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2307_angelstrike_chapter8

I’ve seen people come and go in my lifetime.  I’ve seen people change.  I’ve seen people become better.  I’ve seen people become worse.  Life goes ever on and on in all its forms and we all change.  And when most people can live centuries or more, people try out numerous jobs and lifestyles.  But trying something new is always scary.  It’s always a gamble.  We might succeed.  We might fail.  But you know what?  Life is worth the pain.  Life is worth the joy.  Life is worth it all.

 

 

Emergent

 

Aneerin’s long and thin shuttle breached the hangar bay’s energy curtain and drifted into open space.  It hovered for a few moments before rotating to point towards the distant Guardian Light.  The shuttle’s engine ring came to life and the shuttle shook off the remnants of the air still trapped to its hull.  It came off as ice crystals flash frozen by the cold of space, and the shuttle rocketed away towards the mothership, sun and engine light glittering off the shards.

Aneerin was leaving again.  Jack had expected to spend more time in at least the same star system with the man.  He hadn’t seen Aneerin in months, and now the man was leaving again.  Jack had even gone to the trouble of dressing up in his dress whites.  Life just wasn’t fair sometimes.

“Is it too much to ask to actually spend time with our commanding officer?” he asked in a tone of voice that sounded more like a whine than he wanted to admit.

“Funny.”  Charles emitted a dark chuckle.  “I would have expected you to enjoy the freedom of being on your own.”

Jack shrugged.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I do.  But…I don’t know…we’re seeing less and less of him as time goes by.  That just seems wrong.”

“It means he trusts us to do what needs doing without him needing to hold our hands,” Charles replied.

Jack laughed.  “What did I ever do to earn his trust?”

Charles shook his head.  “I ask myself that every day.”

“Funny.”  Jack glared at Charles.  The older man aimed an innocent smile towards him.  Jack shook his head and turned away from the stars.  The hangar spread out before him, full of partially disassembled spacecraft.  Hellcats and Avengers filled one side of the bay, while Marine craft filled the other.  Anything that could fly or be lifted off the surface in something resembling repairable shape was up here, and the mad cacophony of repair work echoed off the hanger bay bulkheads.  “So, did you want that report or not?”

“That depends.”  Charles studied the busy bay with a careful gaze.  “Can you find the juvenile delinquent who is supposed to give it to me?”

Jack laughed again.  “I might be able to hunt him down.”

“Then track away, oh Great White Hunter,” Charles ordered with a flourish.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack acknowledged and turned to see Captain Wyatt staring at them.  Jack paused and barely stopped himself from clearing his throat like a guilty child.  She’d heard every word of that conversation with Aneerin, and she knew that he knew that she knew that he knew.  And all the other permutations of that logic tree that squirreled off into the abyss.  Aneerin had just made his relationship with her much more complicated.  He hated complications, so he smiled and let out a long breath.  “Ma’am.  Requesting permission to vacate the deck, Ma’am.”

She smiled at his words and he looked close to see the smile reaching her eyes.  Then she nodded.  “Permission granted, Major Hart.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Jack said and guided Charles out of the hangar bay.  “Have you ever been on a Los Angeles class before?”

“Yes.”  Charles’ tone betrayed amusement at the question as Jack led him into the rabbit warren of corridors.  “She is the forerunner of her class,” he added as if that explained everything.

Jack frowned, because he didn’t explain anything to him.  “True,” he said with a shrug.  That wasn’t a big secret or anything.

Charles looked at him like he was a Big A Alien.  “And that is not a big deal?”

Jack shrugged.  “New ships are a dime a dozen.”

Charles frowned at him and shook his head.  “You did not follow Pre-War naval procurement procedures did you?”

Jack projected a horrified shudder.  “Why would I do that?  I’d miss out on time I could spend on useful stuff.  Like partying.  With girls.  What do you take me for?” he finished with a wink.

Charles just shook his head again.  “Obviously not a monk,” Charles said under his breath.

“I heard that,” Jack growled just as quietly.

“You were supposed to.”

Jack snorted and stopped Charles as a hatch opened before them.  Two crewmembers walked out, saw him and turned to go the other way with furtive looks.

“Popular?” Charles asked.

Jack snorted.  “You’re the first stranger they’ve seen in months.”

Charles raised an eyebrow at him.  “And you were not a stranger two weeks ago?”

“Touché.”

Jack stepped forward and waved a hand towards the open hatch.  Beds, cabinets, and blinking lights filled the small bay.  “This here is sickbay overflow.  She’s hoping to close it up soon, now that most of us are all fixed up.”

“Us?”  Charles aimed an evaluative gaze at Jack.

