Even Kittens have Claws

Part Ten -- by Becky Ratliff

See Disclaimer Information in Part One

Damphousse was sitting cross-legged on her bunk, looking out at the stars. “Nathan, what do you think will happen now?”

“I don’t know, Vanessa. For so long, I wanted to see Aerotech in this kind of trouble for what they let happen to the colonies, to Kylen. But there’s no way to pay them back for what they did, it’s just too much. Just maybe they won’t ever get the chance to do it to anyone else. I hope what happens is everyone finds out how much power Aerotech’s taken that they aren’t supposed to have, and things change.”

“Do you think Hayden knew about the massacre?”

“Before or after it happened?” Nathan countered. “She knew what was going on by the time that I went AWOL on Tellus, I’d almost swear to it. I looked her right in the eye when I asked her if she knew about the chigs and all that. Now I know why she got so upset.”

“She didn’t answer. She just ran out of there.”

“Yeah, I know. I know what I saw.”

Vanessa asked, “Are you going to be here a while?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because I’ve got an idea. This has the whole ship all in an uproar. If I was going to have a psychic impression it would be now. So I’m going to see if I can make something happen.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“Just hold the rope, you know? The Colonel told me not to fool around with this stuff when I’m by myself.”

“Well, that makes sense!” Nathan told her.

She closed her eyes. She had no idea what to do, whether she should try not to think about anything or whether she should try to focus on one thing.

The first thing she was aware of was the deep pulse of the ship’s engines, she knew that sound better than anyone except the Sara’s own engineers. Then she heard her own breathing, and the hum of the desktop computer’s cooling fan.

Then all of that began to recede into the background. Images flickered, she saw Cooper sitting at a table in the rec room with Mark and Christy. That one wavered and she lost it, forgot and opened her eyes. She started over.

Damphousse saw a bay full of consoles, a man was sitting at one with his back to her. It was a room in the Sara’s comms center, she’d been there before. He was talking in a hushed voice to someone, but she couldn’t see who because he was between her and the screen. He was saying, “....All of them at one time. It won’t be any trouble to set a bomb. I’ve got access now.”

There was a pause as the person on the other end said something.

“I understand that, Control. This will end my usefulness on the Saratoga in any case, I’ll need to make my break at that time. As soon as the bomb is set, I’ll initiate the omega protocol.”

The scene wavered, she concentrated until a sharp pain in her temple nearly made her cry out but she couldn’t bring the vision back into focus again.

Nathan hesitated to touch her, afraid of doing her harm if he startled her. When she opened her eyes, he asked, “’Phousse? Are you okay?”

“Yeah.... It worked, Nathan! And then some! Where’s Shane?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen her since she left last night. Three guesses where she was after that, but now--”
Vanessa pulled herself out of her rack and over to the phone, dialed Shane’s beeper number. She controlled the impatient urge to hop from one foot to the other. Someone was planning to set a bomb! It seemed like forever, but it was really only a couple mikes before the phone rang back.

“Vansen here.”

“Shane, it’s ‘Phousse, I have to talk to you now! Where are you?”

“In the office,” was the reply.

“Is the Colonel with you? Anyone else?”

“Just us, why?”

“I’ll be right there!”

Nathan followed along. Shane asked, “’Phousse, what’s going on?”

“I was trying to make my powers work, and I did. I saw the Commodore’s spy! He was in the comms center talking to someone, he’s going to set a bomb--!”

“Whoa, slow down!” Vansen told her. “Exactly what did you see? Who is it?”

“I don’t know, he had his back to me. I don’t think I can pick point of view. I could hear him, but not the other side of the conversation. He was saying something about all of them at one time, and that it wouldn’t be any trouble to set a bomb because he had access now. And then he said that this would end his usefulness on the ‘Toga, and that he would initiate the omega protocol as soon as the bomb was set!”

McQueen got hold of Ross, knowing the Commodore would want to hear this and question Damphousse for himself. Ross told them to stay put, that he would join them there, and it took him about five mikes to get there.

