he trailed off.

“You thought I’m a virgin?” Rachel asked, highly amused with herself. She watched him nod then continued, “Oh hell no! What girl’s a virgin at my age? Unless they grew up in a convent most girls aren’t virgins anymore by the time they’re sixteen.”

“I know. It’s just that I’ve had past relationships that didn’t end well, I don’t want to make the same mistakes with you.” He paused, thinking about what he wanted to say. “The military has done a lot for me. It taught me to be a better person; it gave me the self-confidence to be who I am today.”

“Richard, I’ve been there too; I’ve made mistakes that I want to forget. Hell, if they could program those nano-machine things we all have to wipe out some memories I would do it in a heartbeat.” She paused as she looked to the floor. “I was never that outgoing. I liked computers a little too much for a teenage girl. But that didn’t stop guys from looking at me. I let one or two… do a little more than look… a little more than cop a feel if you catch my drift. I feel ashamed that I let guys touch me that way.

“Now that I look back on that I ask myself why I let that happen.” She shook her head. “Maybe it was some kind of teenage rebellion or some way of getting back at my father for being the overbearing asshole he was.” She looked back to him. “I love you Richard so believe me when I tell you, I want this to go right as well.” She took his hands and held them in her hands. “I don’t feel like we’re rushing things. We’ve known each other for a few weeks, I know, but after that battle I realize that we have to enjoy life. Carpe diem! We’ve seen how life is all too short.” She waited for him to nod in agreement. “If I didn’t feel for you like I do I wouldn’t be acting like this now. So trust me, the reason I’m doing this, now, is because well… I know I can trust you.”

He didn’t say anything for a few seconds before he simply reached out and carefully took her chin in his hand. He leaned forward and kissed her gently, “I think we’ll be fine together.”

Shortly after they heard over the P.A., “Shuttle A-373 bound for Los Angeles, California is now boarding at Gate 6. All passengers please precede to the gate and have your boarding passes ready. I repeat, Shuttle A-373…” the voice went on repeating the message.

They flashed their tickets before an electronic reader and were cleared to board the shuttle. While sitting down the first thing Richard noticed was that the civilian shuttle was vastly different from its military cousins.

The seats in first class were fewer in number than the ones he could see in coach. They were wider, had real wooden armrests and soft leather cushions that could tilt backward in an egg shaped chair to become a flat bed. There were blankets and pillows set on the chairs along with what looked like a full-sized pull-out table. “Thank you for flying with us today,” a stewardess said as they settled in.

He was going to ask Rachel why she chose first class but when he noticed her eyes were closed he decided not to ask and just get comfortable himself. It didn’t take him long to fall asleep.

A few minutes later the pilot came on over the intercom stirring Richard from his nap. “This is your pilot speaking. We’ll be taking off shortly. Please watch the video starting in a couple seconds in order to familiarize yourself with the safety equipment on the shuttle. After the video we’ll be heading to Los Angeles. The total flight time should be about thirty minutes. Please enjoy your flight and thank you for choosing Spaceway Airlines.”

Honolulu, Hawaii, was the home of warm tropical breezes, sunshine and clear waters as far as the eye could see. It was also most notably the home of African, Filipino, Oriental, Polynesian, and white women who weren’t overly encumbered by the need for clothing. The area around the Honolulu Spaceport which sat next to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, wasn’t at all like the Honolulu and Waikiki that was talked about in tourist guides.

That part of town was a little over 14 kilometers to the east. Meanwhile Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield, the Human Federation Army garrison, sat almost 30 kilometers to the north and west. Further out to the east end of the island was Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. Richard spent the time on the flight over here to study up a little on Oa’hu and the websites suggested that if one wanted to get away from the overly touristy parts of Hawaii one could double back on Interstate H1 to Interstate H3 toward Kaneohe, or go east then north from Waikiki. Along the eastern side of the island between MCBH and the crowded Waikiki were Bellows Air Force Station, which had both a public and Department of Defense access only beach, and Waimanalo Beach. Both were supposed to be some of the most pristine beaches on the whole island, complete with that turquoise-colored water he and Rachel saw while they were landing.

But here it was the concrete lanes of the Interstate H1 and the factory district.

