The Bee Charmer, Part 4

CAPTAIN HELENA BLACKTHORN sat on the rim of a fountain in the early morning sunlight, feeling a strange mixture of emotions. She looked to the sealed area in the shrubbery and what it represented. It irritated her beyond belief. She assumed the uprooting of the tree and the death of its residents, the bees, were Cairns’ doing somehow. But now, knew otherwise. She mourned their loss. She mourned something else too. Something that had been awakened deep inside her, feeling that had lain dormant for so long, unfulfilled, which were probably about to die too.

Running a hand through her hair, Blackthorn recalled how it had only been three weeks since she, along with Bryce and Hamilton, had arrived at Central for Cairns’ witch-hunt. She was still trying to assimilate all that had transpired despite having spent the last three days being debriefed, in Jamison and Warshawski’s company. There were still gaps that needed filling in, but neither Jamison nor Warshawski would be able to help her there.

She needed Cassandra. She needed… something.

Only her enigmatic Captain Cassandra Jones seemed to have become non-corporeal. It was a trick she wished she could employ in space when facing down an enemy. There was a certain tactical advantage to a Captain who could make their ship simply vanish, only to reappear elsewhere.

Where the hell was the woman?

When she had turned up at the medical centre the following evening after the fracas, the bed Cassandra had been occupying was empty. In less than twenty-four hours the IAB Captain had disappeared into the depths of Central. What was unsettling was no one was speaking, and just as annoying, the two messages she’d directed to her fellow captain had gone unanswered.

With a disconsolate feeling, Helena stared at the water in the fountain. All she had to go on was a few brief conversations.

Oh, it was only a flesh wound. Nothing serious. The Doctor only wanted to keep the Captain in over night, you know, just in case.’ No, she didn’t know. Just in case what?

Then there was. ‘Captain Jones? No, I am sorry, I am not at liberty…no I don’t know her whereabouts…I’m sorry I can’t help you but maybe if you spoke to—’ and so it went. As far as she could ascertain, and Jamison had all but confirmed this, Cassandra was taking Cairns apart, piece-by-piece, in a secure unit somewhere in the bowels of Starfleet Command.

Damn the woman!

Helena stood and stretched to her full height and, with hands on hips, looked one last time at the shrubbery with a mixed sense of longing. The reality was that by the beginning of next week, she, Bryce and Hamilton would be back topside and making preparations for heading back out to their respective assignments. A round trip that would mean they would be gone for at least six months. Or, in the case of Hamilton, almost eighteen months in space.

Six months. It didn’t bear thinking about. Her heart ached with something she’d never felt before—longing.

Turning to leave, her com-link beeped a short sharp succession of insistent notes.

Incoming message.

Helena slowly sank back down and, without much thought, pressed a tiny button with a fingernail to receive. A stream of numbers began to parade across the tiny screen momentarily baffling Helena, as she tried to read them.

Then she saw the pattern. It was actually two groupings of three sets of numbers, repeated at interval. She stopped the message and isolated the two groupings. She then keyed in a response. There was no accompanying message tag or identifier. Nothing. Just the sequence of numbers that were, as it turned out, a set of coordinates. Degrees, minutes and seconds of longitude and latitude, but for where? And who had sent them, and why? There was only one possible answer.

A wry smile lit Helena’s face, while a flicker of something deep within, a wonderful warm feeling, brought a rush of adrenaline. With consummate ease Helena pressed a number of tiny buttons one after the other, on her com-link, and lifting her hand to shoulder height, she directed a signal to a point in the northeast sky. She then pressed a final button that sent out a radio-pulse to call her air car.

Blackthorn waited patiently, till, safely strapped into her Sky Hawk 359, she keyed-in the set of coordinates on the auto-navigation pad. She then sat back for the ride without so much as a clue as to where she was going, except, she thought she knew who would be at the other end waiting for her.

Cassandra.

The sleek silver air-car took her out across verdant parkland, a large stretch of open greenery that marked Central and the Space Port boundaries, before swinging out across Whalen’s Sound and open water, which was dotted here and there with small sail boats. She noted the three fairly large distinctive islands nestled amid the dark-blue water and realised, after a couple of minutes, that the car was heading for the largest and most southerly of the group. She knew it was privately owned, but not by whom. It was easy to make out all the features of the terrain, including one small low-slung building, as she had the air-car cruising at the lowest standard flight-level available to her.

The Sky Hawk corrected its approach and began a slow, measured descent. Helena was tempted, now she knew this was her destination, to switch to manual and bring the car in herself, but she resisted and instead, enjoyed the view.

The air-car’s landing gear absorbed the slight bounce, while a final hiss of pneumatics told Helena she could alight. She keyed a number of switches and locked down the computer’s central board before she cycled the hatch.

She took a single step down into a swath of long grasses. It swayed about her, thigh high. Reaching out both hands, and turning slowly in a circle, she caressed the tops of a bewildering array of plant life.

A number of colourful flowers, red, blue and purple, dotted the flowing field of grasses. Nowhere was there a sign of a path, track or, as a matter of fact, a sign that anyone had even walked hereabouts recently. With a momentary frown, Helena gave a shrug and walked around the air-car taking in not only the view, but while breathing deeply, the smells that assailed her senses. The air was heavy with unidentifiable scents you didn’t normally get to smell in space, from the continually recycled air. It was heady.

