Into the Terror
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The order had been given…
…an invasion was launched.
Then something went horribly wrong.
For years, the Zodarks had plotted their revenge against the Republic. Spies had infiltrated their colonies and eventually found their seat of power—Earth, located in a previously unknown system.
A plan was hatched, a force made ready. Soon, the Zodarks would unveil a superweapon that was sure to tip the balance of power back in their favor.
Then the Zodarks learned of Murphy’s Law…and their plans were never the same.
When a Republic peacekeeping mission to the Tully system, Serpentis, turned into a battle to liberate the planet from a surprise invasion by the Pharaonis, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Orbital Assault Division went into action.
Afterwards, they were an exhausted, beat-up force, looking forward to a hero’s welcome and some much-needed R&R. But as the RNS Emerald City dropped out of slip space above Earth, they found themselves in the middle of a Zodark invasion of their home world.
Could a commadore overcome her past demons of a similar battle and rally what remained of the Republic Navy?
Would the Zodarks’ new warship the Nefantar’s superweapon alter the course of humanity?
The Rise of the Republic saga continued to unravel the mystery of the Humtars and the origins of humanity. What mysteries awaited at Lab Site X?
You’ll love book eight of this incredible military science fiction thriller series because it will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Release date: February 27, 2023
Publisher: Front Line Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 300
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Into the Terror
Before the Zodark Attacks
Sumer, Qatana System
The Interstellar Marshal Service had been tracking a known member of the Mukhabarat for some time, collecting data about his contacts, places of business, and activities—whether he knew it or not, Odeh was a marked man. Every person he interacted with either became a mark in their own right or was quietly “disappeared” on the side, eliminated from the chessboard.
Kamran had been a part of the IMS contingent on Sumer since the service had begun incorporating Sumerians, and he loved a good stakeout. He had been following Odeh for weeks now, tracking his movements, learning his habits, and monitoring his communications. He knew when he went to bed, when he took a morning jog, how he took his coffee, and most importantly, what parts of his business were legitimate and which were not, and how he was furthering Mukhabarat activity. So, when a shipment arrived at the back of Odeh’s restaurant on a Tuesday, late in the evening, Kamran knew something was up.
“We’ve got three small packages, about the size of a flower vase,” Kamran announced over the comms.
“Any idea what they are?” asked his team lead.
Kamran was situated in a van in a parking garage nearby, looking at footage of the scene taken from various angles. He glanced at some of the monitors that held additional tools such as infrared and radiation imagery. He rubbed his eyes.
“I’m seeing an odd signature here, boss. I’m running it through our systems now…” Kamran swore. “This can’t be real—”
“What? What is it?” pressed the team lead.
“It’s—it’s those energy bombs,” Kamran stammered.
“You mean EMPs?”
“I think that’s what you Terrans call them, but they don’t work exactly the same. I think they’re Zodark tech—anyway, that doesn’t matter. We need to contain this!”
“Hold your horses there, Kamran,” said the team lead. “If we take it all down now, we lose this gravy train we’ve got going.”
Kamran took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He knew that was how the IMS operated, but he also knew what could happen if these things got out.
“We need to lock this down, boss. Put the best teams on it. You don’t want to see the level of destruction these little jars can unleash.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad, Kamran. Remember your training and just focus on your next task. Now, where exactly is Odeh putting these things?”
One Week Later
Office of the IMS Director
Earth, Sol System
IMS Director Reinhard Gehlen was waiting for the agent in charge on the ground to call him with the news that they’d nabbed their HVI, but the call hadn’t happened yet.
Last week on Sumer, they’d discovered three energy weapons that were Zodark technology, similar to EMPs—fortunately, two of those weapons had been captured before they’d left the planet, along with the Ani operatives that had been sent to collect them. Those Ani were now sitting in interrogation booths. However, the third operative had managed to evade the IMS personnel on Sumer, and he had slipped away into a freighter, lost in the wind—that was, until a few hours ago, when his biometrics had been flagged on the John Glenn.
He’d exited a freighter from Sumer and was now on his way down the space elevator, hopefully into the waiting arms of his agent in charge and the team Gehlen had hastily put together. Gehlen had had to suppress the urge to micromanage the hell out of that operation, but he’d settled for putting the fear of God in his people that this must be contained.