As the cab driver started driving them into Honolulu proper and Waikiki Richard noticed–while trying not to be noticed that he was noticing–the veritable flesh parade around downtown Honolulu and instead focused on the woman he was with. There was so much to look at, what with the clear sky, the buildings and all those women of course.

Rachel pretended not to notice her male companion’s darting glances all around him, considering that his eyes did return to her and stayed there for the most part. In a lot of ways Europe’s viewpoints on the human body were exported to the rest of the traditionally Western world and parts of the Far East. It wouldn’t be surprising to find people on the beaches of America, Korea and Japan going topless or even fully nude.

With the resort hotels on Oa’hu it depended on where you were. A topless woman at a hotel pool wouldn’t shock anyone even in the afternoon. But the same hotel that let her do that would prefer she didn’t come to the pool naked until late evening. On the beaches along the North Shore such as Haleiwa, or to the east, such as Bellows or Waimanalo, or to the west, such as Wai’anae, nobody would raise so much as an eyebrow at seeing a naked man or woman. Rachel liked Europe’s less prudish views about the body; it was hers so why should she be ashamed of it? She planned to show Richard plenty of hers very shortly.

The only downside Richard could see was that if you were fair-skinned you’d quickly turn the color of medium-rare. He thanked God for his more Southern European complexion. That same bright sunlight that he was currently enjoying would burn anyone lighter than him just by blinking at them. Richard wondered if it was going to be a problem for Rachel, what with her Irish heritage and all. He figured if it was going to be a problem, she wouldn’t have chosen to come here.

“We have to get off the street as soon as possible,” she told him while they found themselves stuck in traffic on the H1. Their duffle bags were in the boot of the cab and they were still wearing their uniforms. “Carrying luggage around makes us a target for pickpockets, and trust me, these guys here make ones back on the mainland look like chumps.”

“How do you know?” he asked her. Meanwhile she was looking at her tablet and opening an app on it. “I’ve been here before with my folks. My father’s camera disappeared without him even noticing. Luckily it was just the camera and not his wallet. We really ought to ditch the uniforms too. We stick out like a couple of hippies at a Nixon rally. There’ve been reports about ACF sympathizers on Earth so the less we show off that we’re Space Force the safer we’ll be. Although, to be fair, the Honolulu Police do a good job.”

Richard heard reports of ACF sympathizers on Earth but he always thought about it as something to scare people. The witch hunts were alive and well even in the civilian populace. There was a report in the news faxes that a large group of ACF sympathizers were found just a few clicks south of San Antonio, Texas. Richard didn’t want to believe that was the case. To turn your back on your own star nation was an unspeakable thing if you asked him.

After what felt like an eternity in traffic they finally came to a stop in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Next door to it was the Hale Koa Hotel, the large Morale, Welfare and Recreation hotel for Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard, or Retired military only. Rachel had chosen the Hilton because she as she explained she didn’t want to stay in a hotel with a lot of other military types. The Hilton could have a lot of military but there were bound to be far less than the Hale Koa. And just because they weren’t staying at the Hale Koa didn’t mean they couldn’t go there and use the resort’s facilities, including the military pricing at the bars and restaurants.

Richard peered out of the car’s window and looked up and saw row after row of windows along with balconies and people standing on them. Along the exterior of the building were several palm trees, lush green lawns and gardens. He must’ve been staring for too long because he heard Rachel say that the view would be better from the room.

The driver came about to the back of the car and opened the door for them. “Here we are,” the driver extended his arm out, “one of the finest hotels on Oahu. I have to admit miss, you have excellent taste.”

“Thank you,” Rachel replied. “I wanted the best place to stay and all of the travel information about Hawaii told me that this was the place to be if you wanted the finest.”

The driver nodded his head. “You can’t go wrong with this resort at all, although most military stay at the Hale Koa.” With that the driver opened the back of the car and helped the two of them unload their luggage. Once they got their luggage they started walking towards the main building of the hotel and resort. As the two walked into the main lobby of the hotel the two saw people everywhere. What set those other people apart from the two of them was that they were all wearing light, brief clothing. They walked up to the front desk and Rachel rang the bell. The clerk appeared from behind a black curtain in front of a doorway. “May I help you madam?”

“Yes, we,” she indicated herself and Richard, “have a room reserved for us at the Ali’i Tower. It’s under the name ‘McFarland.’”

