The edge, p.9
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       The Edge, p.9

           Leslie Lee
 
stopped. I think they caught on somebody had detected them. Did they make Gold Ghost disappear? I just don't know. Why would they do that? What would they gain? I hate to think of the kind of power they have if they can do something like that. Could be just Gold Ghost running into some very bad luck."

  He was silent, speculating on how somebody on board could have caused an entire squad to disappear. Hell, how could anybody, anywhere, obliterate a pod squad without a trace?

  "And I think I've become too nosey. They know I suspect." She looked into his eyes.

  "Yeah, I figured." He thought about the corridor and glanced at the weapon in his jacket.

  "You're at risk too, flyboy." She traced the scar running down his neck.

  "I won't be breaking out in no rash," he said grimly.

  She laughed, a soft husky chuckle, giving her face a brief respite from the worry clenching her brow. Sighing, she started to untangle herself, letting him go and patting him on the chest as if to say, "that's it, all done". He resisted, locking his arms around her. She stiffened as if to command him.

  "Rest," he murmured. She paused, looking at him, tense, weighing her decision then, she slowly relaxed and let him pull her back down. This time he entwined himself around her letting her breathing slow and allowing her heart beat with a protected rhythm.

  The memory of the sex would fade. This one moment, he would always remember about her.

  The X was a dangerous ship. Not only to the enemy but also to the crew she carried. The weapons ready to unleash on her adversaries could through inattention, bad luck, even shoddy workmanship, easily destroy the people shepherding them to their appointed destination. People were injured on most shifts, and on rare occasions even killed. The ship did not forgive. She punished those who forgot to respect her. Protection and threat went hand in hand on the X.

  Mak maneuvered his pod into its station. He shed the helmet and waited for the hatch to pop. Looking up he expected his usual pod crew member to be looking down, extending a hand to help him crawl out. It wasn't him. The Launch Crew Commander hovered there, his face pale and drawn.

  "What?" Mak demanded struggling to get his body to respond faster.

  "Trouble, Mak" he said, breathlessly. Mak's stomach lurched. He could tell the commander didn't want to use the comms which were monitored. "There's been an accident on the Bridge. In Squad Ops. You'd better get to sick bay. Right quick."

  He didn't need to hear anything more. He ran. His legs felt wobbly from being in the pod for so long but he forced himself to go faster. The lift took forever to get him to sick bay.

  Squad Ops Commander Diego was outside the entrance. He stood in front of Mak.

  "Blue Box Leader," he said stiffly. He was one of the few people who used field designations on board ship.

  "Telli's been in an accident?" he asked. Maybe it was somebody else.

  "Yes, Squad Ops Chief Telli has been involved in an accident." He looked closely at Mak. "That wasn't supposed to be common knowledge. Who told you?"

  Mak ignored him. "What happened?"

  "There was nothing anybody could do."

  Mak bit back his impatience. "How is she?"

  "She went quickly." That was all it took, and Mak shoved him aside and charged into sick bay. He ran wildly down the big hospital until he found her

  The Telli he knew, the one he had held, and had finally rested with him those two weeks ago was strong, powerful, full of life and fight. This corpse looked? Empty. Hardly recognizable as a body at all. From the nurse, he was able to extract information. A conduit had exploded right above where Telli had been sitting in the Squad Ops Briefing Room. She had died instantly.

  He didn't bother asking the nurse how it had exploded. She wouldn't know. He felt cold. The lack of feeling did not surprise him. Just cold. Really cold inside his gut. The corpse didn't repel him, like it did with Diego. The Squad Ops Commander wouldn't look at the body. But this wasn't the worse Mak had ever seen. Not even close. But it was somebody he knew and that was different. Yet, it was also not somebody he knew. It was like something pretending to be somebody he knew. He hardened his gut, freezing his feelings into blackness.

  "You didn't have to shove me," Diego said rubbing his shoulder. "I'll forget this incident due to the circumstances."

  "Incident?" said Mak, blankly.

  "Touching a superior officer."

  "I'm sure it was the heat of the moment." It was Captain Suth.

  "Of course sir," Diego said straightening up.

  Suth looked stricken as well.

  "Do we know what happened, sir?" Mak asked. Running around with Telli had presented him with more exposure to the command structure than he could ever have imagined. He had gotten a little used to being around the Captain. Fortunately, it wasn't his place to speak or do anything. Telli's punishment as Jerry had predicted had given him a rare opportunity. Now she was gone. He tried to focus. He needed to listen to the Captain's answer.