With a slight shake of her head, to clear it, Helena stopped short when a familiar sound reached her on the breeze. The sound of humming. This wasn’t the sound of just any insect life but specific insects.

Bees.

Helena cast about her and then saw it. It stood just off to one side of an outcrop of rock and fronting a strand of deciduous trees, some thirty feet to her right. A dead tree-stump with a very distinctive cleft just below a splintered crown. As a warm smile spread slowly across her face. Helena strode out amid the waving sea of grasses and made her way to the stump. When she reached the rocks she sat and watched something that, for the moment at least, warmed her heart. The sight of a myriad tiny black and gold bees going about their business. With a deep sigh she caught sight of something else that flashed brightly in the sun’s light, a butterfly. How was it that such simple things could evoke such a feeling of complete contentment? She didn’t know. All she knew was Cassandra was absent.

Was this it then? God, she hoped not. Helena ran a hand through her hair as she stared longingly at her booted feet, remembering another time and place.

“Hello Starfleet.”

Helena nearly jumped out of her skin at the all too familiar honey-tones, lost in thought as she had been. She stood with as much decorum as she could muster, as Cassandra emerged from behind the tree flashing an enigmatic smile.

The diminutive woman walked towards her, as she found herself breathing deep calming breaths trying to subdue the sudden rush of adrenaline that made her heart race.

“Don’t you ever wear civilian clothing?” The diminutive Jones asked, her eyes dancing with some hidden mischief.

“What?” Helena heard her self say, and winced. She eyed Cassandra, who was dressed in a sleeveless white blouse, open at the neck, and, to Helena’s surprise, an old pair of very faded blue jeans whose knees had long since frayed into holes. The woman was also bare foot as was her style.

Helena laughed a deep and melodious sound, an unexpected release of tension.

“Hello yourself and, in answer to your question, no I don’t…” and, straight-faced, added, “In fact, I have no idea if I actually own any other clothes, other than my uniform.”

Cassandra looked up at her and, with a barely perceptible shake of her head, let a broad grin consume her face.

“By the way, I saved our tree.” The wave of a hand indicated the stump.

Our tree?

Helena nodded, only half listening, never taking her eyes off the face before her. She had some unaccountable need to commit every detail of it to memory. She also had some other need that was beginning to take her sense of reasoning.

With half a step, Helena came to within a hairs-breath of Cassandra and bending, scooped the woman up from beneath her arms, surprising them both. She felt a pair of well-muscled legs snake about her waist as she brought Cassandra to eye level.

Their eyes locked for a heartbeat before Helena felt her breathing betray her. She watched then as Cassandra moved her head toward her own, moved soft, pale pink lips toward her own. And knew the woman was going to kiss her. Helena felt the rush of blood and the sound of her own heart pounding in her ears.

“This is for you.” Cassandra’s soft velvet voice whispered.

Helena felt the lightest brush of lips against hers, as a mere hint of contact was made. She also felt the electrifying rush of adrenaline as some internal meltdown occurred. Then Cassandra’s mouth was on hers again, and she lost it.

With each brush of lips, another heady rush brought out a response that had waited a lifetime for expression. She lost herself in the passion of their kiss, as something exploded in her chest and then melted her insides. All the while Cassandra’s mouth continued to take her breath away.

It was some long moments later that Helena found herself lying in the grass, on her back, her jacket discarded and her utility belt missing, and her clothing in total disarray. All the while the small but amazingly well muscled body of Cassandra lay atop her. Their faces a mere breathe apart.

With clarity, Helena registered how she knew Cassandra’s body was so soft and deceptively well muscled. Her hands were beneath the woman’s blouse, which she knew from memory she had cheerfully undone at some point.

Helena moved her hands down Cassandra’s back in delight, and was rewarded with an insistent kiss on her mouth.

The sun having moved through its course in the heavens, Helena slowly opened her eyes to a face that wore a large very self-satisfied smile. Helena asked in a husky voice. “Do I know you?”

Cassandra blinked, flashed a look of surprise then roared with laughter. “No. No, I don’t think so…I think I would remember if we had been formally introduced.”

“Somehow I think it’s a little late for formal introductions, don’t you?” Helena smiled happily, as she looked at the face before hers. She then moved to place a tiny kiss on the end of the freckled nose, which duly wrinkled.

“You’re beautiful.” Helena breathed.

“What?“ It was Cassandra’s turn to look surprised before snorting, suitably abashed. Helena found a teasing smile, and rolling Cassandra over onto her back, bent to place a kiss on the still angry red scar that was all that remained of the needle-gun’s damage. For some reason she couldn’t quite fathom, Helena felt responsible for it. Maybe if Cairns hadn’t become so obsessed things might have been very different. But then again, maybe she wouldn’t have met Cassandra. Somehow that didn’t bare thinking about.

“So sad already?” Cassandra caressed her face with a gentle hand, watching her.

