The Camulus Incursion: Part 6 The Fall Girl

CHAPTER XI

January 2, 2081. 1957 hours Zulu.

Chrissie didn’t want to see the marines before it was time. Anyway, she had things she had to do prior to the meeting. Her chin up, she pushed open the hatch to the tele-comm room. The marines stood at attention.

“As you were. Good evening and a happy new year, ...”

She held out her hand to the officer.

“... Christina Matterson, Pegasus Force.”

She had resolved to present herself by reference to her substantive unit. They were all marines, anyhow.

Henderson and Embrezetti introduced themselves and said nothing more. Chrissie motioned for them to be seated. Aleksandr arrived to press the button and flick the switches to connect with the Pentagon. He left. Each sat in silence watching a blue screen for an excruciating minute. The screen cracked and came to life. They were met by the image of the Supreme Commander Allied Forces, General Nathaniel J. Edmondsen.

“Good evening, Camulus, hope you’re reading me.”

“Loud and clear, General, good afternoon and happy new year.”

“Happy new year, Christina, good to see you again.”

“Thank you, sir, can I introduce Lieutenant Colonel Henderson and Master Gunnery Sergeant Embrezetti.”

“And also may I introduce, to my right, April Hawkins, Chief of Operations, National Security Council and of course you know the Marine Corps Commandant, General Herringe.”

Everyone smiled and nodded.

“Good afternoon. Happy new year.”

“Christina, I’m sorry this has taken some time to arrange, I’d hoped it was in place last night but events conspired against me.”

“My apologies too, General, I was a bit distracted this morning.”

“Not at all, I’ve had the benefit of Colonel Aries’s excellent log reports. There’s no doubt you’ve had a lot to deal with in the last couple of days.”

“The problem we have, sir, is that there is no way to find out where the intruder is hiding, it strikes at us at a moment of its choosing.”

“Their counter anti-cloaking devices?”

“Are very effective, sir.”

“So it has the run of the spacecraft?”

“Somehow it can incave itself into small areas such as vents, if we send troops into them they can be picked off one by one.”

“What’s your plan?”

“It seems more active in the morning hours. My plan is to attempt to lure it into a trap.”

His voice had lost its initial joviality.

“When?”

“Umm, tomorrow, sir.”

“Christina, the British Prime Minister will announce tomorrow at 1200 Zulu that the British have signed their own ceasefire with the People’s Republic.”

“Umm, doesn’t that affect treaty obligations, sir?”

“Yes. And for reasons which are now becoming clear, the Chinese are unwilling to finalise our own agreement and have even started to renege on matters we thought were settled. We are speculating that as there is only one hot spot remaining in this war, our enemy is trying to drag things out and maybe see how desperate we are to renegotiate.”

The NSC Chief spoke.

“The simple thing is that we are desperate to ensure we are not undermined by the British announcement. The potential fracturing of the alliance with London has brought immense political pressure on the White House to make a definitive announcement on the prospects for our own ceasefire within the next twenty four hours. The President informed the NSC this morning that she required any hot spot to be extinguished before the announcement is made.”

General Edmondsen spoke.

“And Christina, that’s where you and your, err, plan come in. This incursion on Camulus must be eliminated within twelve hours or arrangements are to be made to abandon and scuttle the craft by no later than 1200 hours Zulu tomorrow.”

“By scuttle you mean destroy, General.”

“Those craft have a self destruct function, yes. But there are a couple of other things you need to know. First, is that as of 0700 hours Zulu this morning, Lieutenant General Woodruff was relieved of command and recalled to Canaveral together with her operating staff. At the same time, Major General Braksic was recalled from Mars Base - Olympus 1.”

As if on cue, General Herringe, took the next point.

“The second thing is that no lesser authority than the President herself has been dissatisfied with the way the service units have reacted to the Camulus incursion. God damn it, Chrissie, they’ve behaved like it’s a sorority gym meet and forgotten we’ve got a shootin’ war going on.”

