Things got moving quickly.
Under Forest’s authority, the Dragonstone’s place in the repair queue jumped to the very head and the ship was moved from the civilian docks to the navy yard.
“Look, Secrets Act be damned, I need to be able to tell my crew what’s going on if you expect them to have any degree of efficiency at all,” Rory insisted to Forest and Sheila.
“I’m sorry but for everyone’s safety including their own we need to limit who has exposure to the full picture,” Forest replied. “Knowing the’re under Federale orders should be sufficient.”
“No it isn’t,” Rory said flatly. “We’re not navy, we’re civilians.”
“Not any longer, you’ve been reactivated,” Forest countered.
“Fuck that shit,” Rory fumed. “Hell, Dee never WAS navy to start with so I don’t see how this is even remotely legal. We were medically discharged.”
“And now you’ve been deemed fit for duty. You’ve even been promoted, you to full Captaino, Astra to Commandante and Colin to Tieniente Coronel.”
“You can take your promotions and shove…”
“I think,” Sheila interrupted before Rory could completely lose her temper, “we can find a solution acceptable to all. Forest, you know that humans perform better when they understand why they’re doing what they’ve been asked to do, and Rory, as a former naval officer you understand compartmentalization. Its merely a matter of determining what they need to know and agreeing upon that.”
It turned out not to be quite that simple, but at least Sheila redirected them both into a dialogue. Ultimately they agreed that the crew knew enough already to make complete secrecy unnecessary and that the crew didn’t have a need to know about Rory’s ‘dream’ or details of any on-going efforts to communicate across the universal boundaries. They did have a need to know that the ship and crew were working for the Gubernmiento and that they were basically at Forest and Sheila’s disposal investigating the other universe’s intrusions into their space. Neither Forest nor Rory were entirely happy with the end result so Sheila counted it as an acceptable compromise.
Rory called a crew meeting at the Reentry. She figured alcohol would help drop potential barriers to frank discussion and she intended to ensure that, to the best of what she was allowed, she was going to answer whatever questions they had. Besides, Sheila and Forest seemed to think noisy and public was a good way to have these discussions so why not.
It was certainly noisy and public, much more so than when they met with Sheila, but then it was Enday as well as pay day so the bar was hopping. They grabbed their usual booth and ordered drinks.
“OK skipper, spill,” Astra said. “While I’m not going to turn down a promotion nor the paycheck, what the fuck is going on and why have we been reactivated?”
“And did you fuck her yet or not?” Dee added.
Rory snorted. “Jove, am I that obvious?”
“Skip, she’s been looking at you like she just got off a prison diet and you were a pork chop,” Dee said. “Ya’d have to be pretty blind not to see.”
“ANYWAY…” Rory said.
“Told ya, pay up,” Dee said to Astra.
“As I said…” Rory went on, ignoring the byplay.
“Hell skip, I don’t blame you, I’d totally fuck her,” Astra continued. “Or the Arty. He’s hot.”
“I know, right?” Astra added. “He’s amazing to talk to.”
“Do you even care about this shit or do I shut up and watch the strippers?” Rory asked, exasperated.
“Sorry boss,” Dee said with a sickeningly sweet smile. “You were saying?”
“Officially we’re still civilians. We’ve a Letter of Marque that shows our status in the event we need it. What that means is we get to ‘legally’ carry the guns we’ve been carrying as well as a few more, which our ‘clients’ are going to supply us with, along with a reactor overhaul, a sensor suite upgrade and shields. In exchange we’re Dr Livingston’s yacht for the duration.”
“Ooo, can I be the Cabana Girl?” Dee said. “I’m full service you know.”
“Dee,” Rory sighed.
“Sorry boss, I’ll be good,” she said, actually sounding contrite.
“We’re still the Dragonstone and we’re now an auxiliary naval vessel. We’re not a flying fornicathon. Kidding aside, Forest and Sheila are crew now. Supernumeraries sure, but crew. I’m captain. We continue to behave as we usually have. You want to fuck each other, that’s your business right up to the point where efficiency becomes impaired then it becomes my business and you will NOT like that. Capisce?”
“Si Capitano!” Dee responded, quite seriously.
“Va bene,” Rory said, ending that part of the discussion.
“Now, you know what Sheila’s working on, you’ve seen and killed the fucking spiders. Forest is our liaison with the Gubernmento. Sheila is our, let’s call it ‘science liaison’. She’s the one that knows what the fuck is going on. If something needs investigating we’re it. They’ll tell us where to go and what needs to be done but I’m Captain. I decide the how, when, and who and while they’re on this ship my word is law.”