Damphousse went through it again. Ross asked her to describe the spy. She closed her eyes, trying to visualize the scene again. “He was a white male with dark hair, and he was wearing a ‘Toga jumpsuit, sir. He was sitting with his back to me ... I couldn’t see any unit patches or anything. He didn’t have any certain accent ... maybe a little bit Chicago or Detroit. I’m sorry, sir, it wasn’t very long.”

Ross said, “No, this helps. We know it’s a white male, that cuts out at least two-thirds of the people on board the Sara right there. Now about the bomb. Do you know who he meant by ‘all of them’?”

“Us, sir, the 5-8. I’m sure of that. My visions nearly always warn me of danger to myself or someone close to me.”

“ ‘Now’ he has ‘access’. Access to what?”

She shook her head blankly. “And ‘omega protocol’....”

Ross and McQueen looked at each other. Ross said, “That’s got to be one of their codes. Probably his escape plan to get his ass off the ‘Toga after he starts blowing things up!”

McQueen nodded, that was a reasonable guess.

Damphousse said slowly, “If they want to be sure of getting ‘all of us at once’ ... it would have to be the barracks or the briefing room. Or maybe the Tun....”

“No one would have to worry about ‘getting access’ to the Tun,” West observed.

“Unless he just became an officer,” Vansen said.

Ross shook his head. “The last promotions were a couple of weeks ago. That probably wouldn’t be news to his controller at this late date.”

McQueen said, “We need to double-check the comm logs, and see if we can locate a record of that transmission.”

Nathan snapped his fingers. “I know where the bomb is ... or where it’s going to be. Right under Shane’s pit on the flight deck. If it hadn’t been for ‘Phousse here, it would have been a while before anyone suspected that a flight deck explosion was a bomb. The spy would have time to make his getaway in the confusion.”

Ross and McQueen exchanged a glance before the Commodore ordered, “Get me this bastard alive.”

“Yes, sir,” McQueen replied.

Fortunately, they were all more or less on their own until the paintball game was scheduled to start. They had to carry on their normal activities to avoid spooking the spy into just making a run for it -- there was a better than even chance, the way things were going, that Aerotech would soon be in no position to punish him for failing to obey orders.

Damphousse drew the job of checking the comms records, she thought the vision had taken place in real time so she decided to start with the last ones and work backwards. The rest of them went different directions to warn Cooper of the plot and search for the bomb.

Since West had thought of that hiding place, he took the job of working his way through the crawl-space to Shane’s cockpit lift and hunting for the bomb. He wasn’t really surprised that it wasn’t there yet, there were too many people moving around in the daytime. If he were the spy, he'd want to set the charge while he knew the 5-8 were all occupied elsewhere with the paintball game. He said as much to McQueen when he met up with him in the maintenance tunnel a few mikes later.

McQueen nodded. “You’re probably right about that. No one could just walk across the bay without being challenged by the launch controller, so he’ll probably get in this way. But I’d sure like to know what the hell he meant by getting access.”

“That paintball game is going to present a problem. We’ll have to be there, or he’ll know we’re onto him and rabbit.”

“So you’ll be there, I’ll take that watch myself,” McQueen said.

“There’s an electrical locker right before you get to Shane’s pit. It’s a tight squeeze, but there’s room, I checked. You can see the tunnel for quite a ways in both directions through the ventilation slits.”

“Okay, I’ll be back about 1700.” McQueen gave West his sidearm, it was the only firearm they could get without going through the armory and possibly alerting the spy. No one was betting he didn’t have their names flagged on the ship’s computers.

West reflexively checked the clip. You never assumed a weapon was empty, but if you had any sense at all, you never assumed it was loaded either. Then he disappeared back into the crawl-space.

McQueen went by the briefing room to check around in there, just in case. Then he caught up with Shane and Cooper, who were searching the barracks. Mark and Christy had got involved as well, since they’d been with Cooper when McQueen had warned him, they were watching the hatch.

Shane said, “It looks good. I think West was right. The spy knows we’ll be together on the flight deck, and when, if he’s been watching us at all.”

“West’s down there now. I’ll take over for him later.”