Chrissie nodded without emotion. Edmondsen spoke.

“Woodruff and Braksic couldn’t make it work so we’re looking to resolve that problem with one combined command and may I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your new appointment, Christina.”

She was confused.

“Umm ... sorry?”

“Yes, as of 1800 hours Zulu, an executive order came into force combining Space Command and the USMC operations at Olympus 1 under one command. As the senior marine you have been appointed Commanding Officer of US forces in the Martian theatre.”

“Umm, thank you, Generals and ma’am, err, the Martian theatre is the only troop deployment zone isn’t it?”

The marine general again.

“We want to get away from terms such as Space Command, just too much like Flash Gordon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff ...”

“Who, sir?”

“... and the other good news is that this is a divisional command so approval has been given to your immediate promotion to major general. Let me be the first to say, ‘you earned it, Chrissie’.”

“Umm, thank you, I’m, err, honored.”

“To assist you we have arranged a briefing from Colonel Henderson on some legal aspects of the change over and details of your orders. I might just add that when you get into general command it doesn’t matter how many aircraft carriers you can lift, you’re nothing without a good lawyer. ...”

They laughed. Chrissie smiled. She guessed her little party trick with the USS William T. Sherman was always going to come back to haunt her.

“... Master Gunny Embrezetti is a specialist on strategic intelligence issues and will be of great assistance as you feel your way. When you’re settled in up there we’ll get you back to Canaveral to discuss some broader structuring. For now we’ll let you get this shit on the Camulus sorted out.”
“Generals, may I ask ... “

She swallowed to give her time to think.

“... I heard that the Health Department was about to outlaw the soup, err, the women’s space dietary supplements.”

Edmondsen smiled and nodded.

“Christina, I appreciate that you on the other side of Mars are probably more up to date with what’s happening in Washington than we are but, umm, no I’m not aware of that.”

“And, General, with the ceasefire coming into place for British personnel, is it the case that any seconded personnel would’ve been ordered to return to Cydonia – 6?”

“Err, I’m not a hundred per cent aware of your operating environment but can I say very clearly that the position on Camulus is such that if there is suspicion as to the bona fides of any individual, that suspicion should be acted upon with extreme prejudice.”

“I understand, General.”

“I hope you do because the commanding officer is always held accountable where a craft is lost or abandoned.”

“In the past it was an automatic court martial.”

“It still is.”

“Thank you, sirs, ma’am.”

The screen returned to blue. Henderson jumped to her feet, followed by Embrezetti, both offering handshakes and hearty congratulations. Chrissie took it in but didn’t want to be distracted from an immediate task.

“Colonel, I’d like a full briefing with you and the Master Gunny at, umm, say 2100?”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

Chrissie pulled the ordnance retrieved by Marcellus from her trouser pocket.

“Master Gunny can I ask if you recognise this?”

“Hoo wee, ma’am haven’t seen one of them in a while. ...”

He pinched the top and base between his fingers and held it up for inspection.

“... They call ‘em pluto bombs, ma’am. Short for plutonium but that’s not what’s in ‘em. It’s some sort of radioactive element that has a half life of about five micro seconds but when it detonates can cause a localised thermal explosion of up to eleven hundred degrees.”

“So it just melts everything around it.”

“That’s right, but it has this little tip here, see, that doesn’t set off the charge until about 20 micro seconds after impact, so the charge then radiates extreme heat into the wound. They were made to defeat the Triple A type body armor that we wore ten years ago.”

“We use these?”

“No, ma’am, we do not. They are outlawed by all NATO countries and as I understand it, the Chinese have done the same.”

“Thank you, Master Gunny, umm, I’ll see you in the wardroom, is that convenient?”

“Yes, ma’am. Err, ma’am, I may be able to identify this if you allow me?”

“Please do, I look forward to your report. I’ll see you in a little while.”

Chrissie left the marines and strode the corridor. First stop the infirmary. Through a hatch, along a short corridor then another hatch to the right; an armed airman stood guard.