“Of course,” the clerk replied while tapping a few keys on the computer in front of him. A few seconds later he looked back up. “Yes, right here. Your room is ready for you at any time. Give me a second Miss McFarland,” he told her as he tapped a few more keys. “I see that you entered the reservation system under a military discount. However, before the system will apply the discount I need to see your IDs for final verification.”

Rachel shrugged and reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her CAC. She handed it over to him and he swiped it through the card reader. He handed it back to her before returning to the computer.

“Alright, the reservation has you down for two keys. Is that alright?” Rachel nodded her head. The clerk then scanned two keycards into the system for the room and then handed the two cards to Rachel. “Okay madam, these cards will open the lock on your room as well as any and all other guest facilities on the resort grounds such as the pool, spa, exercise room, etc. Self-service laundry can be purchased through the in-room tablet computer, or hotel staff can do your laundry for a fee. Please try not to lose the keys. In the event of a lost keycard, please notify the front desk as soon as possible. We will freeze the lost card’s microchip and issue you a new one. A new card will cost you 10 credits.”

He continued. “Room service can be contacted through your room’s comlink; however the military discount doesn’t apply to room service or any other hotel services including restaurants and bars. You can find out about all of the hotel amenities through the room’s tablet or any Wi-Fi enabled device. The password for our secure Wi-Fi network is listed in our hotel information packet that’s already in your room. I hope your stay is enjoyable and please visit us again on any return trips Miss McFarland.”

“Thank you sir,” she replied as she took the keycards. The clerk snapped his fingers and a bellhop appeared before them with a cart for their luggage. “Please take these two to Room 1826 of the Ali’i Tower on the double,” the clerk told him.

“Yes sir!” the bellhop replied before turning to them. “If you’ll follow me sir, madam.” Richard noticed the bellhop was dressed in an expensive looking black suit with brass buttons. Well, well, he thought to himself, she reserved only one room! With any luck that means one bed, which means I’ll be holding her in my arms every night! He nodded unseen by her as he watched her move over to the bellhop. Yeah, life is going to be good!

“If you’ll follow me please, I’ll take you to your room. It’s a short walk to the particular tower you’re in so please, stick close.” The bellhop started off, pushing the luggage cart along in front of him. They followed him as they passed through several hallways. They quickly realized just how big the hotel complex was and how easily one could get lost if you didn’t know your way.

Soon they came to their hotel room’s tower. The bellhop approached a lift and a few seconds later the door opened. “If you’ll please follow me.” The bellhop turned to the lift attendant. “Eighteenth floor, please.” Richard looked at the attendant as she pressed the button. Since when does a hotel have lift attendants anymore? Shouldn’t those positions have been rendered obsolete by electronics in Earth’s mid-20th century? Maybe they’re trying for a throwback to less modern times just for show. Eighteenth floor? He asked himself. We’re going to be able to see a lot from up there!

The bellhop soon brought them to the room and, approaching the door he took out his ID card and swiped it in the card reader to open the door. He proceeded to lead the two of them into the room while wheeling the luggage cart.

The bellhop turned to them as he closed the door. “I’ll introduce you to the various features that the room has.” They followed the bellhop as he showed them the head, the bedroom and its one bed, the outside patio overlooking the ocean, the in-room refrigerator in the kitchenette area, and where to find the computer and tablet, hotel comlink, and the hotel information packet that was situated on the nightstand. “And finally, sir and madam, the tower’s private pool, sun terrace, whirlpool, sauna and steam rooms are located on the second floor.” Rachel nodded her head. “Where would you like your luggage to be placed?”

“Over there in the corner,” Rachel replied as she looked towards to the patio, meanwhile Richard was captivated by the scene as he looked out across the patio and over the ocean. Rachel looked at him as Richard took in a deep breath. He looked to her as she put her arm around him. “Isn’t it absolutely breathtaking?” he just nodded his head in agreement.

“Alright sir and madam, your luggage has been placed in the corner as you have requested.” He held out his hand as Rachel reached into her wallet. She pulled a ten credit coin and handed it to him.

He smiled as he took the banknote. “Thank you miss!” he said and turned to walk out of the room leaving the two of them staring out at the oceanfront scene.