Jack shrugged.  “I got pretty busted up.  Spent almost a day in here after the battle.”

“A day?” Charles asked in a disbelieving tone.

A redheaded holoform flickered into view with her arms crossed and a frown on her face.  “He should have stopped moving when he crashed his fighter.  But no, he had to go out and be a fraking gropo.”

“Hey, Gabbi,” Jack said without a hint of guilt.  “Have you met Charles before?”

Gabrielle pursed her lips at Charles and narrowed her eyes.  “Yes.”  Then she turned back to Jack.  “And no changing the subject.”  She waved a finger at him.  “Next time remember that a sucking chest wound is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.”

Jack laughed and cleared his throat.  “It wasn’t that bad.”  Charles cocked his head to the side in a wordless question.  “No sucking.  Honest.  Don’t think anything even broke the skin.”

Gabrielle’s frown deepened.  “Then where did all that blood we cleaned out of your cockpit come from?”

“There wasn’t a mark on me when I woke up,” Jack clarified.

“Only because the skin healed up first,” Gabrielle hissed.  “He broke or fractured most of the bones in his body.  Then he went gropo.”

“‘Every Marine is a rifleman,’” Jack quoted the old saying and turned to Charles.  “I could move.  I could shoot.  Would you have stopped?”

Charles examined him for several seconds before letting out a long breath.  “No.”

“Marines,” Gabrielle spat.  Then she rounded on Charles.  “And what are you doing here?  I thought I told you I would throw you out the airlock if you ever touched my decks again.”

It was Jack’s turn to aim a questioning look at Charles.  Charles just sighed.  “You did.  But that was a different world.  A different time.”  He waved at his Marine insignia.  “I am different as well.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.  “Are you?”

A raven-haired holoform flickered into view with a hand on Charles’ shoulder.  She leaned forward and glared right back at Gabrielle.  “He is,” she said in a tone that dared the warship’s brain to disagree.

“Hey, Dorothy,” Jack said in a bright tone.  “How you doing?”

“Peachy,” she answered with a brief smile and warm eyes before glaring back at Gabrielle.  It was an impressive staring contest.  It lasted almost two seconds.  Jack was suitably impressed by it, even if he knew they’d probably come to a decision on the matter before Gabrielle had even mentioned the issue.  They might have even talked about it before Charles even landed.  But Jack was pretty certain their current stances reflected the argument they’d had when they first met.  However many microseconds it had taken for them to compare notes.

Now they were just playing for the humans that thought seconds made for quick decisions.  Well, not playing actually.  They were acting human where other humans could see, and Jack was perfectly happy to watch them do that.  He’d also be perfectly happy watching them get in a catfight over it.

“Jack,” Betty’s voice said in his earbud with a warning tone.

“What?” Jack subvocalized for only her to hear.

“No.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he protested.

“You were thinking too loud,” she said and he couldn’t argue.  She wouldn’t believe him if he tried.  She knew him too well.

Then Gabrielle blinked and turned away from Dorothy.  “You may continue,” she said in a tone suspiciously close to an order, spun on her heels, and walked into the sickbay.  The hatch closed behind her.

Charles cleared his throat.  “No tour of that compartment I see.”

“Guess not,” Jack agreed and started walking again.  “So…you’ve been here before.”

Charles sighed.  “My family was involved in the design of this ship,” he explained.  Then he chuckled and sought to change the subject.  “She broke careers you know?”

Jack considered delving further for a moment.  Then he gave a mental shrug and decided to let Charles steer the conversation away from the first point as he led them around another corner.  “How?”

Charles nodded in thanks and followed in Jack’s wake as his eyes studied the bulkheads.  “Every congressman had line items in her development.  Pocket projects that would enrich the corporations funding their campaigns and digging up dirt on their opponents.  Every system on this ship was a kickback to someone.”

“Why?”  Jack raised one hand to forestall Charles’ response.  “I mean…I can understand why a company would want in on the action but…it’s not like the navy is saying ‘no’ to ships.  And there’s not a company on Earth that could produce enough of anything to keep up with all the production coming out.  There’ll always be another ship.”

Charles laughed and looked around the corridor.  “You really do have a War mindset.”

“Excuse me?”  Jack’s voice had a dangerous tint to it.  He didn’t like war.  He’d be perfectly happy going home and never fighting again.  But he had a mission to do.

Charles rubbed his brow and shook his head.  “I am sorry.  You are right.  There is not a company on Earth that can keep up with the pace of construction.  Even my family can not print money fast enough to keep up with the new technologies, the new designs, and the new ships coming out of the yards.”  Charles stopped and placed a hand on a bulkhead.  “But this girl was built Pre-War.  You have no idea how rare that was, do you?”