“Airman you can stand down.”

“With respect ma’am, I’m required to take my orders from the duty flight officer.”

“Do you need a leak?”

“Err, yes ma’am.”

“Well, be back in ten then, I’ll cover you.”

He said nothing and scrambled.

The infirmary hatch opened. No one was inside the three bunk ward except Simmonds. His bunk and monitoring equipment faced the hatchway. To her right was the dispensary. In quantity, the three most used drugs on a spacecraft were analgesics, antidepressants and hetramorphin, a hybrid anaesthetic used as a ‘catch all’ for treating patients with serious wounds.

Chrissie found a box of hetramorphin in 100ml vials; the cover marked in red ‘strictly surgical use only’. She flipped it open and removed one.

Simmonds was resting comfortably. The saline drip entered a vein at the back of his right hand. The drip had an additional intravenous inlet which was unused. As Chrissie pushed the vial into the inlet, Simmonds eyes flickered open. Disoriented he stared up at her.

“I thought I killed you.”

“No, you just fired the shots you thought would kill me.”

“Why the fuck are you here, now?”

“You damaged my tunic, I don’t like that.”

“What?”

It was the feeling of the second fluid flowing through his hand. He shouted; swinging his left hand over to tear out the drip. She grabbed both forearms, hard enough for him to squeal.

“When this no longer hurts you Alastair, it’ll be all over.”

He fought one last time against the pain and morphine.

“Fuck ... you!”

His eyes closed. She dropped his arms and removed the empty vial from the drip, then crushed it to sand.
Leaving the infirmary, Chrissie hesitated: for a moment her eyes focused on the heart rate monitor. It flatlined. She left through the hatch and as she closed it, reached up and bent the steel frame of the threshold downward by about two inches. That would hold it shut better than any lock.

Chrissie stood outside the infirmary for another few minutes. The airman returned; he was most grateful. Her adrenaline rush subsided, the pulse rate near normal, Chrissie walked to the wardroom.

The marines were organised, as she would expect. Twin silver stars were produced and forced into the fabric of each epaulette. The badge of the USMC division commander at Olympus 1 was handed over with a handshake from Henderson and attached to her icy below the collar to the left. Chrissie agreed that until something new was worked out for ‘Task Force Mars’ the marine badge was a better choice for her than the ‘wings’ of the old Space Command. Henderson noticed something as the badge was put in place.

“Nasty bruise you got there, General.”

“Pluto bombs times two.”

They didn’t react. Chrissie wasn’t the only one who had done homework that afternoon.

Embrezetti spoke.

“General, I should mention that the ordnance didn’t have any serial numbers or markings. They’re contraband.”

“Terrorists, that sort of thing?”

“Or mercenaries, yes, ma’am.”

“Okay, enough of that, let’s do some work.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

CHAPTER XII

January 2, 2081. 2245 hours Zulu.

Marcellus had had enough. He’d performed three watches on the flight deck, two as the duty officer. At 1900 hours his hand-pod received a message from SUPCOMALF informing him that Woodruff had been relieved of command and to stand by for further communication.

The message came through at 2228.

“All Staff: SPACECOMM; MB-OLYM1.

Security: Low.

All SPACECOMM/USMC staff assigned to Task Force Mars with immediate effect. COff: MAJGEN Christina T. Matterson USMC.

SPACECOMM abolished.”

“Well, fuck me.”

And that was the problem. Twelve hours ago, Marcellus was optimistic. With Chrissie a lone agent, things between them were smouldering with potential. But this. She was now his commander. The Boss. It didn’t augur well.

Anyway, what does a marine know about deploying spacecraft in battle?

From the portholes of his cabin, Marcellus had a magnificent view of a one-sixteenth crescent shaped slice of the red planet: not unlike the blue and green view of Earth as returning craft begin their descent to orbit. Above it at ten o’clock was a crescent slice of Demios, similar in shape but not identical. It was a beautiful, romantic sight. He hoped it wouldn’t be a waste.

