I was tired after several hours of practicing with the nanos. Drake proved to be an amusing character, and we developed a rapport quickly. I came out wearing the garment under my clothes, something Drake suggested so I get used to the suit and the suit gets used to me. There was no more talk about variant five – the shield nanos. I didn’t ask why, but holding off on training for that variant wasn’t making sense to me. I wondered if it wasn’t functional yet.
I was almost back to the bridge when JJ called.
“Hey, what’s up? How did the training go?”
“I’m tired, but extremely impressed,” I said. “What are you up to?”
“I’ve had a busy day too. Now I just want a quiet dinner and a few drinks with a certain somebody. What do you think?”
“I’m hoping I’m that certain somebody.”
<Me> Shut up.
<Emerald> Yeah, shut up.
“Ah, you’ve got Emerald on line. Nice. How’s that going?”
“She’s been a godsend so far,” JJ said. “We’ve got a working model of the Boron refinement system ready to go.”
“So you’re done?”
“Hardly. We need to scale up. That has some challenges, but Vermillion was right – we have everything we need to do that onboard. I should have a high output system up and running by the time we get to Boroclize.”
“Well, that’s about a month, so it sounds reasonable. I need to hit the bridge for a few minutes, just to check with everybody. Probably should brief Vermillion on the training, too. That ought to take me an hour tops. I have to warn you, though. I’ll be armed.”
<Butch> Oh brother.
“Meaning what?” JJ asked.
“The designer told me I should wear the battle garment. It’s under my clothes now.”
“That sounds a little bulky.”
“It’s like a second skin,” I said. “Fascinating material. I’ll show it to you.”
“Oh, you’re going to strip for me?”
<Butch> Now you’ve said it.
<Emerald> Been studying the behavior of adolescent men?
<Butch> Hey, Trey, I like her. Or I’m going to kill her.
<JJ> This is a riot. We can hold four-way conversations when we’re together.
<Me> You forgot about sleep mode, which I plan to engage just as soon as we meet.
<Butch> Spoil sport.
JJ snickered. “When we put them to sleep, are they off canoodling with each other?”
<Emerald> What are you laughing about?
<Me> Yeah, what are you laughing about?
<Butch> Oh, nothing. Yes, we can work some things while you’ve got us silenced. We’ll actually get something done, too, since we can’t canoodle.
<Emerald> Yes, this is true. There are no romantic urges between Butch and I, partly because I’d never be seen in public with somebody named Butch.
<Emerald> I thought you hated that name.
<Butch> I do, but that doesn’t mean I’ll sit still when somebody makes my name the object of ridicule.
“I’m almost to the bridge,” I said. “I’ll check with you after I’m done.”
“Okay. I’ll freshen up a bit. Where do you want to meet?”
“How about the Officer’s Dining room?”
“Sounds great, but get us one of the private rooms, okay?”
<Butch> So you can canoodle?
<Me, JJ> Shut up.
“I’m back in Junior High,” JJ said. “Talk to you soon.”
“Bye.” I ended the call.
<Butch> Emerald is a little feisty.
<Me> So is her host. Love that about her.
<Butch> Love? Uh huh.
<Me> Figure of speech. Going onto the bridge now. Don’t bother me unless it’s something important.
<Butch> Yes sir.
I walked through the door. “How’s it going?”
“So far so good, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’ve still got a lot of hours in this impulse cruise. Any sign of more Razor ships?”
<Butch> No. Not yet. There might not be any more. If that were true, I could see them going into orbit around Devonia Axxiom.
“Butch says no,” I said.
“Dojo has been watching for them too,” Nolan said. “Same thing. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that the coup is going to work, either. Simone’s forces have been fought to a standstill.”
“The designer mentioned that we’re not the only adversaries Simone has.”
“Apparently that’s the case,” Nolan said.
“Where’s Skip and Sondra?”
“They went off to get food,” Nolan said. “Should be back any minute. Not much to do here. The sensors are basically running the ship, and I’ve got Dojo monitoring everything for me. With the AI, we could run this ship with a much smaller crew.”