Gehlen’s neurolink alerted him to an incoming call. “Yeah?” he asked, forgoing the more standard etiquette with voice conversations.
“Boss, I don’t know what happened, but he’s slipped past us. We’ve been scouring the area and scanning through the CCTV footage—he’s just disappeared.”
“Damn it!” Gehlen roared. “Keep searching—he has to be there, somewhere.”
“Yes, boss. We’ll exhaust all options.”
The call disconnected.
Gehlen swore loudly. He picked up his coffee and threw it at the wall. The Republic-issued mug didn’t break, but a huge mess remained. He sat back down and put his head in his hands.
His secretary must have heard the racket and cautiously walked in. “Sir, is everything OK?”
“No, it most certainly is not,” he replied, calming himself down. “But unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help, other than help me clean up this coffee…sorry about that, by the way.”
I can’t believe they lost the Ani when he went down the space elevator, he thought. Catching him at the bottom of the space elevator should have worked. There were only so many entrances and exits there—but now that Ani was headed who knew where with some massively effective Zodark energy weapon. Could this day get any worse?
Two Days Later
Office of the IMS Director
Earth, Sol System
Director Gehlen’s neurolink alerted him to an incoming call from one of his agents in charge. “Gehlen,” he said.
“Sir, we got a hit on that BOLO for the Ani from Sumer. His facial recognition popped up on a hyperloop.”
Gehlen sat up straight as a board. “Where’s that train going?” he pressed.
“It’s going from Houston to Little Rock; my guess is he’ll take the connection to the capital.”
Gehlen blew some air forcefully out of his lips while he thought. “When is the train set to arrive?” he asked.
“In thirty-five minutes, sir.”
“Let me look into something here,” said Gehlen. “Give me one minute, and I’ll get back to you.”
As soon as the call disconnected, another one came through. This time it was Drew Kanter from Republic Intelligence.
“This is Drew. I’ve been monitoring the same situation you have, and I know about the recent contact on the hyperloop,” he said, cutting to the chase. “Does Republic Intelligence have your permission to act on this?”
“Yes. Please. I don’t want to know about the how—just get this done.”
“No problem, sir.”
“I sure hope so.”
Fort Banks, Arkansas
Earth, Sol System
The Kites had been on the base for some advanced Special Forces training. For these augmented supersoldiers, it had almost been like a vacation, with someone else cooking their food and no high-stakes activities to participate in. But that respite was about to be interrupted.
Drew reached out to them via neurolink. Hey, team. I hope training has been going well, but duty calls and we’ve got an emergency on our hands. One that requires a team with the kinds of skills only you guys have. I’m sending you a data packet with more details on the mission and the target you’re to take into custody or neutralize. It’s time to put your war face on and go earn your pay. Do whatever you have to do, but get your asses up to the Little Rock hyperloop station before this operative is able to execute his mission. Drew out.
Roger that, David replied.
The five of them stood simultaneously. Their instructor became incensed. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he asked, hand on his hips.
“I’m sure you’ll be receiving a message shortly,” Catalina replied as they made their way out of the room.
“My apologies,” they heard as they exited.
David tried not to laugh. Although he had technically died and then been revived to be a part of this secret group of soldiers, it was funny to think how his position in the world had gone upward in such a short period of time. Being a part of a clandestine unit for the Republic Intelligence had its benefits.
“All right, so how do we get there in time?” asked Somchai.
Amir pointed to an Osprey on station that had several soldiers near it. “Looks like we’re going to have to interrupt a HALO jump,” he said.
The Kites bounded over to the Osprey and were intercepted by the instructor and some of the armed soldiers who were getting ready to load up.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” the HALO instructor roared, making himself large as if he was trying to frighten off a bear.
“We need your ride,” David announced.
The instructor scoffed as the soldiers moved their rifles to the low ready. The Kites flashed their credentials and the man’s expression fell instantly. He held his arms up to the sides and dropped them, indicating that his students should lower their weapons.
“They’re Republic Intelligence. We are to give them whatever they want,” the instructor announced.
“What?” one of the soldiers asked, confused.
