The First Goodbye

14 06 2016

This week’s challenge over at Terrible Minds was another fairly simple one: Knock, knock, who’s there?

And for me, this one came out different than usual. No science fiction, no danger or action. Instead, my muse grabbed hold of a character I write on an RPG site (set in the Mad Max universe of all places) and his lover. This is an AU of that relationship, set in the present day but it is, perhaps, a little bittersweet.

The First Goodbye

He was just putting the finishing touches on the sauce when the knock came on the door. He smiled, but ignored the knock for a moment as he added another pinch of salt to the pan, stirred, and tasted again, nodding to himself when the result was perfect. The knock came again, impatiently, but still he waited, making sure to put the spoon away in the sink before turning down the heat to leave the sauce simmering. Only then did he turn away from the little kitchenette and headed to the door, checking in the mirror as he passed to correct the tie and smooth back a stay dark hair.

Leaving the apron in place around his waist – it was all part of the show, after all – he went to open the door, greeting his guest with a wide smile. “Hello, sailor,” he said, closing the gap between them to wrap a hand around Nolan’s neck to pull him into a deep and long lasting kiss. Pulling back, he looked into those gorgeous blue eyes as moved his hand forward to caress the man’s cheekbone with a brush of his thumb. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” Nolan said with a smile, looking down at Hunter as the younger man pulled him inside, closing the door. He took a deep breath through his nose, closing his eyes for a moment at the scent that spread through the small flat. “Something smells good.” Looking over toward the kitchenette to see the pots and pans on the stove, a look of surprise crossed his face and he turned back to Hunter with a raised brow. “I didn’t know you cooked?”

“I don’t, not really,” Hunter admitted with an embarrassed smile, a touch of red rising in his cheeks. He’d thrown away the food containers, but didn’t want to spoil the mood by going so far as to confess to having gotten take-away, though Nolan was clever enough to figure that out on his own. “I wanted to make tonight special, though.” After all, it would be a long time before they saw each other again, and if the stories were right, the food on the carrier wasn’t the greatest.

Still smiling, Nolan stole another kiss from Hunter before he could return to the kitchen to finish the meal he so desperately wanted him to believe that he’d cooked himself. “It smells wonderful, sweetheart,” he said, reluctantly letting the younger man go, while he busied himself with taking off his coat after checking that he’d remembered to put the present in its pocket. “When’s dinner?”

“Ten minutes,” Hunter replied, stirring the sauce again to make sure it didn’t burn, at least. “Help me set the table, will you?” He nodded toward the small two-seater table by the window, looking out at a view of the brick wall of the building across the street. There was a white tablecloth on the table already along with a glass vase holding a few blue wildflowers that Hunter had picked from the yard of an abandoned house earlier in the day. Nolan did as he was asked, found the plates, the cutlery, and the glasses, all of them mismatched but somehow just right for the night and for the kind of person Hunter was. Disorganised, impulsive and artistic. Everything Nolan wasn’t, which was probably why he’d fallen so hard for him. Opposites attract and all that.

***

“You’ll remember to email, right?” Hunter asked again, after dinner when they had moved to the sofa, the younger man curled up in Nolan’s warm embrace. His worry and anxiety was getting worse as the time grew shorter. Just twelve hours now before his lover was leaving for the next six months. “And Skype at least once a week?”

Nolan’s free hand came up to run across Hunter’s cheek, sliding back into his hair to pull him in for a gentle kiss. “I promise,” he said quietly and severely, the tone of his voice putting an emphasis on the promise that the words themselves couldn’t. “And I’ll send you as many pictures as I can, too.”

Hunter laughed at that, his mood improving just slightly at the inside joke. Nolan was a notoriously bad photographer; cutting off heads, crooked horizons, not to mention the blurry and shaken pictures that seemed to be his speciality. The pictures were terrible, but Hunter still appreciated the intent behind them; to show him the kinds of adventures his sailor was having when he was deployed.

Falling quiet again, he let his fingers wander up Nolan’s torso to the top of his shirt, where he started to undo the top button, eager now to not waste any more of the last precious hours they had together. Just one more night and a morning. It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t nearly enough. But he’d known that when he’d gotten together with the man. He just hadn’t expected it to feel so… hopeless.

“Wait,” Nolan said, taking Hunter’s hand to stop him from opening any more buttons. “I have a present for you.” He smiled a reassuring smile as he shifted, leaning over to give the younger man a kiss before getting up from the sofa, motioning for Hunter to stay where he was. “Wait here.”

Hunter watched as Nolan went to the door where he got something out of the pocket of his coat, then came back to sit next to him, offering the small present, a simple unwrapped black box, reminiscent of a ring box. His breath caught in his throat as he looked up at Nolan, then opened the box and found a key there, knew what it meant and that it was worth so much more than any ring.

He smiled, the anxiety fading and he tossed the box on the coffee table, and got back to what he was doing. Nolan might have made him a promise with the key, but he still wasn’t going to waste the time they had left tonight.