He’d forgotten about the hatch not locking and didn’t care. It would make it easier.

Was it twenty minutes or thirty? He couldn’t say, he was naked under the covers, the same as night before. As a sliver of light magnified inside the cabin, his heart jumped. It must have been the hatch opening. Excellent.

Marcellus pushed the covers down in expectation; then a silhouette before him, broad of shoulder and small of hip.

“Now we can finish what we started.”

Yet something looked wrong, the hair was too light, too curly.

“My plan exactly.”

“Hannie?”

“Yes, Marcellus, we do have unfinished business don’t we?”

She moved to the bunk and straddled the top of his thighs.

“Umm, maybe ... maybe not this way.”

Her hands ran up his torso, they were strong; pushing down on his chest and lungs.

“Oh, come on, Marcellus, I know you want me. Your eyes told me at the party. They were never on my face, always on my arms, my shoulders, my legs.”

“Urh, umm, no, no.”

She leaned over as her hands reached his neck. She was almost above him yet he couldn’t make out her face.

“Come on, feel me, feel this wonderful muscle.”

He put his hands up, unsure but willing, he began to feel her breasts and chest through the icy, across to her laterals and back.

“Aah, yes, Marcellus, you have the idea. And you are enjoying it, I can see that. ...”

It was a no brainer that he’d gone hard. He gave into the sensation.

“... Now I will show you a little trick.”

She pushed up to her knees and dropped her hand between his legs, slowly massaging the scrotum, cradling then caressing the balls, but he didn’t expect what was next.

“Arrghh! Fuck!”

“I’m told men like it when I give them my squeeze, maybe you just had a shock.”

She repeated the dose.

“Arghh, Hannie don’t!”

“Clearly I cannot convince you of the pleasure. In that case, I might just amuse myself.”

She squeezed harder, holding for longer. His hands pushed against her arms forcing the grip to break. The tone of her voice darkened.

“That’s not acceptable, Marcellus, you should be compliant.”

The Colonel was panting

“I’ve had enough of this Sergeant Major. ... It’s time you left.”

“No. I decide when I leave, not you, American.”

“That’s enough.”

He put his arms up again to try and push her away from him. Hannie grabbed his wrists and watched him struggle.

“You call that effort? McCloud told me you were weak ...”

She leaned forward, forcing his arms over his head in a sudden move. He yelped at the strain on his shoulders.

“... maybe you are still sore from when she defeated you. She turned and let you go, I have no such plans.”

“What the ... fuck ... do you want?”

“You to stop trying to struggle would be a start. And then?...”

He heard her laugh.

“... And then, we have fun.”

In a quick move she crossed his forearms behind the head and held them with her left hand. Marcellus saw a chance and tried an ‘all of body’ move. It failed.

“Stop it! You do not have the strength to beat me. ...”

She pushed the knuckle of her right index finger into his ribs and twisted. He squealed.

“... next time I will break it. Now be still!”

Marcellus was beginning to weigh up the obvious. Is it better to just lie there or risk further injury? He could feel her hand on his hard on, he feared for its safety, it was better to comply.

“Mm, I’m looking forward to this, Colonel. You have settled? Good. ...”

She pushed up with her legs and releasing his erection, used the free hand to pull down the trousers of her Icy.

“... McCloud told me you like your women with muscle. Now we can both enjoy what we like.”

Whether there were knickers or nought Marcellus could not tell. In an instant she had guided his rigid member into her damp inner warmth.

The sound of Hannie’s sigh filled the room as she lowered herself then raised and lowered again. Marcellus had no interest in her pleasure; what filled him with fear was what would happen next – how would she deal with him? The same as she dealt with Kovacs. He knew he couldn’t budge her in the usual course, but what of the climax, will that be the moment she’s most vulnerable?

He lay constructing his plan, her groans turned deeper, breathless. It was close, he resolved to time it right. He had never concentrated on such a moment as he did now.

