Colin took them to the passenger module and got them settled in while Rock brought the pickup on board then sealed up the ramp behind it. Dee gathered up the rather substantial collection of weapons the mercs left behind and locked them up in the armory along with their own personal weapons.
“Faraway control, this is MVV Dragonstone requesting permission to lift,” Astra requested from control.
“Dragonstone you have permission to lift. Hold in low orbit until further clearance.”
“Thank you Faraway. How long do you expect us to have to hold?”
“Twenty minutes for traffic to clear.”
“Thank you Faraway.”
“All passengers, prepare to lift in five minutes. Repeat five minutes,” Astra announced over the all ship intercom.
Colin got them settled into their acceleration chairs. Once they left the gravity well of the planet they could engage their grav generator but until then they had to deal with inertia. He hustled to the flight deck sealing the passenger compartment behind him. The compartment was a removable module, entirely self-contained. They brought it on board the infrequent times they carried guests, normally it was just a big empty space for bulk cargo. The passengers benefited from accommodations and food that were much more luxurious than the crew enjoyed and the crew benefited by the ability to seal off the module and keep the passengers from wandering around the working parts of the ship.
Colin slipped into his seat just as Astra lifted ship. For the sake of the passengers, she kept accelerations under 2 G’s until they reached orbit.
“Faraway, this is Dragonstone. Orbit achieved,” Astra called in.
“Roger Dragonstone. Make three orbits and then you’re cleared to go.”
“Roger, three orbits Faraway.”
“That Dreadnaught is getting ready to break orbit,” Colin said, looking at the screens. “That’s likely who we’re waiting on."
“Coincidence?” Rory observed.
“A Captain I once served under said there ARE no coincidences,” Colin said.
“Sounds like a smart cookie, this Captain,” Rory said.
“Great legs too,” Colin said as Astra snorted.
“Passengers set?” Rory asked.
“Settled in aye,” Colin replied. “You know we’re going to have to dine with them.”
“Can’t I get out of it?” Rory asked.
“Captains shouldn’t whine, Captain,” Colin said.
“This shit is why I wanted a FREIGHTER,” she said. “Cargo doesn’t need to be coddled.”
“C’mon babe, you can whine all the way to the bank on this one. We haul the good doctor to Nueva Espana, a nice milk run and bang zoom The Rock is paid for and we can start actually making some money.”
“Breaking orbit skipper,” Astra announced.
“Colin, anything on the scopes?”
“Nnnooo…er maybe,” Colin drawled.
“Maybe?” Rory asked.
“I’m getting some weird echos where the Dreadnaught was.”
“Best I can say is ‘maybe’. My man Rocky is good but even with the upgrades this ain’t mil-spec gear.” Colin said.
“There is an 18% probability there is a stealthed craft in the former orbit of the Dreadnaught,” Rock added to the conversation.
“Mmm,” Rory grunted. “Astra, warp as soon as we can. If he can follow us in warp he’s a better spacer than I am. If he’s following us. Christ this charter has me paranoid.”
“Just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you,” Colin and Astra said simultaneously, laughing.
“You’re learning,” Rory said with a grin.
“Warp point coming up in three, two, one,” Astra said as she shifted the warp generator on. “Warp achieved.”
The star field went from black to a glowing green as the ship left real space and moved into warp.
“Any change from our stealthy phantom before we went into warp?” Astra asked.
“No change skipper,” Colin confirmed. “And it’s just about time for dinner with the passengers.”
“Astra, you have the con,” Rory told her.
“Con aye,” Astra replied.
“Let’s get this over with,” Rory said, getting up.
They let themselves into the passenger module. Livingston and the guards were seated at the table waiting for them.
“All settled in?” Colin asked.
“Why is the door locked?” Lee, the female mercenary asked.
“It’s locked for your own safety. This is a freighter and having passengers wandering through the working areas isn’t safe,” Colin replied.
“We’re not your average passengers,” Luke said to Colin.
“No you’re not and the door will stay locked,” Colin replied pleasantly.
“That isn’t acceptable,” Luke continued.
“In that case we can turn around and drop you back at Faraway with a charter violation - interfering with the normal operations of the ship,” Rory added, sitting down. “Is that your preference?” She asked Dr Livingston.
“No it isn’t. We’re fine with whatever safety measures you choose to implement on your ship,” she said, looking pointedly at Luke. He lowered his gaze. “Now, let’s eat.”