Rachel snaked both arms around Richard’s waist from behind. “Alone at last,” she purred into his ear before proceeding to yawn quietly. “Damn,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said as he took her hands into his own and held them. “I’m tired too. Jetlag is a bitch.”

“Yeah,” Rachel answered with another yawn as she stood behind him with her chin resting on his shoulders. “We went from GMT, to Wyoming time, and finally to here. Our bodies must be confused with all the time zone shifting.”

“You bet,” he answered.

“You have two weeks alone with a woman on a wonderful island resort, let’s enjoy ourselves.” She came around in front of him and kissed him on the lips, long and deep. He returned it, stretching it for a few more seconds before she broke away. “Now, I’m going get changed and get ready for bed.” She went over to her luggage and rifled through it, finding what she needed. She went into the head and left the door playfully open a tiny bit.

We’re alone at last! If I didn’t know better, this feels different than three or four other women I’ve been with. The women I dated in my past were more than willing. Granted, I was never alone with them in Hawaii of all places! But this? I guess it’s different because I love her. And not just the regular, “I love you” of back then. No, I’m in love. He looked at the door of the head. We clicked, just like that. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. It just happened. Maybe the battle and the fact that we’re alive and unharmed amplified everything.

My friends said I’d find someone when I wasn’t looking and, well, here I am! Two weeks alone with her. And if I miss my guess, there’s going to be plenty of sex. Not that I mind one bit! I wonder what she’s… no, better not wonder. It’ll be better to find out how she’s in bed, not just think about it. I have this funny notion that it’ll be better than any previous time! It’s a good thing the Space Force includes mandatory birth control in their nanotech treatments. That being the case there’s no need for protection! God, it feels so much better without it! I’m sure she feels better knowing she can’t get pregnant at an unfortunate time.

Richard walked over to the luggage and pulled out his night clothes. He shed his uniform blouse and tossed it aside then got to work on his belt and undershirt.

Just as he threw the shirt aside he heard Rachel come out of the head. She stood in the doorway with a smile on her face and a silk spaghetti strap nightgown that reached down to only halfway above her knees. His eyes immediately locked onto her body, drinking in as many details as quickly as he could. He looked at her as if she was a target on his tactical display. Richard saw her many times before but this was the first time he really got to see the woman under the uniform. Her skin, while not as pale as her Irish last name suggested, was still light enough that she’d have to be careful in the sun.

She slowly spun around before coming up to him. His eyes drank in the details of her waist and hips and of how her butt was shapely, not big but not small either. As she walked her large breasts bounced ever so slightly under the garment. “Do you like what you see?” she asked as she walked up to him and put her hands on his hips.

He nodded his head. “Good Lord, I wish that I could see a lot more than this.”

Her smile got wider even as a blush lightened up her cheeks. “You will, I promise.” She reached up and put her hands on his shoulders. “But for now, I’m too tired for anything.”

Richard’s arms went around her and pulled her closer to himself and kissed her. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

“Oh, I know, and so am I,” she said in a needlessly soft voice. She didn’t have to whisper as the hotel prided itself on the soundproofing of its walls and its privacy screens which could be activated with a word. They also had their Space Force issue privacy screens to further jam any sound and keep someone from looking into the room. The feel of her skin beneath the thin nightgown was a feeling he missed after so long without. It was heavenly and the silk only made things better. He ran his hands up her back, sending small shivers up her spine. He gently caressed the skin there, finding it soft and warm. Her smile was inviting and her eyes danced with delight.

He wanted her right then, no two ways about it. He wished for nothing more than to take her nightgown off and make love to her that very moment. He fought the urge back and then leaned close to whisper, “I really do love you and I want you, right now.”

“I love you too,” she pressed a finger to his lips. “Now go get changed and ready for bed. Then we can go to sleep.” She covered a yawn which only emphasized her words, “And I really mean sleep.”

The next morning Richard was the first to wake up. It was the most relaxing sleep he experienced in quite a long time, even if the bed was too soft for his current taste. After sleeping on Space Force cots, on a deck, or in a bunk aboard ship (both in and out of a vacsuit) any proper bed felt too soft. It took some getting used to before he fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. The bed was much larger than anything he could get aboard ship. He felt almost lost with the amount of space they shared.

After sleeping alone for so long it took some time to get used to sleeping with somebody else. It wasn’t something he wasn’t used to, but after being without a proper bedmate for four or five years it didn’t feel right.