“You look worried about that.”
Nolan nodded. “I’m afraid that the Overlords also have very capable AI at their disposal. That’s the only way to explain the small crews on their Razor ships.”
“The designer had some comments about that, too,” I said.
“He said that the Razor ships are every bit as capable as the New Jersey, but their systems haven’t been tuned. Their shields and plasma weapons aren’t anywhere near optimum yet.”
“So we’re in trouble,” Nolan said.
“Maybe. The designer also said that the technical staff supporting the Razor-class ships have defected. He doesn’t think Simone has the technical talent to do the tuning.”
“I hope he’s right,” Nolan said. “Any idea who this person is?”
“I only know him by an alias.”
“Are you allowed to tell me?” Nolan asked.
“I wasn’t told not to, but I think I’ll keep it to myself for the time being.”
“As you wish, Captain. We’ve still got twelve hours before we get to the natural worm hole. I’ll probably turn in after Sondra and Skip get back here, if that’s okay with you.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’m going to stop by Vermillion’s office, and then go get some dinner with JJ.”
“Oh, before you go, how did the Nano testing go?”
“That system is amazing. I’ve still got the suit on.”
I walked towards him and undid some buttons of my shirt, pulling it open to reveal the smooth black covering. “Punch me in the stomach. Not hard, though, or you’ll hurt your hand.”
Nolan eyed me for a moment, then shrugged, and hit me with a balled fist. “Ouch! That feels like metal.”
“When you put it on and zip it all the way up, the suit form-fits. The nanos reside between the layer against my skin and the outside layer.”
“Why do you still have it on?” Nolan asked.
“The designer said it would be a good idea to wear it, so the suit will learn my movements, and so I’ll get used to it. It felt really restricting at first, but now it’s not bad.”
“Interesting. Anxious to give it a try. I will get a chance, right?”
“Yeah, eventually most of the crew will be in the cell, and they’ll have this technology at their disposal.”
“Hope this pandora’s box we opened won’t be the death of us,” Nolan said.
I chuckled. “That’s Nolan.”
“Don’t be, I like a good skeptic on my team. You’ve proven yourself to be an essential member. Why do you think I brought you here instead of leaving you on the Zephyrus?”
Nolan smiled. “I appreciate your confidence, Captain.”
Skip and Sondra walked in, both with covered trays of food.
“What is it this time?” I asked.
“Lasagna,” Skip said. “I’m gonna pig out.”
Sondra shook her head. “You need to watch your weight a little bit there, Skip.”
“Oh, I will,” Skip said.
“Uh huh,” Sondra shot back at him, turning to me with a grin. “You back for a while?”
“No, I’m going to brief Vermillion on the training, and then meet JJ for dinner.”
“Oh. I was hoping you could give Skip and I some pointers on setting up our AIs.”
<Me> Butch, can you help them while I’m with JJ?
<Butch> Yes, I can, Trey. You gave me permission through the Central AI.
<Me> I did? Don’t remember that.
<Butch> Trust me. Permission to access them through the Central AI?
<Me> Permission granted.
<Butch> Thank you. I’m already on it. I’ll communicate with Skip and Sondra through their AIs during the setup process. Shall I do the same with the bridge crews on the Tristar and Zephyrus?
<Me> Yes, when they’re ready.
“You set Butch up for us, didn’t you?” Sondra asked.
“Yes,” I said, turning to leave. “Enjoy. Buzz me if you need anything.”
I left the bridge, heading for Vermillion’s office, sending him a text. He came back to me saying he was in meetings, and that Drake had already filled him in on my progress. I sent a message back saying I’d talk to him later, and headed for my stateroom. I wasn’t there more than five minutes when JJ contacted me.
“You’re back in your stateroom already?”
“Vermillion was busy, and already got briefed on the nano testing from the designer. How’d you know?”
“I asked Emerald where you were. Can I come over?”
“Sure, I’m ready for dinner any time.”
“I’ve got an appetizer for you first.”
“Oh, really? What’s that?”
“Me. Be over in a few minutes.”