They got meals from the auto canteen and brought them to the table.
“Not as fancy as you would get on a liner but we hope you like it,” Rory said as they sat.
Luke sat across from Colin. He was a large man, over 2 meters and chiseled. His high and tight haircut and his overall bearing screamed what he was, military, in spite of his civilian clothes. He looked Colin over intently; “Snake?” He asked.
“Marine,” Colin replied. “First of the Third.”
Luke grunted. “You’ve got the look.
“Really? I thought I looked more like a grav-surfer or maybe a Simpop star.”
“Ha. Funny guy. No. Its in the eyes. Why you get out?”
“Medical,” Colin said. “The Grove.”
Luke’s eyes widened. “You…” he looked at Rory, “Is that?”
“I expected someone, I dunno, bigger,” Luke chuckled.
“Piss her off and she looks ten meters tall,” Colin said wryly.
“I bet. Shit, and you’re back in space. I think I’d spend the rest of my days on a nice piece of dirt and never look up again.”
“What the hell else were we going to do? With the body rebuild we’ve got maybe another century before we wear out. It’s what we know. So why did you get out?”
“Who says we did?” Luke answered, holding eye contact.
Colin went cold. “You’re active duty? You’re registered as mercs.”
“Drop troopers. Misha’s Raiders,” Luke replied evenly.
“So your boss is a Federale?” Colin asked going colder.
“No, she’s what she seems but Los Gubernamentos are very concerned that she get where she’s going safely. Now that I know who you are, I understand why we’re on this ship.”
“Really? Care to enlighten me?”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re a Marine. Get some crayons and I’ll draw you a picture.”
“Ha, now you funny guy, I kill you last. Seriously though, why?”
“There are people who do not what the doctor to get where she’s going and for whom causing an accident to a liner with a thousand people on board to prevent that would be no big deal, so it had to be small. Can’t put her on a navy ship. Politics.” He looked over at Rory, deep in conversation with Sheila, “She’s the next best thing.”
“Would have been nice to tell us,” Colin growled.
“OpSec. We tell you, who the hell else hears? Then you’re - we’re fucked. Better you didn’t know. Boss is telling her now I think.”
“I dislike being manipulated,” Rory said angrily.
“I can understand that,” Livingston replied calmly. “I dislike people trying to kill me, but it’s what we’re dealing with.”
“Trying to kill YOU. We were fine until you dragged us into this.” Rory fumed.
“You’re being well compensated for your risk. It’s not like you haven’t taken risks before,” Livingston went on.
Rory stiffened. “Lady you are about to cross a line you do not want to cross.”
Livingston sat back, looking every inch a wealthy and powerful Caudilla. Beautiful ginger hair, flawless skin and a shimmer silk sundress that left little to the imagination and likely cost as much as this entire charter. Looking like the people that had ordered Rory and the rest of the fleet to almost certain death. Hypnotherapy helps you get past trauma, but it doesn’t erase it.
“Livingston had the grace to look embarrassed. “That’s not what I meant.” She took a deep breath. “Look, I’m not what I seem. I’m a physicist. I’ve got money, yes. I got lucky. I wrote a book trying to explain quantum entanglement in a way my niece would understand and it turned into a best seller. Who the FUCK,” and Rory had to repress a smile and the way the epithet sounded in the doctor’s very prim, educated accent. “Would have thought a PHYSICS book would be a best seller? I like clothes. I like how I look in nice clothes so I spend some of that money on them. What else do I have to spend it on?”
Rory had to admit that she looked good in them. It made her feel even more the skinny stork in her shapeless ship suit. God what tits the woman had.
“OK fair enough,” Rory conceded. “But why would someone want to kill a physicist?”
“Because I found something,” Livingston said.
Rory raised an eyebrow and waited.
“Look, you know how a warp drive works, right?” Livingston asked.
“Of course. The field activates and moves the ship into another reality not bound by the limits of relativity.”
“Right enough as far as it goes, but the ship never ENTIRELY moves into that universe, more like it creates a bulge in space time and takes advantage of it, moving between the walls of the two realities, not entirely in either one. Well what do you think would happen if the ship went all the way through into the other universe?”
Rory blinked. “I don’t know.”
“Right!” She said, excited. “No one does! It would depend on the laws of that universe, but what if I told you someone, or something has done that?”
Rory thought that as hot as the good doctor was, she might be a little strange. She thought of the crazy white haired guy in the old 2d that turned the automobile into a time machine and suppressed a giggle.
