Even Kittens have Claws

Part Eleven -- by Becky Ratliff

See Disclaimer Information in Part One

Christy wasn’t sure which way Cooper had gone in the dark cargo bay. She knew he was around here somewhere, but Sam and Emerson had to be around here somewhere too!

She grinned as she spotted Emerson drawing a bead on Cooper, and raised her paint gun and shot him. His hand came away wet with paint and he gave her a disbelieving look, then sat down on a box to be dead for a while.

Unaware of his close call, Cooper stalked Sam through a hatch into the next hold. He didn’t know what was going on when something heavy dropped over his head -- a big square of canvas -- and he was knocked heavily to the deck. Pain exploded through his body as heavy blows and kicks started to rain down on him through the canvas. He couldn’t get out, it was all he could do to try to keep from getting his head busted in.

Christy opened the hatch stealthily...and saw a bunch of guys beating the hell out of a struggling figure under a canvas tarp. She saw Sam tied up, gagged with his own shirt, hanging by his wrists from a pipe. He too had been beaten.

She chose her target carefully and put the biggest one down with a vicious kick to the back of his knee, he went down screaming and that gave her a second’s advantage of confusion. Now, according to everything McQueen and Hawkes had been teaching her the last few days, she was
supposed to take advantage of that confusion to run. But running wasn’t an option now. She used the time to attack one of the others, he went down with a broken arm.

By then the rest of the gang had got their wits about them. Taking them out wouldn’t be anywhere nearly so easy. “It looks like the kitten’s going to fight,” one of them jeered.

Christy replied, “Even kittens have claws. How many more of you want to end up like your friends here?”

“You’re going to be sorry for that.”

“I don’t think so!”

The closest one grabbed at her, she ducked underneath his arm and punched him in the ribs. She didn’t know if she broke one or not, but it was enough to make him retreat, gasping and cursing her. She darted past him and made for a rope she saw hanging, shinnied up it and onto the top of a line of cargo containers.

“Don’t let her get away! We’re cooked if she reports us!”

They came after her, she kicked the heavy metal lid off one of the cargo containers and hit the first two with it. A whole stack of plastic jugs rolled out and got underfoot, she jumped for the rope and swung across to the opposite line of containers. She ran along the top, with the gang chasing right behind her, searching the walls for the fire alarm box. That would attract some help down here! But she didn’t see one.

A noise overhead caught her attention, she dived for cover as a cargo net full of heavy boxes missed her by a hand’s width.

Meanwhile, Cooper had struggled out from under the canvas. He yanked the wadded-up shirt out of Sam’s mouth.

“They’re chasing Christy, down that way! Come back for me later!”

Cooper didn’t have to be told twice. He took stock as he followed after them, he didn’t think anything was broken. He was luckier than the two guys Christy had knocked down, they were going to medbay before they’d see the inside of the brig!

Christy couldn’t get back up on the containers, and she found herself up a blind alley. She drew herself up, prepared to make her stand. But then the bullies found out Cooper was behind them.

After that, it was a really short fight. When they realized Cooper could probably kill the lot of them and that he was mad enough to enjoy doing it, they gave in.

Christy called security to come get the gang of sailors while Cooper got Sam down. But as soon as they heard the security detail coming, they ducked out, leaving Sam to make explanations. There was still a spy loose somewhere.


Damphousse poked her head in. “The game’s a scratch, those swabees jumped Coop and them over in the hold.”

Both C.O.’s got to their feet. “Is anyone hurt?”

“Just the sailors, I think. They were carrying some of them out on stretchers and the rest of them are on their way to the brig. Major Flannery, Sam was telling them what happened.”

Todd took his cue. “I’d better get down there and see what’s going on.”

When he’d gone, Damphousse said, “There’s something happening, Shane. I keep flashing on the docking bay.”

“God, what happened, ‘Phousse? You go for months without a clue what’s going on with your powers, then today it’s every five mikes!”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, Shane!”

“Well, let’s go check out the docking bay, then.”

“Nathan and the others are going to meet us up there.”

They got off the lift. It was very quiet all around their docking bay. Shane had never thought of the flight deck as spooky before, but now it was!

‘Phousse grabbed her arm. “Wait, Shane, look, there’s no one in the booth!”

Shane said, “You go that way and check in the maintenance bays. I’m going on in the hangar bay to look around my pit, then I’ll get the Colonel. Watch your six, there are plenty of places to hide in here!”

Damphousse did as she was told. It took her about ten mikes to check the maintenance bays, nothing. She realized it was taking Shane a long time.

She sent a ping to McQueen’s radio, he answered immediately. Keeping her voice down, she said, “Sir! He’s up here on the flight deck somewhere!”

There was no way directly onto flight deck from where McQueen was. He hit the tunnel running and met Damphousse near the maintenance exit. She was standing over the unconscious body of the spy, she had whacked him over the head with a large wrench.