  "Security and Engineering are investigating," Suth answered, gruffly. "Number one priority is getting Squad Ops fully functional."

  "Absolutely, sir" said Diego. He blathered on a little more but Mak wasn't listening. An opening had appeared.

  "Sir," he said addressing Suth, "if I might make a request."

  "Go ahead, Mak."

  "I'd like permission to enter Telli's quarters."

  "Cleaning out her quarters is Squad Ops job," Diego protested.

  "I'd just like to get a couple of private things, sir. She and I were, uh, well..."

  "Understood." The Captain turned to Diego. "Make it so."

  "Yes sir," he said. "We'll do it now, Blue Box Leader."

  Mak didn't give the corpse a last look. It wasn't Telli. Not anymore.

  Diego was next in line for the Chief spot. Telli had almost tossed him off the X a couple of times. But he had connections and was barely, just barely competent enough. Sheer seniority had gotten him into the number two position. Mak wondered whether Suth would have as much patience as Telli.

  Diego prattled on about how despite her faults he really respected Telli a lot. It sounded like an insult. Mak imagined himself just pounding him into nothing more than a bloody stain on the deck. But the man was now going to be in charge of the Squads. And Mak needed him for just a little while.

  They found themselves outside of Telli's quarters. Diego had finally ceased his inane chatter to curse at the override codes. While he had his back turned, Mak sent a message via his comm. It was silently acknowledged moments later.

  "At least you won't have to pull any more gopher duties," Diego grunted trying to get his codes to work.

  Mak didn't respond, desperately trying to refrain from slamming the idiot's head into the door which finally accepted Diego's codes.

  "There we go," Diego said, triumphantly. "You can't take any of her personal effects. They'll need to go to her family."

  "Fine."

  The Squad Ops Chief had quarters almost the size of the entire Blue Box dorm. A bathroom all to herself. And a bedroom separate from the rest of the quarters. The decorations though sparse were thoughtful. A mask which looked vaguely alien. Some commendations. A large painting of something completely unrecognizable; its colors warmed the room. Everything was neat and well-organized.

  He made his way into the bedroom.

  "What are you looking for?" Diego asked, following him, leaving the door open.

  "I loaned her a book." He opened the closet then turned his attention to a small dresser next to it, bending down to go through the drawers. Telli's perfume was almost nonexistent but not quite. The memories interfered with his task. He forced them down.

  "A real book? Do those things still exist?"

  Mak kept his eyes off the small hidden panel in the bottom of the closet.

  Th'han'dra suddenly appeared at the bedroom door. "Squad Ops Diego," she said.

  Diego turned his head and instantly, Mak opened the panel, retrieved the package, and shoved it under his su
it. He closed a drawer noisily and said with finality, "It's not here. Maybe she had it with her."

  "Well if she did, it's nothing but cinders now," Diego said looking critically at a small sculpture beside the bed. He fingered it, leaving it out of place. Mak thought about ripping it out of his carefully manicured hands and shoving it down his throat. At that instant, Th'han'dra touched him lightly on the shoulder. He flinched, surprised, then the moment was gone. Diego didn't notice how close he'd come.

  "Are you done? Everything else has to go the family."

  "I'm done," Mak said calmly, but Th'han'dra kept her hand clamped to his shoulder. His whole body ached to let go. She tightened her grip on his shoulder.

  "We'll clear this stuff up and put it in storage for the relatives. You can fight it out with them if there's anything you want."

  Th'han'dra gave him a look but it was to his back.

  "Yes," Diego continued looking around, his hands on his hips. "I'll move in today."

  Mak brushed by him making sure he touched Diego's nice clean uniform with his grimy flight suit.

  "Did you need something, Blue Box 2?"

  Mak thought he was too lazy to read the name tags.

  "I've found him," Th'han'dra said simply and started down the narrow corridor followed by Mak.

  He felt the package burning a hole in his pocket. The flight suit bulged out. There was no help for it. Luckily, Diego was too busy interior decorating.

  Th'han'dra didn't ask. And as they approached the Blue Box dorm, anger and relief, started to give way to something else. Tired. He trembled with fatigue. Breathing hurt his chest. Dark spots hindered his

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