Yet it was an eternity. He fretted he’d missed it and she was going again – waiting for him to blow. At the second he apprehended that all was lost, her blonde head arched back, she emitted a purring sound, both her hands found her nipples; a loud gasp. With all his strength he grabbed her hips and threw her off the bunk. She crashed through the moulded chair near the table, landing face up. He lunged from the bunk to strike at her throat.

But it was in vain.

She was too fast; too agile. Too strong. As she hit the floor she pushed her legs under her and stood, her half up/down trousers no inconvenience to her move. He was groping thin air, Hannie grabbed his shoulder and turned him so that his back was to her. Despite the height difference she locked her right arm around Marcellus’s throat and jaw, bending him backwards, using her left to grab his left forearm and yank it hard up behind his back. By instinct her left leg locked into his leg jamming him on the spot. He tried to scream in pain. Only a gurgle came out.

The voice was vicious.

“That was very bad, Marcellus. You destroyed my moment of pleasure ...”

She squeezed his jaw in the crook of her right arm.

“... I have crushed men’s jaws with this squeeze and that is only the first part. Just wait until I flex my muscles, my biceps and forearms and push your windpipe between them until they come together. ...”

She squeezed harder, he gurgled more, the only thought that his face would implode.

“... you would like the power of these muscles, not that you will see it, for then you will have expired.”

Her own face grimaced with effort. She tensed her arm and exerted her strength.

There was a large ‘crack’.

Marcellus hit the deck, hard. A hand under his left armpit lifted and turned him around.

“I thought I’d find her here.”

“Fuck ... Chrissie ... thank, God.”

He tried to swallow but couldn’t.

“Want some water, Marc?”

“Please.”

He panted for breath, the adrenaline screaming through his body. His left arm didn’t want to work. He focused. Du Plessis lay on the cabin deck to his left. Her blonde locks covering a face pointing over her right shoulder.

Chrissie returned with a mug, his shaking hands pushing it to his mouth. She placed Simmonds’s hand gun on the table.

“How ... long ... were you here?”

“Long enough to think she might’ve liked you being rough.”

“She ... liked giving it out ... not taking it.”

Putting down the mug, Marcellus moved and sat on the bed, trying to massage life into his left shoulder.

“So how’d you know, Chrissie? And don’t say she hated Chilean wine.”

The General walked to the dead South African and with disdain kicked at the golden cheetah attached to her uniform.

“Special forces don’t advertise, Marc.”

“So she’s ... enemy.”

“I was doing my homework this afternoon and thanks to my outgoing colleagues at Olympus 1, managed to get through some security checkpoints in the CIA’s firewall.”

“This’ll be good.”

“The real Hannie du Plessis is wasting away her well muscled torso in a military prison in Angola. And ... has been doing so for near on two years.”

“Murder?”

“Espionage. Funny thing is the South Africans don’t want her back. ...”

Chrissie flicked on a light.

“... This one was always gonna do you in, especially once Simmonds was out of action.”

“But she had to have the candy first.”

“And that, my dear Colonel, was her mistake. She should’ve just killed you.”

“What about Simmonds?”

“He’s dead.”

“How?”

“OD’d on morphine. Lot nicer way to go than shooting pluto bombs into people.”

“What?”

“The ordnance you gave me, Marc. It’s contraband. They’re both enemy.”

“Fuck. They must be part of the incursion.”

“Maybe, or it could be coincidence.”

“Coincidence my ass.”

Marcellus stood up and strode to the dead body. He began to feel around her boots then trousers and top.

“I think you’ve already done that.”

“You did see more than you’re letting on.”

“I just wanted to know if you enjoyed it.”

“Not with her.”

“So it looked.”

“I reckon she’s got some device, some communication system, between her and the intruder.”

“There won’t be anything on her.”

“No, but we should search her cabin.”

“I’ll search, Marc. You get your gear; you’re coming to stay with me.”

“What for?”

“I want you out of here so I can seal it up. There’s no lock.”

“Thanks to you.”

“You didn’t complain this morning.”