“Sorry boys, we’re going to need you to give us your weapons!” Jess demanded. The students looked at their instructor in utter shock. “Give us your weapons now; this is bigger than you!”
“Hand ’em over,” the instructor directed, pulling his own personal firearm from a holster on his leg and offering it up.
“You five—get in the bird,” Catalina directed. “We’re going to need your suits and we don’t have time for you to undress out here.”
They glanced back at the instructor one last time, but he just nodded and they dutifully climbed on in.
As soon as everyone was aboard, David flashed his credentials to the pilot. “Fly!” he yelled.
“Am I being kidnapped?” the pilot asked, confused.
“Just fly. We’ll tell you on the way.”
Seconds later, the Osprey was in the air, and the confused would-have-been HALO jumpers were peeling off their combat suits and forking them over.
Jess was the first to finish her quick change. She patted the armor on the shoulder. “This stuff is nice,” she commented. “Not quite as good as our regular stuff, but it’ll do.”
“It’s Dragon Skin,” one of the soldiers replied defensively. “It’s top-of-the-line.”
“Oh, is it now?” Jess teased. “Well, you just go on thinking that, OK?”
“What the hell did we just get roped into?” one of the soldiers mumbled quietly.
“I don’t know, but they’re so freaking badass, I think I’m in love,” another shot back.
“Sorry, boys, I don’t have time for that,” Jess replied with a wink, causing them both to blush.
David had received further instructions from Drew at that point, and he immediately attempted to patch into the operators at the central hyperloop switchboard in Little Rock. When he got through to someone with enough authority to handle his situation, he explained to the manager that they were moving to intercept the train arriving from Houston in thirty minutes, and that there was an individual aboard with an explosive device.
“Holy crap!” said the manager in disbelief.
“We’re inbound to your position, but our time is going to be tight. Is there anything you can do to slow that train down?” David asked.
There was a two-second pause, but then the manager replied, “Yes, I can make that happen.”
Five Minutes Later
Little Rock Hyperloop Station
Earth, Sol System
Kyla Jean tapped the monitor on her switchboard. “What the hell?” she croaked. “I’ve been a switchboard operator for almost twenty years, and I’ve never had a train run late.”
She eyed her trainee, who was ten feet away, fixing him with a gaze that would have killed, if that were possible.
Damn intern, she thought. She was always having to fix his screwups. Why’d they have to go and assign me a rookie? she asked herself angrily. Just because I’ve been here for so long doesn’t mean I want to train anyone.
She straightened herself back up and turned her attention back to her station. “No matter. I’ll fix this,” she said to herself. She swiped her key card, typed in her override password, and reset the train speed so that it would arrive as scheduled.
When she finished, she looked over at her figurine of a Canadian Sphynx cat and smiled. “Now what would these people do without me?”
Twenty-Four Minutes Later
Osprey Inbound to Little Rock Hyperloop Station
Earth, Sol System
“Hey, bro, isn’t that our train?” asked Somchai, pointing to a train that had just taken off.
“Crap! I thought the manager was going to be able to slow it down,” said David. “I’m sure it’s headed on to the capital now.”
David yelled to the pilot, “I need you to get us to the station at the capital as soon as possible. Really put the pedal to the metal!”
“Changing course, but I gotta tell ya, I’m not going to be able to get you to a good landing zone there; it’s not a big enough station for a helipad that supports Ospreys,” the pilot explained.
“Just get us below a hundred feet over the station and open the back hatch. We’ll take care of it.”
For a second, the pilot looked at David like he’d lost his marbles, but given everything else that had already happened, he just replied, “If you say so, boss.”
David went back into the bay. Everyone was all kitted out, and the soldiers that had been commandeered with the Osprey had answered any questions the Kites had about the equipment. Their HUDs showed them a map of the train station and they were patched into the CCTV there.
David updated Drew on the trajectory of the train and their new flight path, and he assured them that, just like before, IMS had been directed to stay out of their way.
The train would be arriving downtown, so there would be plenty of people there to witness their eventful entrance.
The Osprey continued at a breakneck pace until it suddenly came to a standstill in front of the entrance to the Jacksonville hyperloop station. The back hatch dropped and all five Kites dropped out of the sky without parachutes, their boots slowing their descent to the ground at the last second. They landed light as a feather and took off at inhuman speeds.