“Where’s Shane?”

“I thought she was with you, Colonel, she said she was going to check around her ‘pit then catch up with you.”

“She never made it.”

Damphousse searched the spy. “Damn, damn, he’s already set the charge!” Without being sure why she did it, she threw the spy’s bag over her shoulder, and they ran for the flight deck -- just as an explosion filled the bay with flame and flying debris. Too early -- there shouldn’t have been anyone in there for another hour and a half yet. The spy’s nerve must have failed him ... he must have decided to get out now.

Ross and the rest of the Cards caught up with them. Vanessa felt the familiar, disquieting sensation of being two places at once. She reached into the spy’s bag and grabbed a block of plastique and a detonator. But she knew as she did it that the detonator was bad. She looked -- it was the last one. Plastique explosive would burn, but it wouldn’t explode without a detonator ... and even though one of the wires leading to this one had a break in it, the detonator would go off from a sufficient shock as well as an electrical charge. A bullet would be more than ‘sufficient.’ For a split second, she hesitated, then she came to a decision and grabbed the spy’s gun as well.

“Shane’s in there!” She told them. And McQueen did exactly what she’d just seen him doing.

Ty looked between Glen and the spreading fire. What was necessary had to be done. He said, “I'm sorry, Glen--” With that, his hand shot out, hit the button to close off the docking bay -- but before the doors could close, he had dived through. He could still hear Glen’s horrified shout to him to come back, but he couldn’t leave Shane to die like his friends at Port Riskin without being sure there was no chance. Life or death, the same for both of them.

No NB should have been able to match that burst of speed, but when he got his feet under him, Vanessa was right there beside him. She must have been moving before he did. “Damphousse, what the hell are you--?!” He couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t a case of pots and kettles.

Damphousse said hurriedly, “She’s right under the starboard side of her pit. The fire’s got to the main box for the bay doors, they won’t be able to blow them from out there. I’ll have to set a charge. I’ll meet you at the emergency lock -- but shut it if this charge goes off, ‘cause if it does, you can bet it cooked off in my hand. They’ll have to blow the bay doors from the outside with a missile if it comes to that, you want both hatches of that lock between you and the bay if that happens!” With that, she took off running ... into the worst of the fire, lost in the black smoke.

He swore, torn two ways ... but ‘Phousse knew exactly what she was doing. He ran for Shane’s cockpit and found her just as ‘Phousse had said. She was deeply unconscious, her flight suit was soaked with blood around a neat, Ka-bar sized cut. The spy had stabbed her in the back. McQueen swore if he got out of this alive, he’d kill that son of a bitch with his bare hands.

There wasn’t time to think about that now. He picked Vansen up, she seemed light as a child. He hoped he wasn’t doing her further harm by moving her, but there was no choice. One way or another, from the fire or hard vacuum, conditions here would soon be unsurvivable.

The emergency lock opened right away, at least that was still working properly. He found a wad of gauze and packed it into Shane’s wound. It was still bleeding, that was a good sign because it meant she was still alive. But she was out so far she didn’t even flinch.

Someone pounded on the other side of the lock. He made sure Shane was safely inside, then stepped out and shut the door so they could open the other side. He ran towards the bay doors, found Damphousse just finishing up setting the charge.

She looked up at him. “The detonator’s bad! I’m going to have to set it off with a shot. Get out of here!”

“I’m a better shot than you are,” he told her.

“Not from six inches away you aren’t. I don’t have Shane waiting for me,” she replied bluntly. “I don’t mind going to be with Paul. Sir, I swear to God, I will shoot to wound you and throw you in one of those cockpits if I have to ... but you aren’t taking my place and leaving Shane alone for the rest of this war!”

He stared at her, she didn’t give a millimeter and he had no doubt she was capable of carrying out the threat. For Shane, for him, at this moment her own life meant nothing to her. If the situation hadn’t been so deadly serious, he would have seen the humor in a circumstance where a threat to shoot someone was an act of love. “Vanessa, I can hit the detonator from that cargo box. But you'd have to have your hand on the switch to get the hatch closed in time....”

It took her a split second to figure out if the plan was workable, whether or not she could get the transport hatch closed fast enough to make it worth risking two lives instead of sacrificing one. Hope came into the eyes of a woman who had already started thinking of herself as dead. “We can do it.”

They ran for the box. McQueen hadn’t taken the billowing smoke from a couple of flaming cockpits into account, the charge on the doors came in and out of view. Vanessa said, “It’s going to clear for a second!”

She was right. He took the shot while he had the opportunity, and hit the detonator. It went off with a roar, and warped the bay doors outward far enough for explosive decompression to do the rest. Everything loose in the bay turned into a projectile, just as Vanessa’s hand slammed down on the hatch’s emergency release. Another half second later the box’s hatch fell home.