“Oh, touché, Christina.”

Marcellus redressed in his Icy. He took a second uniform and the hand-pod. She took the gun.
They strode over the threshold. The hatch slid shut.

“So what’s the plan, General?”

“Bend it.”

“You know, it takes ...”

As he spoke, she reached with her right hand to grab the bar at the top of the threshold.

“... thousands of tons of pressure to bend metal on this craft.”

The metal frame shrieked its resistance as it was stretched over the hatch jamb.

“What? Sorry, I missed that.”

“Err, doesn’t matter. But ...”

There were fifty four paces to her cabin.

“Spit it out, Marc.”

“Well, I’ve seen you bend metal plenty of times, I guess, but it never looks hard, your muscles don’t tense.”

“That’s because it’s no big deal.”

“Lauren wanted to do a bend job once, on a poker, you know, from a fire place. And she huffs and puffs and she did it, but fuck, I thought her veins would burst.”

“I think you’re more into her than you’re prepared to admit.”

“It was just a thing. She wanted to show off, do all that flexing shit, you know.”

“You’ve never seen me flex.”

“I asked you once about the size of those pythons, you said it’s a state secret.”

“Something like 24, 25 inches cold flex.”

“Okay.”

“How big’s Lauren?”

“If I said 20 inches pumped you’d say bullshit.”

“You’re damn right I would.”

“Well get this: nineteen and one half an inch, I measured it myself.”

“Bet you couldn’t stop shaking either.”

“You’re in a bitch of a mood tonight.”

“I’ve just lost my best soldier, Marc, and I’ve got sweet fuck all to replace her.”

They arrived at Chrissie’s cabin. She unlocked the hatch – in the conventional method. Handing him the weapon, she ushered him through the entry.

“As Big Arnie once said, ‘I’ll be back’.”

“Big who?”

“I’ll explain later.”

His shoulder still sore, he winced, then entered and turned.

“I didn’t get to congratulate you on the second star.”

“Keep a light on.”

Chrissie slid the door shut and coded the lock. She looked at the time on her hand-pod. Eight hours to get this done.

CHAPTER XIII

January 3, 2081. 0547 hours Zulu.

“Come in, Aleksandr, thanks for coming up.”

“I’m normally on early duty, ma’am. Umm, the Colonel? ...”

“Don’t worry. I’ve given him some paracetamol to help him sleep.”

Chrissie motioned for Aleksandr to sit next to her at her work table. A small light shone over them, otherwise the cabin was in darkness. The naked back of Marcellus was turned to them on the bunk. Chrissie showed the Lieutenant two small appliances.

“I got these from Hannie’s cabin. ...”

“Or whatever her name was.”

“... well, there was no clue as to her real identity, as you’d expect. Anyway, could you try to work them out. We’ve got about an hour and a quarter until I get an eradication team together.”

Aleksandr looked at the larger device, a display unit and four buttons.

“I’m pretty sure this is sort of a hand-pod, ma’am. It’s a, err, Chinese make, umm, see here, on the bottom.”
He showed her a strange circular symbol which was meant to depict two dragons fighting.

“Umm, the other one, err ...”

He shook his head.

“I don’t want to make a rash judgment, but ...”

“Just tell me.”

“... I think it’s a counter anti-cloaking device.”

He pointed to two buttons and a dial, he surmised it worked similar to the way the Americans use their own.

“And that’s why there’s the display unit on the hand-pod, it works the same way ours do, except what it does is override any anti-cloaking device or heat sensor in the vicinity, which in turn show up on the display. But, what’s even more important, if you get the right frequency, it becomes a superior anti-cloaking device of its own.”

“Show me.”

He turned the hand-pod on.

“It’s got a lock.”

“Fuck!”

“Not a problem, it’s ...”

Aleksandr smiled as he pushed in a code.

“... easy to override. Now I’ll just scroll. ...”

“I thought it’d be in Chinese characters?”

He looked up at her.

“It is, but the icons are always the same.”