Women screamed and clutched at their children as if they were being invaded by a hostile army, but the Kites just kept sprinting forward. When they reached the biometric checkpoint, they leaped and flipped right over top of it, jumping higher than even a seasoned athlete could accomplish without the upgrades they’d had implanted. The crowd collectively gasped at the sight of these supersoldiers who’d come out of nowhere.
At the end of the hall, toward the trains, the Ani must have seen what was happening. He tossed a couple of grenades into the air so they’d explode over the crowd, creating mass chaos. A whole slew of people were hit with shrapnel, and there was mass hysteria and screaming.
The Ani raced up a nearby staircase, firing at the uniformed IMS agents as they ran, guns drawn. He hit several agents as they fired back, no match for the Ani, who was faster and more accurate.
The Kites were almost on him now. David saw him turn to go up another flight of stairs.
He’s headed for the tram that goes straight to the Space Command headquarters, he announced to his group over neurolink. Holy crap, if that thing goes off at the capital, just think of what an EMP would do there.
We can’t let that happen, Catalina insisted.
They were gaining on him, practically flying up the stairs two at a time. Then the Ani dropped another grenade behind him and it rolled toward the Kites.
Shrapnel bits slammed against the armor of the Kites, bouncing ineffectually off the Dragon Skin armor like a snowball shattering harmlessly against a jacket.
The Ani ran and jumped onto the last car of the tram just before the doors started closing behind him.
David cursed as he lunged at the tram, somehow managing to get his hands between the doors before they closed all the way. He immediately pulled at the doors, using the additional strength of the suit to pry it open.
Amir had caught up to the train as the doors were closing, so he jumped directly on top of the car David was trying to get in. The other three were right behind him, in the process of leaping on top of the train when it suddenly lurched forward, dragging David along with it. Somchai and Jess fell flat on their faces and Amir nearly lost his footing and fell off as well, but he managed to recover. Catalina was just behind Somchai and Jess, so she saw the train moving and managed to readjust before she jumped at the back of the train.
I’m on, she announced. I’ve got a handle back here.
Somchai and Jess had jumped up at this point and started running after the train, but it was too late. Their screams to stop the train went unheard.
The train is not supposed to do that! Somchai exclaimed to the group. Whenever there’s a door open, a fail-safe keeps the trains from running.
Unless someone overrides it, Jess suggested.
Meanwhile, David was struggling both to open the doors wide enough to get in and to keep himself from falling from the moving train. But even despite that, he managed to see the Ani push through the crowd, headed toward the front. David told his fellow Kites what he’d just seen.
I’ll run forward from up here, then, before I break in from the sides, said Amir.
Is it just me, or is this train going faster than usual? asked Catalina from her precarious position.
No, I don’t think you’re wrong, Amir agreed as he continued forward.
David finally managed to pry his way into the car. The people inside were stunned by his presence—these poor folks were just on their commute, and they hadn’t had their coffee yet. One woman screamed in sheer terror. But David didn’t have time to comfort anyone. He took one deep recovery breath, told his team he was in the train, and then sprinted toward the front.
I’m in, said Amir, providing his own status update.
As David neared the first connecting door between the tram cars, he heard the sound of breaking glass behind him.
I’m in, Catalina announced. She must have found a way to swing her feet at the back window. David was glad she was all right.
After going through a few of the cars, David spotted Amir ahead of him through the windows in the doors. There were a few flashes of light and then Amir fell backward.
You all right, brother? David asked.
I’ll be fine, Amir groaned. The suit absorbed the blaster shots, but I can’t move yet.
When David hit the car where the Ani had stopped, he entered at a blinding pace and rapidly fired his rifle.
Pop, pop, pop.
The Ani ducked down behind one of the rows of seats and held his gun up over his head, firing indiscriminately toward the center of the train.
“Get down!” David yelled over the panicked screams of the crowd. At least two people had been hit by the Ani’s rapid fire already, although David’s split-second assessment was that the wounds were treatable so far.
Knowing that even if he got hit, he wouldn’t die, David continued to charge at the guy, firing sometimes up and sometimes down toward the leg of the seat. At least one of his shots hit something, because he heard a loud metallic ping.