Helena looked down at the woman she’d fallen in love with, knowing her face betrayed her thoughts. In three days time she would be going topside. There was so little time.

“I…” She began, but didn’t finish.

“We still have the rest of the weekend.” Cassandra seemed to read her mind and smiled up at her. Helena thought about her cramped apartment in the officer’s block back at Central, not the best place to entertain a lover.

Cassandra again pre-empted her and, with a shy smile, added, “I have a house, here, on my island.” She paused before continuing, “Well, it’s more of a log cabin really.”

“You own this island?” Helena blurted out, as she sat upright.

“Yes.” Cassandra admitted, moving to sit cross-legged, and added, “this is my retreat, my hide-out. It’s where I’ve been these last few days.” Her eyes begged, ‘please forgive me.’ A hand tugged at a stem of grass. Helena reached out and took it and offered Cassandra a reassuring smile.

“So you haven’t been near the basement at Central, then?” She asked straight-faced. Cassandra glanced up then grinned sheepishly.

“No.” She wrinkled her nose at Helena. “Nor was I taking Cairns apart. She did that quite publicly, all by herself. No, Jamison and I were only there to make sure you, Bryce, and Hamilton survived intact to fight another day.” Adding, “For the honour of the Fleet.”

“And…everything else?” Blackthorn asked, not willing to release Cassandra’s hand as the woman looked away for a second time. Helena continued to let her eyes linger.

“I needed to get inside your head.” Was the softly spoken reply.

“Get inside my head?” Helena’s voice was pitched low. “What happened?” She looked deep into the blue eyes that now regarded her, thinking about how the woman had in fact punched a hole in her chest, and then? Stolen her heart.

“I fell in love.” Cassandra ducked her head suddenly finding something interesting about another blade of grass. “All that pent-up passion…”

Not sure just whose passion Cassandra was referring to, Helena picked up the thread, “…when I tasted the honey on your fingers.” That was the moment it had happened for her. Cassandra looked up her eyes flashing a rejoinder. Yes.

“Damn stupid thing to happen to a professional.” Cassandra added quietly, her face betraying her inner turmoil.

“Maybe, but I for one am not sorry at the final outcome.” With her free hand, Helena reached out and took Cassandra’s chin and searched the woman’s eyes. “Are you?” She had to ask.

The woman before her suddenly seemed unsure which, Helena thought, was quite startling seeing how they’d just spent the last hour fooling around amid the grass.

“No… and you?”

“No.” Helena added as a rejoined. Then found she couldn’t help herself, she laughed softly. “Hell, you have to ask that after what we’ve just… you know?” She let go the woman’s chin.

Cassandra looked suitable abashed and then smiled. “This is all new territory to me.” The small woman admitted.

Helena snorted. “Well, I’m no expert either, as you must gathered by my reputation.” Known by many within the Fleet simply as the ‘Ice Maiden.’

Cassandra’s eyes smiled. Helena continued. “I do have to say one thing, though?”

“What?” Cassandra’s brow furrowed.

“You certainly seemed to know what you were doing.” Helena moved to scoop Cassandra back up into her arms as she stood. The other woman’s legs found her waist again and squeezed.

“I think I read a manual somewhere.” Cassandra joked as she put her arms round Helena’s neck. “Lassiter’s guide to fundamental biochemical changes in nematode worms. At least, I think that was what it was called?” The smile returned like brilliant sunshine dazzling Helena. She let it wash over her before she found anything she might have said taken away, along with her breath, as Cassandra kissed her again.

“I haven’t a clue what I’m doing.” Cassandra confessed at length as they broke the kiss, but Helena saw the mischievous glint in the woman’s eyes. “…I am sure, however, that I’ll get the hang of this… eventually.”

“Maybe with a little more practice?” Helena volunteered.

“You may be right. What do you suggest, we retire for the duration to my—” But before Cassandra could get another word out, Helena kissed her softly, slowly, making her own explorations. Reminding her, who needed a cabin when they were out here, amid the tall grass, under blue skies.

“And?” Helena asked.

Cassandra opened her eyes “And map into abstraction some quantifiable data?” She heard herself say, out of breath. Lips touched and teased while tongues played.

“Only if there is honey involved.” Helena managed to get the last word in, as they both lost themselves in yet another long, deep kiss.

The bees, seemingly oblivious to this ardent activity, quietly went about their business bathed in the warmth of the early afternoon sun, content on making honey.

— THE END —

Jehanne D’Arc

SHE FELT A BEAD OF SWEAT trickle down her back, while others formed ready to soak her shirt beneath her encounter suit. The overwhelming urge was to scratch at the irritation from the carbon that leached out from the suit, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t because of the large rubber gloves covering her hands. Hands that rested either side of the communications rig, waiting. Waiting for a signal. A word. Anything that would tell her what was happening in her own little sphere of the war.

She had not taken her eyes from the leader board, out front, in over ten minutes. Concentrating on the ever changing data, as the lettered tiles flipped over, relaying the alarming truth of their situation. The battle was not going well. Four squadrons had flown out in the early hours of the morning to engage the enemy, through the thick fog that covered the tiny hamlet. The base lay hidden, nestled in the sheltering cover of trees. All but the runway that is. A thin ribbon of concrete that gave away their position like a lit beacon flashing, ‘look we’re here!’