“The globalised economy. You gotta love it.”

“Here, ma’am. Look! ...

There was real excitement in his voice.

“... a 3D image of the craft.”

“Yes. That’s it. Come on.”

“Where, ma’am?”

“Test drive.”

Chrissie hadn’t changed nor slept since she had returned from searching the cabins formerly occupied by Simmonds and the Hannie imposter. Both were locked, a non issue for her, although the Simmonds cabin had nothing of interest. Maybe ‘Hannie’ had already cleared it out? In any event, the find in the second cabin could prove precious. Leading Aleksandr toward the hatch she could feel his eyes burning at her back. She stopped.

“Go ahead then.”

“Sorry, ma’am?”

“See if you can reach up and touch the ends of my shoulders.”

He stuffed the appliances in his trouser pockets and reached across her back. Chrissie reckoned his limbs were gangly enough for the job. He achieved the task, albeit grunting with effort to make the last stretch.

“No disrespect, ma’am, but they sure are wide from tip to tip.”

“None taken, Lieutenant. But it’s deceptive.”

“Well, my arm span’s maybe five, five and a half feet.”

“Yes, but you had to bend forward because the thickness of my back and lat muscles and the depth of your chest meant you couldn’t get close enough to use your full arm span.”

“Oh, of course.”

“It’s a little mess hall game I used to play with guys who would bet on who could to do it. It was the thinner guys who always won because they could get their shoulders closer to mine.”

“So how wide?”

“Am I? About five foot. You were right the first time.”

They walked through the hatch and Chrissie locked Marcellus in.

“Can I ask you a personal thing, Lieutenant?”

“Sure.”

“How’d you get on with Lauren?”

“Umm, I like her, err, she’s nice. ...”

“Good thick muscle.”

“... and real big, yeah that’s for sure, but, umm, I’m a little younger, you know.”

“So?”

Well ... she may go for, you know.”

She put her right hand on his left shoulder and shook her head.

“No, no, don’t assume that. Muscle women go for men they know who like them; bees to honey sort of thing.”

“I get you.”

“Good, because she needs someone to do the right thing by her.”

“Umm, General?”

“Yep.”

“Where are we going?”

It was a good question.

Chrissie smiled and pointed aft. They were going start at where the broken drone was located and move forward.

As it transpired, they didn’t have to search for long. As Aleksandr followed the General, he was continually switching the frequency modulator, then, where the 3D screen showed the vents A 3 and A 4 came together in a triple wide section of vent at a ‘T’ intersection in the corridors about fifty feet forward of the attack on Patrol Charlie, Aleksandr called ‘halt’ in a hushed tone.

Chrissie turned back to him.

“What’ve you got?”

“See this, ma’am, these icons here show your anti-cloaking device and the heat sensors ...”

He pointed to spots above and around him.

“... now if I change the frequency and flick this switch ... voila!”

The display showed one icon at the junction of vents A 3 and A 4.

“Good work!”

“Thing is though, General, I think this second switch is some sort of receptor, so it may be aware that I’m here with you and your anti-cloaking device.”

“It might think you’re Hannie.”

“True.”

“Okay, let’s just head back and prepare for our little engagement.”

They began to stride back the way they came, Chrissie feeling the weightlessness of space under her feet. This time she had the upper hand and would back herself to get the job done.

“Lieutenant, when is that shuttle getting Lauren and Alexius up here?”

“Umm, any minute, General, I think it docks at 0615.”

“Starboard dock?”

"Yes, ma’am.”

She stopped and turned to him.

“Aleksandr, I’m going to meet it, you have my permission to spend thirty minutes personal time with Lauren prior to her preparation for the team.”

He smiled, his eyes were wide.

“Oh, thank you, ma’am.”

“My pleasure, make it work.”

Chrissie turned to the right at a junction and eased into a hatchway.

“Ah, ma’am, umm, would it be okay if you told her to meet me ...”