He awoke to find his arm still draped across her. During the night Rachel pressed her body against his. He put both arms around her again and breathed in, taking in her scent. The fact that she was there, sleeping in his arms, cemented the thought that he was really there in Hawaii with who had to be the woman of his dreams.

He brought his lips closer to her ears and whispered, “I love you,” before he gently moved to his side of the bed.

Richard stayed like that, staring up at the ceiling as sunlight poured into the room. He reached over and clicked on his datapad. It read 0800. We slept that long? I’ve never slept more than ten hours like this before in my life, least of all in the service! He looked to his right and gently got up and out of the bed leaving Rachel undisturbed.

He walked over to the window and pulled the curtain back just enough to be able to look outside and across the ocean. He reached for the handle of the patio door, opened it, and stood there with the door open, quickly activating the privacy screen in the doorway. He breathed in the ocean air, felt the faint ocean mist on his face, and the warmth of the sun. He couldn’t help but smile as he took in the scene before him.

Before he knew it Rachel put her arms around him from behind. She put her head on his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek and went back to resting her chin on his shoulder.

“Good morning,” he said as he took her hands into his and continued to look out across the ocean. He turned around in her arms and held her tightly, feeling like he was in Heaven. Hawaii might as well be Heaven. Some people said that after God made Eden for practice He made Hawaii. Richard saw no reason to argue with them.

“Richard,” Rachel yelped as she was taken in his tight embrace. “What’s…” was all that Rachel could get out before she was in caught up in a passionate kiss that seemed to last a lifetime. As Richard broke the kiss, Rachel quickly took hold of him by the neck and gave him another. They moved backwards, kissing the whole time and soon they fell onto the bed with Rachel falling on top of him.

Richard looked up into Rachel’s beautiful blue eyes and held onto her tightly through another passionate kiss before he began kissing her up and down her neck. He continued kissing her neck, not wanting to let it end while his hands found the straps of her nightgown. He started to push them off her shoulders when she gasped, “Richard… stop. Richard, please… stop.” He stopped, which was a testament to his self-control at that point. “As much as I loved every moment of that, we have to stop,” she breathed.

“Why?” Richard asked.

“Think about it,” she paused, “we have almost two weeks in the closest thing to paradise. Do you really want to jump to the fireworks on the morning of the first day?” Richard found that he couldn’t argue with that logic. “At least wait until tonight,” she suggested with a promising smile as she got off of him, leaving him lying on the bed.

Richard looked up at her. “You have no idea the things I want to do with you.”

“Oh,” Rachel winked, “I know exactly what you want to do with me,” she said with the sexiest smile he ever saw on her.

Richard stood and took her into his arms and whispered, “I know you do.” She nodded her head and walked away with more of a sway in her hips on her way to the head. “Get dressed into the workout outfit we got you, we have to go running.”

“What? You mean now?” Richard asked.

“We may be on vacation but that doesn’t mean we neglect our physical training. Besides, running up and down the beaches and having the cool breeze will be a wonderful experience.” Rachel walked into the head, leaving Richard in the bedroom to get dressed.

Richard stepped into the hotel room and threw his sweat soaked shirt aside. He couldn’t believe how hot it became as the noon approached along with the humidity. He was hot and sweaty and the only thing he wanted to do was to take a shower and cool off.

Rachel turned to him. “Do you want to take your shower first?”

“Doesn’t matter to me,” he replied as Rachel threw her tank-top shirt aside leaving her wearing only a sports bra and brief gym shorts.

“Alright,” Rachel replied, “I’m going to take mine first, alright?” Richard shrugged his shoulders. She sat on the bed and proceeded to get undressed as Richard grabbed the remote from the nightstand and sat on the opposite side of the bed. He pointed the remote at the HD screen and turned it on. The BBC News came up and on the screen showed Admiral Kimery in front of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.

He turned the volume up and began listening as the camera panned to the left to a set of nine people sitting at a long table with microphones in front of them. One of the people sitting at the table spoke up.

“Admiral Kimery, you have stated in your testimony that it was a computer virus that infected many of the systems belonging to the ships in your fleet. Is that an accurate description of the issue that eventually led to your fleet’s defeat against the Rebels?”