We’re here. She tried not to think about it. About what had brought them to this moment in time, this moment in space—in such a short time. Diplomacy having long since failed. The Peace talks having fallen on deaf ears, the bombs had starting flying instead of the rhetoric.

Concentrate on your job, she chided herself. To do other wise was to invite the ‘what ifs’ and she knew where that path lead. She ignored the physical irritations of thirst, sweat, hunger and the onslaught of fatigue. She ignored the reality of the stats board a while longer. Regardless, a small needle of fear stabbed deep inside her. It reminded her this wasn’t just some drill, wasn’t just another exercise. This time it was for real.

From within her tiny oasis of calm, alone in the semi-lit claustrophobic room on the ground floor. Which, in truth, was no more than a furnished ten by six, with two doors and a desk that ran the length of the glass panel. She looked out onto Eng. Ops and to the three officers who, likewise clothed in dark green encounter suits, sat waiting for the inevitable.

The end.

Their faces obscured by black rubber gas masks, eyes lost to view, she wondered what they were thinking. Had fear begun to creep into their thoughts, their conversation? She envied them their company in her solitude.

A light glowed on the console, which squeaked. She flicked a switch to respond.

“Intel.” The word came out muffled, inaudible even to her ears. She tried again, louder.

“Status report.” The disembodied voice asked without any hint of emotion.

“Nothing as of this time.” There was a moment’s silence.

The voice spoke again. “Nothing?”

“Nothing, Sir.” She added.

Four squadrons, twenty planes to a squadron. Eighty planes in all. Not one, in over three hours, had reported in. If they were talking to anyone at all, they weren’t talking to her.

“Nothing, Sir, nothing at all.” She repeated her statement of fact. No one had made a mission report. She’d already surmised no one was ever going to make a report, of any kind.

When she’d dialled through the bandwidth earlier, she’d heard nothing but background static. She hadn’t been able to find chatter of any kind this last hour. Nothing. She knew the enemy could be blocking all communications. And so, breaking protocol, she’d tried all the other major frequencies. Even the emergency channels. Nothing.

The world had gone silent. Her world had gone silent. It had made her feel quite sick. If it hadn’t been for Petrie coming in from the corridor on his way through to Intelligence, she might have lost it then and there. Even thrown up. As it was, the mounting tension was eating away at her guts.

“Thank you for your service.” The disembodied voice said as if, in a moment of divine revelation, it knew the truth. The line went dead.

She adjusted the headset sat atop her head. It didn’t quite fit while wearing a gas mask. Nothing fit. Her clothes, the situation, anything. Her personal jigsaw puzzle was missing pieces it would never have. As an analyst it was her job to sift through data, to piece together information, and report it’s content. Nice, neat, concise.

She did so now, to herself. Taking what she knew and filling in the holes with intel taken from subtext—she read between the lines, divining. The conclusions were unmistakable. No one was coming home. Whoever the enemy was, and she still didn’t know for sure, they had vanquished everything they had sent out to meet them.

Germany and, maybe, the whole of Europe, was falling. Had fallen. The world too?

She scanned both sections of the leader board. Engineering had ceased updating maybe twenty minutes earlier. The flutter of tiny flashing lights, on the Ops board above it thought had continued up until a few minutes ago. It was no coincidence that the updates had stopped the moment Group Captain Howard had asked her for an update.

All Intel, both upstairs and down, had stopped flowing. They were, in all probability, no longer in contact with HQ at Rheindahlen let alone the now missing squadrons. And next door, in Intelligence?

She wondered what news they had from their own sources. It would have been a simple matter to get up, walk to the door open it and find out. But she didn’t, instead, in frustration; she flung the now useless headset down on the tabletop. It skidded to a stop against the plate of congealed, stone-cold eggs that had been breakfast. Served almost to the minute the intercom system had sounded an alert and everyone had donned gas masks.

Nine seconds, it was all they had. Get it on in less than nine seconds. It was the drill. Only, this wasn’t a drill.

That had been several hours ago. Several painful long hours ago. Time stretched, seconds became as minutes, minutes as hours. Now, she felt as if she had just run out of time. If she had been religious in any way she might have begun to pray. As it was she felt a strange emotion well up from deep inside her, one of desolation, one of loss.

Peeling off first one, then the other glove, she tugged at the straps of her mask, loosening the pull-ties. She lay the mask down in front of her. Hands still clutching the vulcanized rubber. She knew with a certainty that she couldn’t explain to herself, let alone anyone else, she was never going to need it.

That she was never going to see the light of day dawning over the conifer forest at shift’s end. Or feel the soft caress of a gentle breeze upon her face. To breath in the scent of her mother’s cologne or her treasured roses. And never again smell that sweet smell of her father’s pipe tobacco of an evening out on the balcony back home.

In a heartbeat she would lose it all. In a heartbeat she would pass from being, to ghost. Pass from living to dead. And, with a conviction that only the dead know about, she picked up a red-wax pencil and wrote on the Plexiglas desk top.

Jehanne d’Arc.