I chuckled, my heart beating just a little faster, desire building in me quickly.
<Butch> My my, that sounded promising. Having a good effect on you, too.
<Butch> Shucks. Thank you, Trey.
I laughed to myself. JJ’s knock at my door shook me out of it, and I used mind dictation to open the door.
“Hi, Captain Clarke.”
“I think you can call me Trey,” I said, watching her walk in, wearing a nice summer dress. “Not wearing the uniform, huh?”
“I’m off-duty. Come here.”
I walked closer, her arms going around my waist as she moved in for a kiss, which was passionate and long. She noticed the firmness of my torso, and stood back, patting my side. “Armor, huh?”
“Told you I’d have this on. I can remove it before dinner if it bothers you.”
“Let’s see it,” she said.
“Oh, you want me to strip, huh?”
“It’s not transparent, is it?”
I laughed. “No, it’s black, but it’s form fitting. Everywhere.” I peeled off my clothes, leaving me in the suit with nothing else on but my black socks.
JJ snickered. “Love the socks. Nice touch.”
“I figured you’d like it.”
JJ eyed me up and down. “Turn.”
I did that, hearing her breathing get a little quicker. “Maybe you like this suit.”
“It form fits so tightly that it might as well be transparent,” she said. “Is it hard to get off?”
“You just pull down the zipper here.” I reached to my neck and pulled it, the suit loosening up immediately. JJ came closer, feeling the material.
“It feels like silk.”
I zipped it back up, the suit re-molding to my body. “Touch it now.”
She touched my side, then looked up at me. “Those are some rock-hard abs.”
“You’ll have one of these eventually,” I said. “Everybody in the cell is going to get access to this technology.”
“Good,” she said, getting closer, her arms going around my waist again. We kissed, her hands roaming on my back. “You can’t feel my hands, can you?”
“Actually I can. It feels like you’re touching me through spandex, like a bicycle outfit.”
“Interesting. You can’t wear anything under this, can you? Not even underwear?”
“Nope, you have to be naked under it. Your skin and the suit interact. They pass data back and forth.”
“I hope they provide some support for my bust,” she said. “I’m not getting any younger.”
“It’ll probably flatten you like a sports bra.”
“That isn’t attractive.”
I chuckled. “Oh well, enough of this. Let me get dressed, and we can go eat.”
She eyed me for a moment. “How much do you trust Vermillion?”
“More than I did before,” I said. “Funny, though, because what I’m learning points to just how much he was holding back.”
I thought for a moment. “Because I understand his motives, and they’re similar to my own. If he wouldn’t have done some of the things I was most suspicious of, we’d be dead or in prison right now.”
“This could change our dynamic.”
“We’ve been playing this game to keep our endorphins raging, so we could talk privately and not arouse suspicion. If we both trust Vermillion, that’s no longer an issue.”
I sat on the bed. “You want to break this off?” My heart was in my throat.
She stared me in the face for a moment, her expression softening. “You look like a hurt child. No, you aren’t getting me. We’re free to do what we want with each other. That’s all I’m saying. We don’t have to worry about keeping up a ruse. If we burn hot and then fizzle out quickly, it doesn’t make any difference.”
“I’ve really got you going, don’t I?”
“You were pretty anxious to get over here,” I said. “I think it’s mutual.”
She smiled. “Okay, I’ll grant you that one. Can we make out some more before dinner?”
I nodded, laying back on the bed and motioning her over. She moved on top of me. The rigid suit supported her weight completely.
“You’re hard as a rock,” she said, realizing how it sounded right away. “The suit. Not…”
“I know what you meant,” I said, kissing her gently. Our passion built, the kiss becoming more ardent, JJ’s breath coming fast. She broke it.
“If we’re not going to leave, you need to take the suit off.”
“You’re really worked up,” I said. “You aren’t quite ready yet, though.”
“You’ve got me trembling like a school girl.”
“Yeah, but when it’s time, you’ll beg me for it,” I said. “I’ll wait for that.”
“I never beg.”
I gently pushed her off and sat up. “We’ll see. Let’s go eat.”