Then David was right on top of him. As he prepared to fire point-blank, he realized in horror that while the Ani had been shooting at the crowd, he’d shoved one hand into his backpack and was manipulating the weapon within.
The Ani smiled. “You’re too late,” he declared, and then he pushed a button with glee.
David zapped him with his blaster, and the Ani slumped to the floor, dead.
And then nothing happened. David was sure that the device had been fully primed and ready to go, but there was only silence.
As the tram pulled into the station, soldiers immediately boarded. A bomb squad took possession of their mysterious EMP-like weapon and removed it from the tram in a special type of shield, to avoid any accidents in transit.
After a few minutes on the platform, one of the bomb techs brought the device over to David.
“I thought I’d show you why this thing didn’t detonate,” he said, showing a burnt-out panel in one spot of the device. “This right here—this was the golden shot.”
Somehow, some way, David had gotten lucky while firing at the Ani. He could barely believe it.
One Hour Later
Admiral Bailey had requested to meet with Drew and his team directly, to which Drew had agreed. When the admiral seemed offended that they were keeping their helmets on, Drew had firmly replied, “With all due respect, Admiral, I plan on maintaining the anonymity of my action team.”
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” Bailey had replied.
After the admiral had asked the team several questions about what they had observed, he turned to Drew and asked to speak with him privately.
“Guys, why don’t you go get a coffee or something for a few minutes, all right? I mean, I think you’ve earned yourself a snack at least,” Drew said jovially, shooing the Kites out of the room.
When they’d closed the door, Admiral Bailey leaned forward in his chair and lowered his voice. “You know, they wouldn’t be trying to disrupt the electronics at Space Command headquarters if something bigger wasn’t about to happen,” the old admiral told the senior spook.
“Now you’re thinking the way I do,” Drew agreed.
The two men talked for a while before Drew said he needed to get his team on the road.
“Whoa, wait up there,” said Bailey, holding up his hands. “We still have a lot of questions about what just went down, and we need to interview your people further.”
Drew snorted. “Sir, you’ll want to keep my team on the field right now.”
“OK, look, at least leave me the guy who shot the device and disabled it,” Bailey countered.
Drew started to say no, but instead he agreed to let David, who he referred to as “Smith” in front of the admiral, stay behind for now.
As Drew walked away from that meeting, he couldn’t help but go back to what Bailey had said to him.
Something big is about to happen…but what? he wondered.
Peeling Back the Onion
Lab Site X
Dr. Katō Sakura had barely left her desk for the entire day. For hours, she had been ferociously reading a file she had uncovered, only stopping to use the bathroom when absolutely necessary. The rest of the time, she kept herself fueled with a protein bar or another snack she had squirreled away in her bag and sips of water from her canteen. This discovery was huge.
In her ravenous studies, she had unearthed some of the history of the Humtars and the war they had fought against some of the ascended people. At the outset, she had simply found it historically fascinating, but then, as she continued reading, she realized that the Republic was going to have great interest in what she was learning. It turned out that some of the strategies they had employed in their conflict might very well help the Republic deal with the Collective once they eventually encountered them.
Ever since the Republic had learned of this enemy made of ascended beings that could embody mechanized warriors at will, there had been a healthy sense of trepidation about this potential adversary. These ascended beings could communicate with each other without barriers, and they were almost impossible to kill since they weren’t tied to fleshly bodies. And they seemed hell-bent on a long game of taking over the universe, one soul at a time.
Sakura took another bite of her protein bar as she continued to read. She was starting to understand the Humtar language without much translation at this point. She already knew that when the Humtars had had a similar movement to ascension, which they called “the stripping,” a large faction of the Humtars had objected to this movement, but now she found that they had discovered a way to inhibit the communication between the “stripped” beings.
Viceroy Hunt is going to want to learn about this, she thought excitedly. If we could stop the Collective from collaborating, it would remove their greatest strength.
There were some dangers to this method, apparently. The device they designed to interfere with the stripped beings’ communication could absolutely not be pointed at a live human being. She saw a photo of the deadly results and shuddered.
Something slammed against the wall outside of the lab where Sakura had been researching.
“What the hell was that?” she exclaimed.
Another colleague of hers stood up from her station and looked back at Sakura, confused and visibly frightened.