Not an epitaph but a statement of fact. Her name. A name that she felt she’d had to live up to her entire life. Now, aged 19, she was going to be burnt alive.

The acrid smoke that had begun to creep beneath the door to her right was filling the room. An intense heat penetrated the buckling metal door, which squealed in pain and finally gave way.

Life had only one certainty: Death.

The flames of Hell came looking for her.

Standing tall, she met them head on. After all, she had survived one fire, so long ago; maybe she could this time round.

— THE END —

The Bee Charmer, Part 3

CAPTAIN BLACKTHORN HAD BEEN with Admiral Jamison, Head of Security, and was late. Or so she felt, as she walked briskly up the avenue towards the last fountain and the gap in the shrubbery that led to a cool oasis of calm. Alice-land she now called it.

It was difficult not to be irritated and not for the obvious reasons. Something was amiss, and she couldn’t put her finger on it, yet. Jamison had paged her last night to arrange an early morning meeting, one, which, in the end, had taken, up most of the morning and had gone, quite frankly, nowhere.

Why?

Someone, maybe Jamison, had not wanted her to be in chambers this morning. Again. Why? As she made her way up the avenue, Helena checked her pace. It quickened. A large ‘Parks & Gardens’ truck had appeared from above to float effortlessly down and land with a pneumatic hiss on the flagged walkway, right by the gap in the hedge. A lone figure tumbled out of the driver’s seat and began unloading equipment. The man was oblivious to her approach.

A frown furrowed her brow, unaware of the steely glint that took up residence in her eyes. Her attention was fixed squarely on the man. Questions tumbled over in her mind, but the first to make it to her lips was about the bee charmer.

“Have you seen a small blond-haired woman waiting hereabouts?” She asked, her tone edged in flint. Something was amiss.

With a startled look the man blinked, regained his composure, then stood lamely by the small caterpillar digger he’d just unloaded.

“Huh?” He glanced about him as if seeing the place for the first time. “Well, no. I’ve only just got here to be exact, Captain.” He blinked again seeing just whom it was he was addressing.

“I received orders to come down here and fill in the hole.” He added by way of some explanation for his presence.

Hole?

At her piercing gaze the man moved from one foot to another, he felt the desperate need to explain himself further.

“Bio was down here at the crack of dawn removing god alone knows what—” He began but didn’t finish.

Bio, was Biohazard.

What he hell had they exterminated?

Blackthorn brushed passed the man and stepped through the gap. The sight that greeted her made the knot in the pit of her stomach twist tighter. She clamped down on her jaw and felt the customary twitch in her cheek. With two more strides she stood by a mound of freshly dug earth, and stared down into the open wound where once a dead tree-stump had stood.

Who? Why?

In a moment of pure anger she balled her hands into fists at her sides. If she could have hit someone, she would have.

Was this the sight that had greeted her bee charmer?

“Damn.” The single word escaped through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry Captain.”

Helena whirled on her heels to confront the man, who now stood apologetically to one side. He took a side step from her gaze as it reduced him in height. He surveyed the hole, but without comprehension. He decided that if he stood real still, and didn’t breathe, he wouldn’t be struck by lightning. He was all too aware of the raging thunder that stood a few feet from him. Then it was gone, and he let out a long low audible sigh. He had survived.

* * *

The chamber was a bustle of activity as everyone took up his or her places. Helena sat at the table next to her second in command, Louise Marin. A look was flashed at her in query. Helena ignored it, glancing over Marin’s shoulder to where Captains Bryce and Hamilton sat. They all exchanged nods. Helena giving Bryce a significant look, which he acknowledged with a thin-lipped, tight smile. Her two Captains were ready then. Ready for anything. But what? She had no clue.

Marin fidgeted in her chair. A hand furtively touched at the left sleeve of her jacket to check a tiny ceramic needle-dart gun. It was primed and ready. She ducked her head and risked a brief glance at her Captain, who feigned a far away look.

People still milled behind them waiting to be seated, as the Sergeant-at-Arms accompanied by the Board, consisting of three Admirals, including Cairns, to their chairs on a raised dais. It was the ancient frame of Koenig that rose and, taking up the gavel, called the session to order.

It hadn’t gone amiss by everyone present that this particular afternoon’s session was going to be ‘The One’. The room was appropriately packed to capacity. And those who couldn’t gain entry by deed of rank or necessity, were watching the proceedings over secure-net vid-screens elsewhere.

A rustle of whispers went round the room before silence descended and the Court Clark stood to call out the details of the proceedings. His voice wavered for a second then steadied in its delivery. He then boomed out.

“The Board calls on Captain Cassandra Jones.”

Helena moved and was on the point of rising when her mind registered the name the clerk had called out, was in fact, not her own. There was a flurry of activity as whispers took up the background chorus.

Marin now stared sideways at her Captain not even bothering to conceal her thoughts, while both Bryce and Hamilton shifted in their seats with a chanced glance toward her. In fact, nearly every person in the room was staring to her.

Helena was focused straight ahead.

Everyone in the room knew the name, just as surely as they knew that of Fleet Captain Helena Blackthorn. Reputations were built on deeds and Cassandra Jones’ reputation was as formidable, in her own right, as that of the three Captains that now sat in Chambers contemplating their future in Starfleet.