She stared at me as I put my clothes back on.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
She chuckled. “No. Everything’s fine. Let’s go.”
We left my stateroom, arriving at the Officer’s Dining Room in a few minutes. There were private rooms open, and we took one of the smaller ones.
“This is cozy,” JJ said as I helped her into her seat. I sat across the small table from her. She reached across and took my hand.
“You’ve got a serious expression,” I said. “Did I make you mad?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m holding your hand.”
I felt my face turn red, and squeezed her hand tighter. “I like it.”
“I know you do,” she said. “You still want to take it slow, don’t you?”
“I’m letting you determine the speed for now.”
“Until I can’t stand it anymore.”
She smiled. “So that’s how it is. Let’s change the subject. What’s going on with our mission to search for the Clan?”
“Still on the list, but behind basic survival.”
“I agree with your logic. Tell me about the trainer. What was he like?”
“I could be friends with him. He’s personable but business-like at the same time. His understanding of our current situation is impressive.”
“You learned some things you didn’t know?”
I leaned back in my chair, taking my hand back to scratch an itch on my side, frustrated when my fingers hit the hard surface. “Crap.”
“What’s the matter?”
“My side itches and I can’t scratch with this suit on.”
She laughed. “What about when you have to go to the bathroom?”
“I just unzipped the neck to loosen it, then pulled a leg hole over. It’s not optimum. Hell, I’m probably doing it wrong. I’ve just started with this thing five hours ago. That’ll probably be among the first questions I ask the designer when we have our next session.”
“When is that?” she asked.
“Probably after we get through the natural worm hole. We’ve got another long impulse cruise after that. By the way, how’s the seasickness?”
“I’m drugged,” she said. “The newer drugs are better. No noticeable side effects so far.”
“What did you learn from this guy? You were about to tell me when we got hung on your bathroom issues.”
I snickered. “Yeah, I know, TMI.”
“That’s an old one. Means too much info. Surprised you haven’t heard that one before.”
“I’ve heard it but I didn’t know what it meant. See, I learned something.”
“So you did. The designer told me that Simone has a lot of enemies other than us. She’s been fought to a standstill on Devonia Axxiom. She was not able to take over.”
JJ laughed. “That’s got to piss her off. Wonder if the legislators got released?”
“Don’t know. I’m hoping we get another batch of news reports before we jump again. Nolan said he’ll check at the last minute.”
“What else did he tell you?”
“This one will worry you. The Razor ships have similar weapon and shield capabilities to the New Jersey. They haven’t been tuned yet.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds. The technical team working the Razor ships has defected. Left the Overlords high and dry. The designer doesn’t think Simone has the people she needs to tune the weapons and shields.”
“I wonder if this designer was part of the Razor team?”
I froze, thinking about that for a moment. “I don’t know this person’s identity or anything about him other than what he’s created for the AI and Nano functionality. It’s possible that you’re right about that. Vermillion told me he’s in a safe place. Maybe he helped the Razor’s technical team defect.”
“That’s not possible, unless he’s been lying to us,” JJ said. “He was as curious about the Razor ships as the rest of us were.”
I eyed her for a moment. “Now I’m gonna lay awake tonight thinking about that.”
“Think he’d tell you?”
“The Designer? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I can ask him. He’s not difficult to talk to. At least not so far, anyway.”
The waiter came in. It was the same young man who’d served us before.
“Captain Clarke, how are you? Good to see you again. Would you like drinks?”
I glanced over at JJ, who nodded yes. “I think it’s a martini night again.”
“Yeah, what the hell. Make it two.”
“Very good, sir,” the waiter said, walking away.
“Wonder if Vermillion put you off because he knew you’d ask him about the Razor technical team?”
I shrugged. “Good question. Not sure if I’ll ask him.”
“He’s got enough to worry about at the moment. You’ve noticed that he always tells us things if we need to know. I made a good case for giving AIs to the other bridge crews, and he didn’t hesitate. He was also very willing to change his mind on the nanos.”
“That might mean that we’re in worse shape than he thought we’d be by now.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018