Simple is Better

9 06 2016

Must contain a map. That was this week’s challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.

And boy, did I need a map. With that prompt, my mind went in at least half a dozen different directions, but in the end, the map became a blueprint, and the story itself something I’m not terribly satisfied with as it’s been done before.

Still… I think I like Jo and Gus. I might make use of them in other stories.

 

Simple is Better

“Hurry up, you can’t stay in there much longer.”

“Don’t you think I know that,” Jo told him through clenched teeth as her fingers darted over the keyboard, eyes flickering over the code on the screen as she came up against one obstacle after the next, breaking through them as quickly as she could. And Gus’ nervous energy wasn’t helping her any, in the way he stood behind her chair, shifting from one foot to the other as he tried to get her to do her job faster than was possible.

“They’re gonna catch onto you, track you back here and then we’re fucked,” he said, leaning closer over her shoulder to look at a screen full of code that he knew absolutely nothing about. He was just here as muscle, to protect Jo in case the authorities did turn up at the little outpost where they had holed up for the intrusion into the Commonwealth’s systems.

“Stop. Talking,” she hissed as she kept typing, knowing full well what was at stake if the Commonwealth forces got to them. Probably, she knew better than Gus, having seen the evidence with her own eyes, heard the screams coming through speakers and read thousands of documents regarding what happened in Commonwealth interrogation rooms. “And stop fucking hovering!”

He did as he was told and took a step back, though he continued with the nervous twitches, the impatient movements of his feet, and looking at his watch every five seconds. He had his orders and he wasn’t happy about them, despite knowing that they were necessary. He checked the gun at his side, nervous fingers running over the cold metal of the thing before they flinched away again. He was a soldier, he reminded himself, just as another part of him told him that soldiers didn’t kill those on their own side.

“Done,” Jo said, and got up from the seat, the screen in front of her returned to the black of its offline status. She reached and yanked out the datastick and couldn’t help a proud smile as she slipped it into a zippered pocket of the utility vest she wore. “We can go now, old man.” She winked at him, gave him a good-natured slap on the shoulder and headed for the door.

Cutting her off before she could open it, Gus shoved the young hacker out of the way, raising a grizzled grey brow at her. “My turn now,” he told her, putting one hand on the gun and the other on the handle to open the door just enough to peek through the gap, looking and listening for trouble out in the corridor. Finding none, he nodded and slipped out ahead of Jo, then motioned to her to follow when he found the corridor to be abandoned. “Hurry.”

***

The blueprint Jo had liberated from the Commonwealth data systems was being displayed on the central holo-table in the War Room, so that all those gathered around could see it as they discussed what to do about this newfound information.

It wasn’t all bad news. They’d had forewarning of this, and with the blueprints now hovering above the table, there was a possibility that they could do something about it. Problem was, what did you do about a juggernaut of a ship like the one that the Commonwealth had built? That was what they were here to discuss, and already it seemed that everyone had an opinion of their own.

They had been at this for hours now, and the only conclusion they had agreed on thus far was that if they did nothing, they were fucked. No one had any other solution, though, and the suggestions of what to do varied from putting a spy in place to take the ship down from the inside to send everyone of their attack fighters (a grand total of seventeen) against the juggernaut in the hope that a direct attack might bring it down.

Not one of the ideas managed to gain any traction and the meeting was coming apart at the seams, devolving into arguments and in a few cases, name-calling. The chairwoman was about to call the meeting off when an aide approached to whisper in her ear for a few seconds before handing her a datapad, then retreated to the shadows to rejoin the other aides hidden there.

She sat reading for a few minutes, letting the voices of the argument fade away into background noise, then tapped out a short message and put the datapad away, raising her head to look around at the assembled brass before smacking her hand hard into the table a couple of times to call for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said when the last of the voices fell quiet, her little smile puzzling most of those who sat around the table. There was, after all, nothing to smile about here. “There’s a solution that we haven’t considered, and I think it might work.” She looked to the door, motioning to the young woman standing there with a grizzled old soldier towering over her. “Let me introduced you all to Jo Harkness. She has an idea she’d like to share with us.”

***

“You sure this is gonna work?” Gus asked, sitting beside her in the shuttle, high in orbit above their home, the red plains bright and beautiful below them. His nervous energy was back, but at least he couldn’t pace or hover over her the way they were both strapped into their seats.

“It’ll work,” Jo assured him with a confident nod, her fingers flying over the keyboard, her eyes glued to the screen, despite her urge to look out the windows at the view below. She’d never been in orbit and after today, she wasn’t so sure that she would ever be given the chance again. “Just watch…”

The Commonwealth juggernaut was nothing but a pinprick of light in the dark of space, not much different from the stars surrounding it. Only the green bracket of the head up display allowed Gus to know where to look for whatever was going to happen.

Even so, he almost missed it. The pinprick brightened for a moment, turning a more orangy-red colour, then faded after a few minutes and then vanished a short while after that. He knew what had happened. While the war council had discussed attack plans, the young hacker had located a flaw in the juggernaut’s datasystems, which she had found a way to take advantage of. She had then designed a virus that would trigger the juggernaut’s self destruct sequence, which would destroy the ship from the inside out. No need to risk any lives, no need to send attack ships to deal with the enemy.