Of course, up until now, Helena had never had occasion to meet the woman they called simply The Voice, the head of Security’s Internal Affairs Bureau. They hadn’t even met socially. The woman was a complete mystery.

Blackthorn felt her mind move several gears, and then promptly stall as she saw the diminutive figure of Jones appear in the centre of the room. Something sharp stabbed her straight through the heart.

Recognition.

The knot in her stomach forced bile up the back of her throat, so that she coughed into a clenched fist. The sound and the action brought glances from about her, but the only person she focused her attention on was her namesake.

Her Bee Charmer.

The woman seemed strangely out of place in her heavy dress uniform. A small figure caught momentarily in the crossfire of gazes. Who, she noted, stood quite alone and unprotected.

The face before her said nothing. Held no hint of what was about to take place. Helena searched the blue-eyed gaze that held her own for a moment, before the professional IAB Jones turned away. Helena couldn’t be sure in that fraction of a moment, as she was fighting with too many mixed emotions, but she was almost certain the eyes had said something that the face couldn’t.

Trust me.

Was she reading too much in to one look? Trust me it said. But how? Helena wanted to ask. Instead she let her eyes bore two neat little holes into the exposed back of the woman whose voice now took control of the room.

The voice bore no trace of the soft-honeyed tones used to good effect on her of late. In fact, although pitched low making the listener concentrate, it had a quality that lulled the senses. For the first time Helena appreciated why the woman was called the Voice. On this occasion she didn’t allow the voice to lull her, convinced that she would need her wits about her. Every one of them.

As she always did, Helena moved into a quiet place in her mind to go over every detail, but kept coming back to one thing: Why had Jamison taken her out of the loop? Sure in the knowledge, as little pieces began to fall into place, that Jamison had done this deliberately.

For her own protection? Why?

What other subterfuge was percolating just beneath the surface of this sham?

While part of her mind trawled past nuances, Helena listened intently to Cassandra, and, looking at the face of Cairns, saw this was not what the Admiral had been hoping to hear. Cassandra continued on with her litany. There was a tinge of growing alarm seeping into the lined features of Cairns’ face, while her eyes betrayed a look of pure malice.

This was not what she had planned for, let alone expected. Helena concluded.

She felt herself tense, ready to leap. Something imperceptibly had changed in the aura of the tension building in the room. Without shifting her gaze from Cairns’ face, she let her periphery vision alert her to the smallest movement from those upfront. Admiral Koenig was oblivious, sat on Cairns’ right, as was Rear Admiral Kassamali.

Both the Admirals out of the loop then. But the Sergeant-at-Arms and his two deputies had changed stance. They too were aware of some palpable shift.

Who had signalled them? Jamison? Probably. Could she risk a glance to the side to see where the woman was? Sure that she was somewhere just out of sight. But Helena kept her attention focused on Cairns sure this was where the danger lay.

As Jones continued with her expose, it was with a sudden moment of revelation that Helena realised, Jones and Jamison were, in fact, after Cairns.

Marin, sensing the tiniest fractional change in her Captain’s posture and mood, braced herself for action. She too knew something was about to happen. But what happened next, happened fast.

Helena surprised even herself, responding in quick time to the speed with which Cairns rose to her feet.

A number of legal and illegally concealed weapons emerged as four hissing shots crisscrossed the air to the accompanied smell of burning ozone and flesh. Someone hit the ground just behind Helena’s right shoulder, having been hit by a needle-beam that had been way too close for comfort. She heard another body make contact with the floor to one side, but she was already over the table hitting the other Captain Jones off her feet.

They skidded a few feet across the floor and, within a heartbeat, were surrounded on all sides by a group of six, facing outward, all with their favoured weapons drawn and ready to fire.

Chaos erupted around the room as various individuals and groups responded. Bryce and Hamilton were likewise encircled by various crew members. While Koenig and Kassamali, faces tinged white, sat stoically either side of a now disarmed Cairns. The two men-at-arms, weapons also drawn, stood either side of the suddenly disgraced Admiral as their Sergeant bent to pick up the fallen ceramic needle-beam weapon.

Catching her breath and hauling Jones to her feet, Helena took a moment to survey the room and unfolding drama. Jamison had appeared and, in a deep booming voice, called the room to order. Her right-hand man, the wiry framed aptly named weasel, Warshawski, had in a matter of moments sealed and secured the room. His people moving into action like a precision pieces of machinery. Jamison stepped up to Cairns, but Helena missed what was said as her attention was drawn suddenly elsewhere.

The slight figure of Jones slumped against her for support. The head buried itself in her shoulder, so that Helena had to suppress a sigh as she hugged the woman to her, before moving her to arm length. Her crew moved to stand at ease, but none the less alert.

“You look like shit.” Helena heard herself say as she looked down on an ashen face. Which told her Cassandra had been well aware of the risk she had taken, standing out in the middle of the room, calmly destroying the career of a once respected Admiral.

“Thanks for the ego boost, Starfleet.” The smile was a pale shadow. Helena frowned, still holding the woman by both arms. She searched the tired and drawn face, looking for answers.