Richard’s jaw dropped as the question was spoken. “Oh shit,” he spoke out, “they’re raking her over the coals.”

“Raking who over the coals?” Rachel called from the head.

“They have Admiral Megan Kimery on the television and it appears she’s being questioned about our fleet’s defeat.”

“Like she’s the one to blame for it. We couldn’t help it.” Richard cut her off. “I know that, you know that. But they’re looking for a scapegoat to blame it on. They just want someone to take the blame so they’ll look better in the eyes of their constituents. We’re lucky they’re not going after us.”

He turned back to the television as the door to the head closed. Richard missed part of it so he rewound the broadcast by a few seconds. “Yes, that would be an accurate description of the issue.” The admiral appeared to be calm, cool, and collected. He knew he wouldn’t be if it were him in front of that committee.

“Admiral Kimery,” the first person asked. “Your testimony also states that you didn’t know that anything was overtly wrong with your computer systems until shortly before the battle began. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” the admiral nodded her head. “That statement is accurate.”

“Why is that Admiral Kimery? How didn’t you know something was wrong before the battle took place? Don’t you have your computer security personnel look for these kinds of things?”

“I can assure you that we were monitoring all computer systems up to the beginning of the battle. Nothing out of the ordinary was detected in our systems leading up to the battle.”

“So why wasn’t it found before you lost so many of your ships and so many of the people who served under your command? Isn’t it your job to make sure that things like this don’t happen?”

“Like I said before, we were monitoring all computer systems up until the beginning of the battle and we detected no anomalous readings. We didn’t detect any kind of viral package until it surfaced as the battle began. It caused many of the ship’s computer systems to fail. As far as my cyber security people have been able to tell, we were the victim of a tailor-made delayed action virus.”

“Admiral, would you furnish the committee with a list of names of those cyber security personnel so we may call them in for questions as well?”

No sir, I will not.”

A murmur ran through the assembled senators and representative assembled there. They weren’t expecting her to reject their request so quickly.

The same senator spoke up again, “Are we to infer that you’re protecting these people? That you want to cover up gross, dare I say, criminal negligence?”

Richard watched the admiral’s hands ball into fists so tight he knew it had to hurt. “With all due respect sir,” she said in a tone which was as far away from respect as you could get, “I’m not covering anything up at all. I’ve seen the records myself and I’ve provided them for you.”

“Records that could’ve been altered by your people,” another senator said. “I find it rather convenient that all these records don’t have the names of the personnel in question.”

“There’s a thing called operational security,” the admiral said, all but rubbing the senator’s nose in it, “I don’t wish to have the names of my people aired for all to see, including any ACF spies or sympathizers who may be listening to this broadcast as we speak. I assume that you’d bring my officers before this committee and televise it. As I stated before I’m not covering anything up. I’m merely taking the responsibility as the commanding officer. If you want to blame or punish anyone then that’s me.”

Silence stretched for a long moment before the first senator cleared his throat and said, “You have also stated in your testimony that your weapons were firing on friendly ships. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” the admiral replied with no hint of hesitation. “That statement would be correct.”

“We will adjourn for a recess.” The flood of people seconding the notion came swiftly.

Richard sighed. “Damn, she’s screwed.” He angrily stabbed the power button. “If she makes it out of that,” he stood up and shook his head in disgust, “I’m going to be very surprised. They’re going to make an example of her, I just know it.”

“How did the admiral do? What did they ask of her?” Rachel asked from the head. He told her what he saw.

“What do you want from politicians? They want to save their own asses and to hell with whomever they drag down in the process.”

“I know that,” he replied, “but the admiral doesn’t deserve this at all. She couldn’t help that the damn virus was so good as to only make itself known at the last minute. What did she call it? ‘A delayed-action virus?’”

“Yeah,” she replied as she called from the head. “That’s exactly what that thing was. She’ll be lucky if she doesn’t get beached after this. I’ve seen people get drummed out of the service for things smaller than this.”

“So where do you think we’re going to eat?” she asked as she came out of the head with just a towel around her and a towel on her head. She shivered a bit as she felt the air from the open balcony door.

He looked to her, “I think the admiral just committed perjury.”

“Perjury?” she looked at him rather astonished. “What the hell do you mean? What did she say?”