“In your cabin, Lieutenant, I’ll see both of you fully kitted in the wardroom at 0700. Not a second later.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She made it to the starboard dock in time to see the dock hatch begin to open. Lauren walked through first, Alexius close behind. The airman on duty shouted for the crew to be at attention.

“As you were.”

Alexius spoke first.

“Thanks for getting us back up here, ma’am, Wing Commander Simmonds wouldn’t allow us clearance.”

Lauren smiled with a sense of relief, carrying her tunic over her arm, her white shirt was too small for her pecs, arms and shoulders, the top two buttons could not be done up, her B cup breasts and nipples pushing out against the fabric in absence of a bra. Chrissie cast a critical eye.

“Good thing too, you’re both running out of clothes.”

“I’m sorry, General, there’s a bit of a story ...”

“That’s fine, Senior. I want both of you to fully kit up and report to the wardroom at 0700. We’re going hunting and this time I want you two to use the strength American science has bestowed upon you.”

Alexius was a little indignant.

“And our own efforts, ma’am.”

“Particularly your own efforts, umm, sorry if I seem offhand, I’ve had a long night.”

For her part, Lauren’s conclusion was predictable.

“We don’t need weapons, ma’am?”

“Not you two, not today.”

Alexius dropped a bag she carried.

“Ma’am, if I may. SPACECOMM, umm, or what was SPACECOMM, has just brought out these new fire and percussion suits, ma’am.”

“With two days to go in the war, sounds about right.”

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“It’s okay, proceed.”

The senior airman unravelled a large light gray garment that looked like long johns with long sleeves and stockinged feed with a discreet exit hole at the base of the torso secured by a fastener. There was a zipper at the front from the round neck line to the breast line. Chrissie nodded.

“That’s pretty good although the boys might have some trouble with the size of the hole.”

Lauren piped up.

“Err, these are the women’s version, ma’am, they’re basically larger sizes than those for the men. ...”

“Makes sense.”

“... and it’s a really good fit, ma’am like you’re wearing a second layer of skin.”

Alexius again.

“And the retardant effect is real good ma’am.”

“You two tried them on down there did you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Yep.”

“Good, well, wear them today.”

Alexius again.

“And ma’am, would it be possible if we, umm, didn’t bother with the full uniform?”

“I don’t get you.”

Lauren took over.

“Ma’am we found these are so much better to move in than the Icy trousers or sleeves, at least for our size, ma’am, so if we can remove ...”

“Yeah, look, wear the Icy top sleeveless under your breathing gear and battle armor and I don’t care about the trousers.”

They smiled at each other. Lauren spoke again.

“That’s great and we got you a real big size, ma’am, and one for Hannie, too.”

“Good work ...”

Chrissie surveyed the 7XOS garment.

“... And, umm, I’ll take the one for Hannie. Nothing more? Good, dismissed.”

“Thanks, ma’am.”

“Oh, Lauren.”

Lauren stopped dead, she looked like she’d been caught smoking behind the school toilets.

“Ma’am?”

“You had your shirt swapped for a smaller one.”

“It’s, umm, still a big shirt, but ...”

“It’s okay, it’s happened to me half a dozen times. It’s the price we pay for being so much bigger than the other girls.”

“It happened while we were trying on the new gear.”

“Yeah, and your bra stolen, too? Probably the only one you have.”

“Ma’am my lats, umm, I’m sixty inches around, I just can’t get one.”

“Okay, well the good news is that Aleksandr is waiting for you in his cabin. He’s got your battle kit with him so, report there and I’ll see you at 0700.”

Her face lit up.

“Yes, ma’am!”

She attempted a full salute; the force of her flexed bicep tore the seam of the sleeve.

“Save that for Aleksandr, Lauren, he’ll love to see you do that.”

They shared a smile and Lauren turned and skipped away. Chrissie watched the eighteen inch calves tense and push as she headed to and through the hatch. There seemed to be a lot more between her and Senior Airman McCloud than she was first prepared to admit.

The young strength queen deserved a good man.

A good young man.

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