“Yes, I know… I know that at this moment in time you’d like to break my neck, but—” The voice trailed off. It had lost some of its timbre.

“Some answers would be nice.” Helena caught Marin’s inquiring look and arched brow. The woman turned away with a smile. Cassandra stood limply with her arms held tightly about her waist. Her face pained. Helena frowned, feeling sure she was missing something. The woman made another attempt to reassure her with a smile, but failed dismally.

“I hate to be a bother, but could we leave all the recriminations and the accusations for the big bust up later. I think I’d like to—” The sentence was never finished. Helena caught Jones as she passed out.

A voice roared out a single word. “Medic!” Helena bent to bring them to the floor, and saw the reason for Cassandra’s sudden collapse. The lower right-hand side of her jacket, previously hidden by an arm, sustained a small but neat hole from out which a dark sticky substance oozed.

“There’s no need to shout.” An all too familiar voice spoke calmly just above where Helena now crouched. One of the six bodyguards came to kneel beside her; it was her CMO, Commander Rachael Taylor. Helena nodded a quick response to the doctor, and moved to one side to cradle Cassandra’s head.

Taylor went to work, as Helena fretted. Someone appeared with a med-kit and began assisting the CMO. Helena shifted her position to sit cross-legged allowing her to place Cassandra’s head in her lap. She brushed gently at the woman’s hair unaware of the soft, quirky smile her CMO gave her. She was far more concerned with what was happening now Taylor had Cassandra’s jacket and shirt open. And watched with concern as the CMO dressed the woman’s wound.

Helena felt a lump constrict her throat. It was never easy seeing a crew member injured, much less someone you felt something for. She looked away. As she looked up she caught sight of the sculptured ebony features of Jamison heading her way. She took a moment to glance around the now emptying room. Everyone beyond the balustrade had been cleared from the chamber. Of Cairns, there was no sign.

Jamison bent down on one knee, her face wore a tight look of concern.

“Damn fool. I told her she’d have to duck.”

Helena felt a wave of anger rise in her. But with a quick look, Jamison cut off any remark she’d been about to say. A hand strayed to her shoulder.

“We had to leave you out of the loop. You’re reputation had to remain… intact… unblemished by what we had to do here, today.” The Admiral rose carefully to her feet and, with a parting look, Helena knew this was all she was going to get by way of an explanation, at least for this moment.

“Damn stupid all the same.” Helena muttered looking down at the injured Cassandra, as something squeezed at her heart tightly.

“Sorry Captain.” Taylor spoke softly, “we need to move her now.”

With a curt nod, Helena, noting the two medics and the medivac cart for the first time, let go of Cassandra and watched as she was whisked away. The ache in her chest threatening to suffocate her.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Finley’s Last Chapter

“Hi, my name is Finley,” she writes on the scrap of paper with a broken pencil Georgia gave her earlier. “You can blame Georgia for this, for what I am about to write, it was at her suggestion. Well, insistence, that I write it all down, how we came to this moment in time—” She pauses and looks out across the ink black darkness, straining to see anything moving, but sees nothing. It’s all gone quiet.

Too quiet, the incessant shelling having stopped a few hours earlier. No one knows what it means. Was it the proverbial calm before the storm, or maybe the eye of the storm? Did it matter which? The small pockets of resistance fighters, like her small group, were losing the war. She isn’t even sure what it is they are fighting for anymore.

Survival? That was a joke.

They were, according to Thomas, down to their last few scavenged tinned rations. And no one had found anything ‘living’ for several days. Nothing flew across the skies; no birds sang a morning chorus. No animal, if any still yet lived, scurried or foraged above ground. Not even the rats showed their faces. Those hardy creatures could survive through just about anything. They had vanished.

Finley knows they are living on borrowed time. Georgia knows it too. By the morning, the rest of them will know it as well.

A slight breeze blows and ruffles the last of her straw-blond hair. It started coming out in clumps days ago. She hides the fact during the day beneath a wool-knit hat that proclaims her a fan of the Ottawa Senators. She has no idea who they were or what team sport they might have played. But she’s thankful nonetheless for the warmth and head cover it affords her.

Drawing her attention back to the dirty piece of paper, Finley focuses her thoughts once more, trying to make sense of it all. But instead of writing, she stares at Charlie. Then almost laughs out loud at the absurdity of it. Here she is, a petite 35 year-old woman dressed in Army fatigue sat on a shattered wall. Writing her life story on a scrap of paper by torchlight. With a small plush monkey sat on her knee watching the proceedings.

“Do you think I’m going crazy?” She asks the monkey in all seriousness then grins. Charlie stares back, his dirty face no doubt mirroring her own.

Here then is her thread, she thinks, the one thing that leads her back through all the years to her childhood. A monkey. Not this particular monkey. This one is a tattered remnant that Georgia rescued a couple of days earlier from a heap of abandoned rubbish. A mot amid the wreckage of what was once a children’s hospital.