“Um, It would be a big deal I guess.”
“EXACTLY!” She shouted. “And what if I told you that whomever it was wasn’t human?!”
“Wait,” Rory said, getting cold. “You’re telling me that you’ve discovered intelligent non-human life? We've been out here two centuries and no one has discovered anything more intelligent than a fish.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Livingston said in a normal tone. “Someone, or thing, has made a transuniversal entry into our own reality and what evidence I’ve seen so far suggest they’re not human. Oh they likely are CLOSE to human but they’re not. Look, each time a quantum event occurs - for the sake of discussion let’s call it a ‘decision’ even though it could be as simple as a particle decaying or not, each time one of these events happens - when probability could go either way, if the coin could land heads or tails, what happens?” She took a coin out of her belt purse and tossed it into the air. It landed on the table.
“Um, it depends on the outcome,” Rory said. “This time it was tails.”
“NO!” Livingston said, banging the table. “BOTH happen. YOU see the coin land tails. Another Rory in another universe sees the coin land heads. At that instant the universes branch. Two realities where there was just one. Every single time. There are unimaginable numbers of realities, some very close to our own, some very, very different. The coin universe Rory was IDENTICAL to you UNTIL the coin toss. Now maybe everything else will go the same but in far more there will be other subtle changes. The more changes, the more different. Some universes we wouldn't even notice the differences. Others we wouldn't even recognize. Someone or ones from another one of these universes have crossed into our own. Multiple times and I have proof.”
“OK, but why threaten you over that?” Rory asked.
“That’s classified,” Lee chimed in.
Rory and Colin looked at each other.
“These someones are more than inter dimensional tourists I’m guessing,” Rory said wryly.
“As I said, that’s classified,” Lee repeated.
“Right. And I’m assuming this entire trip is now covered under the Official Secrets Act?” She replied.
“Correct,” Lee said. “Ship AI, please record. I, Lee Anderson, Tieniente, Fuerzas Especiales de la Unidad Federale invoke the Official Secrets Act upon the contents of this discussion, this trip and include all within this vessel. Violation of said act to be punishable by law.”
“Well fuck a duck,” Colin said.
Later, Colin and Rory went off watch to bed. They timed it that way, Colin and Rory off together and Dee and Astra off together. There was very little privacy on The Rock, the crew had individual bunks in the same room and a communal shower and toilet so there were few secrets among them. Nudity was pretty casual, unavoidable actually, but that was something anyone who spent anytime in space got used to. What was precious was alone time with your loved one. The two crammed into Rory’s bunk and she could take off the mantle of the captaincy with her clothing.
“Hold me,” she whispered to Colin.
“You OK?” He asked as he cuddled up behind her.
“I suppose. Being back under the thumb of the Federales isn’t anything I would have ever asked for but we’re there. No use bitching.”
“Bitching is every sailor’s God given right,” Colin replied.
“True but bitches go up, not down and I out rank you so I can’t bitch to you.”
“Ah, good to know,” Colin said. His hands wandered. “I’m always ready to serve my captain.”
“Mmm, you’re just horny because of Livingston’s tits,” she said.
“They were pretty magnificent tits. Especially the way they bounced around when she got excited.”
“All I could think of was the scientist in that time machine movie,” Rory said.
Colin snorted. “Doc Brown with a magnificent rack,” he laughed. “One point twenty one gigawatts!”
They both giggled.
“Do you wish I had bigger tits?” She asked.
“I like your little tits,” Colin said, grabbing hold of one and playing with the nipple.
“I thought about having them made bigger during our medical but decided not to.”
“I’m glad. I like you as you.”
“God I’m lucky to have you. Its weird that if it weren’t for tragedy we never would have gotten together.”
“Well the navy does frown on it’s Captains fucking the crew,” Colin smiled.
“I think the crew needs to fuck the Captain cause she needs it bad,” Rory moaned.
Colin entered her from behind. He liked this position, her cunt gripped him just right from this angle. He pinched hard on a nipple and she groaned.
“I think you got more turned on by Sheila’s tits than I did,” he whispered in her ear as he thrust into her. “You want those, don’t you. You want her shoving those right in your mouth.”
“Oh fuck,” she moaned pushing back on his cock. “Oh God, yes, I love it when you fuck me. Oh fuck me harder. Oh!”
After their release, Colin stayed in her bunk. It was crowded but they needed the skin contact. He held her as she fell asleep.