All they had needed was a hacker, her datapad and a clear line of sight to aim a comm laser, and the enemy’s greatest weapon had been destroyed in a matter of seconds.





The Captain’s Duty

6 06 2016

A few days late, but here is my the story I wrote for the previous week’s challenge by Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds. The challenge was simple: It starts with a bang. But it was somewhat more difficult to get the story out of my head and down in text, and while it’s late, I’m still just posting it here.

The Captain’s Duty.

Bang!

The sound of the shot reverberated through the large hangar space, followed by the thud of a body hitting the floor. Then, silence. No one spoke and no one moved, the tension in the hangar so thick it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Everybody had expected the shot, but once it happened, it was still a shock to the system, the sound loud and almost painful to the ears.

Quinn stood with the smoking gun in her hand, staring at the body of the dead man at her feet. He deserved it, she told herself, even as a sour taste spread in her mouth. The man had betrayed her, betrayed her crew and betrayed the whole godsdamn Commonwealth. The law was clear on what to do with people like him, once exposed, and Quinn had the thankless job of being judge, jury and executioner. She had taken that oath when she had been promoted to captain, but at the time, she’d never thought that she’d be forced to actually follow through on it.

“Dispose of the body,” she ordered, giving the gun in her hand distasteful look before she holstered it at her side, spinning on a heel to walk away, knowing that even if she hadn’t given the order to anyone specific, it would still be followed, and the body would be taken care of.

* * *

The mission was a simple one. Get in, extract the asset, get out. At least on paper, it was simple. In reality, it was usually the simplest plans that proved to be the hardest. And this was no exception: despite it looking as if the prison was woefully understaffed and in dire need of upgrades, Quinn knew very well that appearances could be deceiving, that even if there had been no walls at all and no more than a handful of guards, simply getting in and getting out would be harder than it looked.

And true enough; while it had been easy enough for the small extraction team to get inside the prison and to pacify the guards, everything had started to fall apart the moment they had liberated the asset from his cell. Quinn had watched it all from her seat on the bridge, safe in orbit above the planet, as the Martian Defence Force had swarmed up from a sublevel basement that their intel had neglected to inform the Commonwealth Intelligence Division about.

Bad intel. Or worse, deliberate misinformation. Either way, Quinn had walked her team right into a trap, knowing now that it had been too easy. The information about the asset’s whereabouts and how poorly the prison was guarded should have scream trap, but even if she had realised that from the start, it would have changed little. She had orders. And those orders were to free the asset at any cost.

That cost was becoming evident now as she watched the feeds from the extraction team’s cameras: every member of the five man team either dead or captured and the asset still in enemy hands, only now the Martians had additional prisoners, and though Quinn knew that they were trained to withstand interrogation, she also knew that there were methods that could be put to use that no one, not even the toughest spies, could stand against.

As the last of the feeds were cut, Quinn remained quiet for a long few moments, listening to the quiet breathing of the bridge crew. She could feel their anticipation, sense how they awaited her orders, though every one of them knew what those orders would be. Still, she took her time to sit in quiet contemplation for a few moments, cursing the bad intel and the orders that had followed.

“Retreat to Hold Point Delta,” she finally said, when the anxious silence on the bridge had gotten to thick you could cut the tension of it with a knife. “Make sure we remain stealthed.” Orders given, she got up from her seat and stood there for a moment, staring down at the screen on the console, showing nothing but dark blank feeds with the words ‘transmission failure’ printed across in white letters. “XO, you have the conn.”

***

The investigation hadn’t taken long. Even before returning to Earth, they had found the buried transmission logs, and from there it was a fairly simple matter of tracking them to the person who had sent the information regarding the extraction to Mars. What Quinn hadn’t expected was for it to be one of her longest lasting crew members and someone she had considered a friend for more than a decade.

She and Ingram had come up together, had served together on this ship since they were both just junior lieutenants and while Quinn was on the bridge officer track and Ingram an engineer, they got along well enough to become close friends in a short time. So close that most people on the crew had believed for a long time that they were an item, though that couldn’t be further from the truth, and it wasn’t until Ingram found a boyfriend that most of the rumours died out.

But finding that Ingram was the traitor, that he had given vital information to the Martians was not just a shock, it was something that Quinn had a hard time believing. She had questioned him for hours, for days, but had never gotten a satisfactory answer out of him apart from him claiming a newfound sympathy for Martian causes. It was utterly ridiculous and Quinn refused to believe it, even when she found his bank accounts empty of any payment for services rendered.

In the end, answers didn’t matter. What mattered was that Ingram was guilty, that he had confessed, and that it was Quinn’s job to pass judgement on him. Despite wanting badly to be able to lock him away forever, or send him to prison for the rest of his life, there was only one acceptable punishment for treachery.

And that was death.