No, the original Charlie, a chimpanzee that had been twice the size of the child Finley, was long since lost. As were all the ‘Charlie’ monkeys she had owned over the ensuing years. Just like they all would be, all to soon. Not just her little group of bedraggled rag-tag fighters—dug-in amid the ruined skyscrapers of what was once a part of civilizations crowning achievement—but the entire human race.

Extinct.

The ache in her chest threatens to overwhelm her.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about, of course, she’s right,” Finley writes. “The more I look at what possibilities lie in wait with the coming of a fateful morning, the more fear grows in the pit of my stomach. So I’ll try, for her, for everyone, but most of all, for myself to remain calm, and focused.” Finley looks at the words written in a small, tight scrawl. They seem as alien to her now as do the invaders who have swarmed across the planet obliterating everything in their path. To these invaders, it wasn’t about destruction. It was nothing less than the complete and utter annihilation of every living thing on planet earth.

Why do I need to know where it is I came from, and what it is I’m fighting for to be able to do what needs doing tomorrow? That was the million-dollar question.

Because. It’s Georgia’s favourite word of the moment. Because we need to. Because it has to be done, and it might as well be us because, someone has to stop the invaders.

Because. This is for her mother. This is for her father. This is for all those who have gone before her. All those who gave so much in order for there to be a future for their children, and their children’s children.

How could she do anything less than they had when the need arose?

Finley chews her pencil and beseeches Charlie.

“What do you think, should the crazy lady just march up to the ugly alien and shake its hand?” It is all so plausible.

They had at hand maybe the greatest weapon they had to offer, against what seemed like an indefatigable enemy.

“That’s if it works…” Finley mutters.

“It will do…it has to.”

Startled, Finley knocks Charlie from her knee. Georgia, mouth curved with a lingering smile, sits next to her leaning in against her.

“Is that it? Is that all you’ve written?” The smile stretches.

“My life, in one chapter,” Finley says, realizing she’s managed to while away a couple of hours. All the while Georgia was dealing with their crew, giving her some much-needed downtime alone.

An arm snakes across the back of her shoulders. She leans into the comfort that act offers. Her head going to a welcoming shoulder. She feels Georgia press her face into her hair, warm breath caressing the top of her head. The taller woman consoles Finley against the coming dawn and what’s to come. Time running out for them both.

“Didn’t Charlie give you any pointers,” Georgia finally says.

“No, not much, his spelling isn’t that much better than mine.” Finley sees the monkey lying in the dirt staring face-up at her, as if beseeching her. She moves, scooping him up, clutching him to her chest and leans back in against the warmth of her companion hearing the soft laugh.

“You know a girl could get jealous of that monkey.”

“Really? I never thought you the jealous type and, after all, it was you who introduced us, remember?”

“Hmm … that was a bum move on my part then?”

“Jealous.”

“Am not.”

“Are too—” They stare at one another for one long moment.

Opening a button of her shirt, Finley slips the dust-cover monkey half in, half out. He looks as if he’s saying to the world, ‘Hey, look where I am!’

“And do I get to slip inside there too?” Georgia asks.

Feeling a rise of colour to her cheeks, Finley gives the woman, who means so much to her, her answer. A mouth-stretching grin. Taking Georgia’s hand, she stands. With Charlie stowed, she likewise flips off her torch and slips it into her combat pants along with the scraps of paper and pencil. With a gentle tug of the rough-skinned hand she holds, Finley takes a step backward. Thinking, there are far better ways they could be consoling one another before the dawn’s early light.

“I might lead this bunch of reprobates, but in matters of the heart, you’ve always mastered me,” Finley says.

“Then I’d better lead you to where I’ve bedded us down for the night, before first light steals what little time we have left.”

“You’d better,” Finley says, falling in step with her lover, as they move off into a darkness, which swallows them, whole.

* * *

The overhead sun beats down from out a clear blue sky, adding to the heat haze that gives the vista an ethereal quality to it. A lone figure, bathed in the sun’s white light, stands atop the rubble of bricks, waiting. In her left hand she clutches her one and only possession, a small stuffed monkey. In her right, she holds a detonation switch that will end it all. Unleashing what they all hope will be humanity’s last chance—tiny engines of destruction—deadly bacteria. Deadly that is to the aliens, as they had found out weeks earlier. How ironic the scientists’ bacteria were harmless to humans yet, so deadly to the ‘Uglies.’

Vials and vials of it lay housed in the underground laboratory right beneath the point where she now stood. A laboratory they had rigged with enough explosives to make their own miniature mushroom cloud.

All Finley has to do is flip the switch and it will all end—for her at least—in one cataclysmic explosion. Raining down a biological terror from the skies upon the alien invaders now just visible through the haze, in the far distance.

She doesn’t turn and look behind, knowing she’ll see no one there. As the others of her unit, now under Georgia’s command, have long since left the ruined city. Georgia had made love to her in those last few hours together. As if memorizing every last piece of skin, every curve and contour of her wrecked body.

Now, with her gaze fixed on the future, the future of mankind, she lifts her right arm to hold it out in front of her. Steady.

“Is it time, Charlie…what say you?” She brings the monkey up and holds him against her chest. The child in her needing the comfort against the dark as, with her right thumb, she does one last act of bravery.

— THE END —