Sakura motioned to her fellow researcher, and they cautiously approached the door. There seemed to be a raucous crowd forming, because she could hear shouting.
“Get him!” someone yelled.
When Sakura reached the door, she carefully stood to the side and then pressed the button to open it.
Two soldiers who were engaged in a violent physical struggle fell to the ground right in front of the doorway. Sakura recognized them as Privates Rowan Connor and Dominic Brown.
Brown landed on top and took advantage of his newfound high ground, pinning Connor’s arms below his knees before cocking his fist and connecting with Connor’s face. Left, right, left, right—Brown whaled on him several times as he yelled out in a rage.
The crowd was getting louder and louder, taunting them to fight harder. Sakura was horrified. She caught the attention of her colleague and yelled, “Go get Captain Young!”
Her frightened friend nodded and managed to slip out through the throng that was gathered around. Sakura thought she even saw a few soldiers placing bets on the outcome of the fight.
“Stop!” Sakura yelled. “Stop it!” But no one responded to her calls.
Connor suddenly pushed every ounce of strength into lifting his arms, which threw Brown forward off him; Brown tried to roll to avoid landing smack-dab on his face.
“Please!” Sakura pleaded. “You have to stop!”
But whatever had started this fight in the first place apparently had them both seeing red. Both men stood to their feet. Connor wiped blood off his lip, and Brown positioned himself like a tiger about to pounce. With a wild-eyed expression on his face, he lunged at his fellow soldier.
At the last moment, a sergeant pulled Connor out of the way. “Fight’s over!” he yelled.
Brown, who had been mid-jump, apparently didn’t fully comprehend what had just happened and landed a haymaker right across the sergeant’s jaw. The sergeant somehow took it in stride, barely losing his footing but rubbing his face.
The demeanor of the crowd changed drastically. A low “ooh” grumbled through the group, and a few people cussed quietly.
It was at that moment that Captain Aaron Young arrived. “What the hell is going on here?” he yelled.
“Nothing I couldn’t have handled, sir,” replied the young sergeant.
“Hmm, is that so?” asked Captain Young.
No one said a word for a moment. Connor had slumped to the floor, exhausted and bloody. A lot of the crowd quietly slunk away, back to whatever post they were supposed to be working on at the moment.
“Well, I think it’s about time we get everyone some medical attention,” Young announced. “And on the way, I want to hear about what exactly caused this little ‘incident.’”
Young turned to Sakura, who had found herself frozen there. “Can you help me walk Private Connor over there to the medical bay?” he asked. She nodded grimly and pulled the young soldier up, putting his arm around her shoulder.
As the five of them walked down the hallway, Young asked, “So, what the hell was that all about?”
Private Brown clenched his teeth. “Connor’s been banging my girlfriend,” he hissed.
Connor snarled. “Carla was my girlfriend.”
Sakura stepped a little further away from Brown and Young, concerned that they might decide to start the hostilities up again.
Young clicked his tongue. “All this over a woman?” he asked. “Hell, I don’t know how many times I’ve told you guys that I don’t care what you do in your personal lives, but it better not affect your mission.”
Brown snickered. “Mission? Babysitting scientists?” he scoffed.
“You may not find it very important, but the intel being gathered here is going to be the breakthrough for the Republic,” Captain Young shot back. “And if you want to hold that back, well, then, I have a brig I can throw you in.”
Brown sobered up. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly.
When they got to the medical bay, the medic on staff patched up their wounds. Captain Young assigned them to opposite shifts and scheduled a time with each man to formally review the consequences of what had happened. Then he thanked Sakura for her time and said something about going to meet up with Carla.
On her way back to the lab, Sakura’s friend, Dr. Katherine Johnson, pulled her aside. “Sakura, do you have a minute?” she asked, putting her hand on her shoulder. “We need to talk.”
“Oh?” Sakura replied.
Katherine glanced around. “This one needs to be in private.”
Sakura followed her to one of the small conference rooms on site. When they’d closed the door and turned on the “do not disturb” option, Sakura grabbed a cup of tea from one of the replicators and plopped herself down in one of the chairs. “All right, Katherine, what is this about?”
“Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘An idle mind is the devil’s playground’?” asked Katherine as she sat down in another chair.