McQueen felt a stab of pain from his bad ear that almost knocked him over, until the box’s air supply returned the pressure to normal. He and Vanessa just looked at each other for a second. Then she screamed at the top of her lungs, “YES!!” And hugged him. Then she got embarrassed, but he just put his arm around her and held her for a minute, laughing as much in relief as at her flustered reaction. “It’s okay, Vanessa.”

“Shane? Is she--”

“She was alive when I left her. I put her in the lock, there were some mechanics on the other side. Someone stabbed her.” He raised his comlink.

Outside, Ross, West and Hawkes, and Mark and Christy could only watch in horror as the vacuum extinguished the fire and sucked the smoke out into space. Then McQueen’s voice came over the comm system, assuring them that he and Damphousse were okay and demanding information on Shane’s condition. The mechanics who had gotten her out of the emergency airlock had sent for the medics, she’d been taken straight into surgery. All Ross could say to reassure his friend was that she was still alive.

Ross let the young people go down to sickbay. There was really nothing they could report about what had happened that wasn’t immediately obvious, formal reports could wait until they’d satisfied themselves that Vansen would be all right. As soon as the crews rescued McQueen and Damphousse they joined the rest to wait for news.

It wasn’t too long until Mary came out to tell them Shane would live, although an alarming amount of the blood in her veins at the moment had once belonged to other people. She made sure someone checked out Hawkes’ bruises to make sure that was all they were. “You can’t all stay here, just one at a time. She really will be fine, Ty.”

McQueen said, “I’ll stay. You two take Hawkes with you and go report in.”

When they’d gone, Mary gave him a critical look. “Are you okay?”

He nodded. “When can I see her?”

“Now, I suppose, you’d might as well sit with her. It’ll be at least an hour before she comes out from under the anesthesia, though, and it’ll be tomorrow before she knows you’re here.”

“She’ll know.”

Mary had heard that same sentiment expressed too many times to discount it. “All right, then. She will be all right, TC. You’ll be surprised at how much better she’ll be doing just by tomorrow.”

Todd Flannery came up as he was about to go in. He asked, “Shane?”

“She’s still under, but Dr. O’Leary says she’ll be fine.”

Flannery looked through the hatch, people always looked so small and fragile in hospital beds. He hesitated, but it was obvious that McQueen intended to sit with her. He knew sickbay’s rules about visitors. “When she wakes up, tell her I was by ... I’ll come back tomorrow.”

McQueen nodded. Flannery looked in again, then left.

McQueen went on inside and dragged a chair over to Shane’s bedside. The room was silent except for the constant hum of the bank of monitors at the head of the bed. Everything was clean white, it seemed bright even with the lights dimmed. That was good, Shane wouldn’t have to wake up in the dark.

She barely seemed to be breathing. But the readouts on the monitors all looked good ... at least as far as he could tell.

Gloria came in. She had Shane’s meds, a couple of things that she injected into the saline bag. She checked things. “For a bunch of people who hate sickbay, you sure give us a hell of a lot of business,” she said.

“How is she?”

“Just fine. She’s starting to come out. I’ll get another chair so you can put your feet up and try to sleep, it’s headed for 0100.”

About 0300, Ross came by. He looked tired but quite satisfied, his expression changed to worry when he saw Vansen. “How is she?”

“They say pretty good.” McQueen unfolded his legs from the other chair and toed it over Ross’ way, the Commodore sat down.

“Security found the launch controller, she’s dead. Her friends said she’d been excited the past few days about her new boyfriend, guess who it was?”

“Now we know what he meant by ‘access’. Damn.”


Shane’s eyes flickered open. For a moment, they both had their hands full -- she didn’t realize she wasn’t still fighting off a knife-wielding assassin, and they were afraid she’d tear open her injury trying to get away. But then she recognized McQueen.

He reassured her, “We got the guy, Shane. ‘Phousse brained him with a pipe wrench. It’s okay. You’re in sickbay.”

“What happened? The bomb--”

“Went off and we’ve got another launch bay down for repairs, but no one besides yourself was hurt this time,” Ross assured her. “This idiot of yours blew the bay doors with a block of plastique.”

McQueen said, “Don’t look at me, it was Vanessa’s idea.”

Shane said weakly, “Two idiots, then.” But the affection in her voice took all the sting out of her words. “You and ‘Phousse ... sure you’re okay?”

He nodded. “The detonator she had was no good, Damphousse was ready to sacrifice her life to blow the doors. There was a cargo box in there, I was able to make the shot from that distance, and then we just waited in there until they brought us EVA gear.”

Ross said, “You might tell her that the chief engineer informed me the fire would have started spreading to adjacent areas if it had not been put out when it was. The two of you undoubtedly saved a number of lives.”

“I’ll inform the Lieutenant of that, sir.”