“She said that she didn’t know about the virus when in fact she did.” She continued to stare at Richard. “Didn’t your crew work with Hoshi’s crew to clean our computer systems of the virus?” She nodded her head in confirmation but still was wondering what Richard was aiming at. “Didn’t you tell the XO and the captain about it?”

Rachel thought for a moment. “Yes, yes we did tell the captain and the XO. I felt that it would be a good idea to tell the admiral about the situation but the captain and the XO disagreed. They felt it would breach OPSEC since we didn’t know who planted the virus to begin with. Sure, our computer systems were clean then but what about the admiral’s ship? The person who planted the virus could’ve been aboard her ship and we’d have no way of knowing. So, under the needs of OPSEC they didn’t inform the admiral.” She shrugged her shoulders. “We didn’t know who to trust. Both Hoshi and I agreed with the captain and the XO at the time when they explained their reason.

“As far as the admiral is concerned she didn’t know about our findings at all. You technically can’t perjure yourself if you didn’t know about it.”

Rachel sat down with her personal datapad (not the military issue one) on the balcony a few days later and started up some of her specialized programs; the kind that might get her court-marshaled if any of the higher ups knew she had them. A lot of the programs she wrote herself and they were more than up to the task of what she needed to do. A few dozen clicks and keystrokes later and she was already piercing the Bureau of Naval Personnel’s firewalls. It was easy if one knew what they were doing. BuPer’s systems weren’t as secure as some of the other systems and weren’t often updated.

Endless hours behind a computer back home when most teenage girls were out having fun with their friends turned Rachel into a pretty fair hacker. Granted she wasn’t as good as some of the professionals out there but for what she needed to do she was more than skilled enough. Access this, bypass that, and she was almost into BuPers’ personnel database.

Richard chose that moment to come over and wrap his arms around her from behind. She hastily locked the screen as kissed her on the cheek. “Ready to go to breakfast yet? It’s been an hour.”

Has is it really been that long? She asked herself. I’m getting rusty if stuff like this takes this long. Ah, what am I thinking? I have no chance to practice hacking like this. I’m usually the one trying to prevent hackers, not be the hacker. All those thoughts passed through her in a moment and she smiled at the man who was being so good to her. Yeah, what did I do to deserve this? “Maybe another half hour. I’m in the middle of something,” she said at the datapad.

Richard gave her another kiss and went back inside. Rachel let out a very small sigh and unlocked the screen. Hopefully her session didn’t time out. It hadn’t. Good. Just a few more firewalls and attack barriers were left. She worked on getting past those and got into the database. Once in there she checked for orders that pertained to herself and Richard. Finding the necessary files she found that BuPers assigned them to different ships when their leave was over. These things do happen from time to time… but not if I have anything to say about it. She went to work modifying their duty assignments while being careful not to leave any telltale signs of blatant modifications.

Hey, while I’m in here… let me check on that one girl Richard gave his recommendations to, she thought. What was her name? She asked herself. What was the name of that girl on the Valiant? She thought for a moment more. Ah yes, Lisa Sutter. She did some typing. Hmm… assigned to OCS. Not bad Lisa, not bad.

She logged out of the system and walked back into the hotel room with a look of confidence on her face. She turned to Richard. “They assigned us to different ships,” he frowned when he heard that, “but not anymore.” At his confused expression she explained. “I changed our duty assignments silly.”

“Just how the hell did you do that?” he asked her with just as much confusion. “Are you going to get into any trouble over this?”

“No, not at all Richard,” she smiled, “that is, if no one says anything about what I just did.” Richard blinked his eyes. “I’m just good like that.”

“Won’t they be able to trace it back to you? This hotel room?” he asked.

She laughed. “I bounced the connection through half the damn Galactic Internet. By the time they think they have narrowed down the point of origin it’ll look like it came from somewhere on Sirius. I bounced through so many proxy servers from here to Alpha Centauri that it’ll keep them busy for the next year trying to track down where it came from. Hell,” she thought, “I used more than a dozen different proxies with the traffic being bounced between them hundreds of times in random order. In the end, forget it, they’ll never find me.”

He was about to walk towards where her luggage was when she remembered something. “Oh, I also found out that Lisa Sutter was assigned to OCS.” Richard nodded his head a couple of times. “That’s some quick turnaround,” she said, “your recommendation must’ve really got the wheels turning.”