“No…what are you referring to?” Sakura grilled.
“Our military friends—well, some of them seem to have lost their minds, or at least their military bearings, due to boredom,” she explained.
“Some of them seem very happily occupied,” Sakura said with a wink, referring to Katherine’s ongoing relationship with Captain Aaron Young.
Katherine covered her cheeks as if to hide her embarrassment. “Yeah, OK. I earned that one,” she said with a laugh. “Truthfully, I’m not the only one in a relationship right now. That does seem to be keeping a few people out of trouble. Then there’s the ones who are just hooking up—except the pool for random hookups is very limited here, and lovers scorned don’t easily forget. You saw what just happened with Connor and Brown.”
“Yeah,” Sakura said sadly. “That was really messed up.”
“OK, but honestly, there’s been a lot more going on that hasn’t resulted in the same level of discipline,” Katherine explained. “Tons of pranks…so many, I don’t think you want to listen to them all. But I hear about most of it because Aaron has to have someone to vent to.”
“So, what are we talking about here?” asked Sakura. “I think you’re going to need to spell it out for me.”
“Right, so I guess some of the guys thought it would be funny to replicate a ton of what is the Humtars’ closest equivalent to a lemon, and then a group of soldiers went through a sort of hazing to see who could eat the most wedges. There was no disciplinary action for this one because the resulting stomach cramps and diarrhea were their own punishment.”
Sakura covered her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh. She was not successful.
“Yeah, that one is pretty funny,” Katherine acknowledged, “but it also resulted in at least five soldiers being on sick leave for a day. It messed up the whole watch rotation.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. Oh, as if that’s not enough, there’s this junior officer, an ensign, if you can believe it—he’s one of our Osprey pilots from the Voyager, call sign Spike. Some of the stuff he pulls is what you might expect from an enlisted sailor or soldier, but not from an officer. For example, he’s been known to send young soldiers to the first sergeant to see if they can give them an ID-10-T evaluation so they can attend a training course.”
Sakura almost spat her tea out in laughter before catching the stink eye from Katherine, who wasn’t finished speaking.
Katherine cleared her throat. “As I was saying, this guy, Spike, sent a newly assigned spacer from the maintenance section in the hangar back to the Voyager to speak with the supply chief and ask for, get this, chem light batteries—”
Now Sakura doubled over in laughter. After regaining her ability to speak, she commented, “Oh, please tell me you’re not serious. Are you? Did someone actually fall for that? I mean, who would possibly think that glow sticks need a battery?”
Katherine grunted. “Apparently, yes. Someone did take the bait.”
Sakura laughed deeply from her belly. “I mean, honestly, that one is hilarious,” she finally snorted.
Katherine shrugged. “On its own, maybe. But it’s all adding up. There’s a lieutenant above Spike who is, shall we say, a bit shorter in stature and whose last name just happens to be Shortman.” She glared at Sakura before continuing, “The other day, he found a stool in the restroom by a urinal labeled ‘For Lieutenant Shortman Only.’ He doesn’t have any proof it was Spike, but they all know who did it.”
Sakura doubled over in fits of laughter, unable to contain herself anymore. The usually reserved scientist smacked at her knee while she laughed. “I can’t…” She finally gasped for breath between tears and snorts of laughter.
Katherine frowned. “Sakura, I know you think it’s funny and all. But I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this,” she insisted as she crossed her arms.
“Oh, lighten up,” Sakura finally said, still chuckling. “Listen, these guys are stuck here. What do you expect them to do? Twiddle their thumbs in their time off?”
Katherine leaned back. “Humpf. Well, you may have a point there,” she admitted. “Maybe we need to do a better job of creating ways for them to blow off steam. There’s only so much time one can spend in the gym or training, and God knows they do a lot of that.”
“I officially designate you the head of the social committee,” Sakura said, feigning seriousness.
“Great…all that scientific education hard at work,” Katherine replied.
“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it,” Sakura said with a smile. “So, is there something else on your mind?” she asked. “I’ve got a lot of work to do if I want to finish these reports for the next comms drone.”
“No, that’s fine,” Katherine replied. “I guess I can take a little time out for a side project, as long as it keeps everyone moving forward.”
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