“And I’ll tell them out there that Shane’s awake,” Ross grinned.

Shane reached for McQueen’s hand and asked, “How bad--”

“You were lucky. Mary said you’ll be all right in a couple of weeks.”

“You got me out of there, didn’t you?”

He nodded, but said, “It was really Vanessa ... she told me where to find you.”

Shane closed her eyes and lay back. “We’re going to have one hell of a time figuring out where the Chinese obligations begin and end.”

“Let’s just say it includes us all, and leave it at that.”

She smiled. He didn’t release her hand until he heard voices in the corridor outside.

Two days later, Shane was allowed to go back to the barracks. Dr. O’Leary figured she could lie around and sleep there as well as anywhere else, and for the time being, that was all she really wanted to do most of the time. She would be grounded until there was no further danger of reopening her wound.

Cooper was relieved to see her back in her usual spot, and even more relieved to see McQueen sitting with her. Now that he had got used to the idea, that seemed to be the way things were supposed to be.

Christy knocked at the hatch, he joined her and Mark outside. Even though the gang of bigots had been caught, and it was highly unlikely anyone else would try the same thing after they’d seen the Commodore’s reaction to those guys, she had decided to continue learning martial arts. Cooper was surprised to find that he enjoyed teaching her and Mark, even though the teacher was scrambling to stay one chapter ahead of the students.

Mark looked down the corridor. “You guys go ahead to the gym, I’ll catch up in a little while.”

Christy asked, “How’s Shane?”

“Better today. She sat up for an hour or so after breakfast. She still sleeps a lot.”

“That’s a good sign, Cooper,” Christy reassured him.

“Hey, Christy, some of the new movies are supposed to be pretty good. Would you, umm ... like to go see one with me tonight after you get off duty?”

She smiled. “That sounds great, Coop.”

A little while later, he reached for her hand, and she laced her fingers with his. For a while, anyway, all was right with Cooper’s world.


Vanessa looked up and smiled as Mark Miller dropped into step beside her. “Hi, Vanessa.”

“Mark,” she smiled. “Thanks for helping us out the other day.”

“No problem,” he smiled. “Listen, I was wanting to ask you something. You sing in the choir, right?”


“Well, I’ve been thinking about putting a band together. I used to be in a garage band back home, it was a lot of fun. Would you think about joining?”

Vanessa looked surprised. “I’ve never really sung anywhere except in church, Mark, I don’t think I’m that good.”

“I’m not a professional musician, but that’s half the fun. I was talking to Julie, the girl we played paintball with, and she plays keyboards. That’s a pretty good beginning for a band.”

“Well, I did start to learn to play bass one time. What kind of music do you like?”

“A little country, some blues, some folk and bluegrass. I like to listen to South American music, but I’m not a good enough guitarist to play it.”

Vanessa smiled. “You know something, Mark, that sounds like something I’d really like to try. When can we get together?”

“Tomorrow evening?”

“That sounds good for me,” Vanessa said.

“I usually practice in rec room B. Do you have a bass?”

“I think I can borrow one,” she replied.

“Great! I’ll see you then!”

Vanessa stood there for a long moment. She had a sense of moving on, of new beginnings. It wasn't, thank God, another vision...she’d had a rest from them the last few days. But she did have a feeling that things were right somehow.


Vansen curled up against the extra pillow that West had swiped for her. She had sat up in her rack to watch the news after breakfast, but that effort had exhausted her. It was frustrating, she had to just take it on faith when everyone said she would be recovered in couple weeks. Right now it felt like she would never walk any further than back and forth to the head. “I can’t believe I was dumb enough to let that son of a bitch get the drop on me,” she griped, not for the first time.

“We thought he’d have to come in through the crawl-space. We thought wrong. It’s that simple,” McQueen said.

“I know...did they get anything out of him?”

“No, not before Naval Intelligence picked him up anyway. But he’ll have to take whatever deal they offer him, they’ve got him cold for the murder of Lt. Sedley in addition to all the other charges against him.”

“I’d have liked to have--” She bit off whatever she had been going to say, but the look in her eyes was decidedly unfriendly.

McQueen told her, “Yeah. Me too. They made sure I didn’t get anywhere near him.”

“I don’t blame the Commodore for that,” Vansen grinned. “The spy’s history. I’m just glad he’s finally been identified, I was getting damn tired of looking over my shoulder.”

McQueen had to agree with that. “We don’t know that there aren’t more.”

“Well, we’ll never know that for sure, I guess.” She tugged at the blanket, trying to get comfortable. She decided that was just impossible and settled for turning over on her side, maybe it wasn’t comfortable but at least it was different.

She sighed a little as McQueen reached out to brush the hair out of her eyes. “It doesn’t matter right now. Just rest.”

She was more than willing to do just that. McQueen watched her sleep for a while, before he dimmed the lights and headed up to the bridge.


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