They went about their normal activities waiting for the paintball game to start. Finally it came time for McQueen to take over from West. Shane and the others went down to the gym, where they were supposed to meet the other teams. West met them there.

They picked up their gear and got their starting positions. The playing area was all down on the bottom deck, mostly in the cargo holds and surrounding corridors. The ‘Cards started out in a supply room not far from Hydroponics.

Nobody stayed in a gang, teams broke up into twos and threes to play hunting scenarios. It was too easy to spot a crowd. Julie saw someone duck into one of the holds, they followed. It was Todd Flannery, he hit Julie right off but then found himself in a paint-fight with Shane. He knew she had a two-shot paint pistol for a holdout, so he couldn’t rush her while she was reloading. He dodged through a hatch into the next bay, with Rob two steps behind him.

She followed and for a while they hunted each other through stacks of blankets. Both of them were careful where they shot, no one would be happy to come down here and find paint on the new blankets. Finally Shane decided enough was enough. She climbed up onto the top shelf of a storage unit, crouching among the blankets until Todd came around the corner.

Shane snapped off a shot and nailed Todd. He looked up and glared at her. But he burst out laughing when Rob popped around a corner and took her out not two seconds later. With a grin at Todd, he took off looking for West and Damphousse.

She cursed and swung down from the shelf, and threw Todd a blanket off the nearest stack. “Here you go. If we’re going to be dead we’d might as well be comfortable.” She sat on her own blanket and leaned back against the bulkhead.

Todd said, “Tough luck.”


They were silent a few moments. Neither of them were comfortable with being here, but the “casualties” had to stay put until the round was over. Technically, you were supposed to lie down and try to look like a realistic corpse. In practice, if you stepped over a “dead guy” he’d probably do his best to trip you or make you yell and give away your position to the other team. It was all part of the fun.

Todd said, “Close game.”

She nodded. “Your newbies are pretty good. Too bad Billy’s still laid up.”

“Yeah, he was pretty pissed off about it. I think I used to be that young once. Nothing keeps ‘em down long.” Todd shook his head, grinning.

Shane thought that she probably used to be that young once, too. And then it occurred to her that Billy couldn’t be more than a couple or three years younger than she was. Hell, if you wanted to look at it that way, she had been breathing the air for a few years longer than Ty. That was a really weird thought, because there was no sensible way that she was “older.”

Todd said, “Penny for your thoughts.”

She stole one of Nathan’s favorite lines. “They’re worth a lot more than that.”

“There are going to be new movies tomorrow. Would you like to go?”

She looked at him. “I’m not dating right now, Todd,” she said finally.

“You stopped dating after you were captured that time. Shane, I’d be lying if I said I understood ... really understood ... but don’t you think it’s time you rejoined the living? There’s still a lot of good. Whatever they did to you, don’t let it blind you to that.”

“Oh, Todd!” The kindness and caring in his voice brought tears to her eyes, all the more because there was no way she could say what she had to say without hurting his feelings. “You’re a good friend, and I really value that.”

“Then what is standing in the way of at least finding out if we can be more than just good friends?”

“Because I fell in love with someone that I can’t have,” she said. That was just enough of the truth to make it a damn lie, she thought. “I’m waiting to see if situations change. I care about you a lot as a friend, Todd, I really do. But that’s all I can give you. Hurting you was the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

He read the finality of her statement in her eyes, and looked away. “Then I guess you’re not the only one who’s in love with someone they can’t have,” he said. “Did he tell you to find someone else?”

“You...might say that.”

“Then don’t bother telling me that. You know it’s useless.”

“Yeah. Todd--” She broke off helplessly.

He looked up at her, and finally smiled. “If ‘good friends’ is the best I can do, I’ll live with it, Shane. You are a damn good friend, and I wouldn’t lose that for the world. I won’t say any more about it. If you ever give up on the other guy, just let me know.”

Vansen nodded. “Todd...I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t tell you that will never happen. Not if I have to wait a lifetime. If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.”

“I believe that. Whoever he is, he’s a lucky man. I hope he appreciates that.”

She clasped her hands around her ankles and waited for the stupid paintball game to be over with.

<end part 10>

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