“Fuckin’ A,” Astra said, toasting.
She sounded relieved, which is what Rory expected. No one likes messy chains of command, especially people who are used to putting their lives on the line.
“Colin, we’re not going to need a Purser per se as we’re not going to be taking new contracts. I’d still like you to handle logistics but you’re going to be my Tactical Officer - weapons and sensors.”
“Copy that, Captain, Tacco it is,” he said grinning wolfishly.
“Since a civilian vessel doesn’t need a Tacco, you’ll still be listed on the manifest as Purser and we’ll maintain that fiction whenever possible. Our upgrades aren’t going to show to anything but a hands-on inspection and our credentials should get us out of any of those, BUT that will be a last resort. We’re just the MVV Dragonstone with a client who has more money than sense who wants to swan around the galaxy. You’re crew, that’s all you know if anyone asks. Got it?”
“Yes Captain,” they chorused.
“Now, Dee and Astra, get with Forest and ensure his planned mods work with what you know of our systems. He may be an near-omniscient NCI but you live and breath with The Rock daily. You know him like no one else. I’m worried that Rock himself may be, let’s call it ‘too deferential’ to Forest. AIs seem to be rather hierarchical that way. If he needs someone to stick up for him, be that someone.”
“Next, Colin, I want you to work with Rock, Astra and Dee to come up with an integrated weapons plan so we’re balanced. Offense and defense. We’re not going to go looking for trouble but if some comes our way I want to seriously be able to fuck it up. Questions?”
Three shaking heads and a variety of ‘no Captain’ ended that.
“Good. Now get me another Downfall, I wanna watch the show.”
Over the next few days, Dee and Astra spent hours on The Rock working with Forest to integrate the modifications the dockyard was making into the ships systems. They amused themselves by speculating on how anatomically correct Forest's MCI body might be and the true extent of his relationship with Sheila. They also placed bets on who would be able to answer those questions first.
Colin spent many happy hours drooling over the new weapons systems and the upgraded sensor suite the yard had installed. He and Rock ran sim after sim.
“A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood,” he said to the AI after running a scenario for the tenth time.
“Neither of which I posses,” the Rock replied.
Rory worked with Sheila on trying to make contact with Rory B. There was no reason meditation should be hard, but it was exhausting. It was frustrating as well as she seemed to be getting nowhere.
“Just hit me on the fucking head again, let’s see if that works,” she growled.
“Now love, that’s a suboptimal plan. Might work but the cumulative effects you know,” Sheila grinned. “Now again, focus.”
That was the hard part. Too many other things vying for her attention, from fitting out her ship to Sheila’s subtle perfume. She could think about working on her ship, she could think about fucking the redhead next to her but she couldn’t think of nothing.
“Focus,” the other woman insisted. “Focus on your breathing. In and out.”
For whatever reason, this time was different. Unasked for, she got a mental image of herself and Sheila, but not. They weren’t in her apartment on the sofa but in the sunlight someplace wearing some kind of robes. Realizing it was B and Leela she gasped - and promptly lost the image as her concentration broke.
“I…” She started.
“I know,” Sheila smiled at her. “Yes! You did it! I felt it too!”
“So that was really them, not my imagination?”
“Did it feel like your imagination?” Sheila asked.
“No actually, not at all.”
“Good. Now that you know what it feels like, it should be easier next time. But that’s for next time. You’ve had enough. Let me relax you.”
Sheila gave a great back rub.
Rory giggled, “I always knew back rubs from guys turned into sex. I guess it’s not just guys…oh! Oh gods!”
Much later, Rory was on the way to the Dragonstone to check in. She liked to get daily briefings and updates from the crew. She was alone in corridor seventeen when she felt like something brushing her hair. She reached up to shoo whatever it was away and realize that all her hair was standing on end with some kind of static charge. She was about to hit the corridor alarm button, thinking it was some sort of electrical short when she heard an ear-splitting crack.The airtight doors to her left slid open to reveal an inky blackness that she recognized from the spider attack.
“Fuck!” She swore and immediately drew the concealed handgun she had been carrying from under her sweater. Something leapt through. It wasn’t a spider, she saw that immediately, then it charged toward her and it just became a target.
“Motherfucker!” She screamed at it, emptying her magazine.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t invulnerable to ten millimeter explosive defense rounds.