Jack examined his commander for a long moment before answering.  “Obviously not.”

Charles pursed his lips.  “Can you tell me when the last new heavy cruiser class was built before this girl?”

Jack looked towards Betty’s holoform and she just raised her hand in protest.  “Traitor,” he mouthed.  She just smiled and shook her head, telling him that he was on his own in this trivia contest.  “Fine…obviously it had been a while,” he hedged and turned back to Charles.  “A few years at least.”

Charles pursed his lips.

“Or longer,” Jack said under his breath and started chewing his lip.  Nearly ten percent of Third Fleet had been War construction, but the others were…Pre-War.  He tried to remember how many American cruisers there had been.  Washington had been another Los Angeles.  But St. Paul was…a Charleston.  There’d been a couple others but he couldn’t remember the names.  Then there’d been Dallas.  She’d been the only one of her class there.  And then the Monterreys had been there too.

Four classes of cruisers, and he was pretty certain the Dallas was War construction.  No.  She was older.  Only Los Angeles had come out just before The War started.  The other three were older, and he had to admit that he’d never heard a thing about their construction his entire life.  But now that he thought about it, they’d been in every fighter simulator made in the last…two decades at least.  “Frak,” Jack said in realization and shook his head.  “Decades.  It’s been decades.”

Charles nodded very slowly.  “The first Charleston-class cruiser was launched in 2255, and design work on her replacement had already begun.  That was the Dallas in 2281, and they had begun designing her replacement a decade before she launched.  That was Los Angeles, and they spent four decades on her.  Four decades of congressional oversight, line item additions, and lobbying from hundreds of companies to get in on the one new heavy cruiser class that would start a new generation of warship designs.  And do you know what happened when she set sail?”  Charles raised one eyebrow at Jack with the question and waited.

Jack swallowed and nodded.  Gabrielle had told him what happened once.  Just once.  It wasn’t something the ship’s brain liked to think about.  “She broke her back.”

“The systems didn’t work together,” Charles confirmed.  “It was a major scandal.  Careers died on the altar of congressional outrage that their pet line items were on a failing project.  That their names were on it.  It’s a miracle this ship ever set sail again.”

Jack nodded in understanding.  “And it was Captain Wyatt that made that happen.”

“Yes,” Charles confirmed.

Jack rubbed his jaw and stopped at an intersection for a moment.  “How did she do that?”  Then he made a decision and turned right to follow that corridor.

Charles shrugged as he kept pace with Jack.  “By being stubborn enough to stand up against pressure.  She angered many congressmen by trimming the line items.”  He laughed.  “She reassigned the worst systems to shuttles or other companion ships to the class so they could still be in on the pork, but she and Gabrielle clear cut the ship herself, stripped everything down, and rebuilt her from the frame up.”

Jack examined Charles for a few seconds, weighing everything the man had said in his mind before saying anything.  “That’s an awful lot of people to be pissing off if you don’t have someone backing you up.  Mighty lonely position to be in.”  He raised both eyebrows towards Charles and wondered if the man would confirm his suspicions.

Charles smiled to acknowledge the hit.  “My family intervened.”

And his suspicions were verified.  Jack kept his cool though.  No need to jump up and down and crow that he was right.  “Your family,” he said instead and left the floor open for Charles to add his two cents.

Charles nodded and patted the ship.  “We came to investigate the situation.  That was the first time I saw her in person.”  He turned towards a hatch and it opened for him.  Jack smiled and followed Charles into the ship’s bar.  “Would you believe this used to be a cargo compartment?” Charles asked over his shoulder.

Jack chuckled and studied the compartment.  It was long and narrow, with round tables running up one side of it.  A long bar ran down the other side until it met the end of the compartment.  The far bulkhead ruled over a small dance floor that was empty at the moment.  Most of the crew was still too busy repairing damage to spend time in the bar.  Though it was rarely full if he wanted to be fair.  Between shift work and the very good virtual bars operated by Los Angeles’ mainframe, this physical bar was quickly becoming a remnant of an older world.

“So I guess you don’t actually need the penny tour,” Jack said as he slid up to the bar next to Charles.

The older man gave him a knowing smile.  “I thought we might be able to find this juvenile delinquent we are hunting for around here.”

Jack laughed.  “You know him well.”  He looked around with an approving gaze.  “He does appreciate the many good things that usually inhabit this place.”

Gabrielle’s holoform stepped up to the bar and asked, “The usual?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jack and Charles said in unison.

Jack turned to Charles in surprise.  “You have a usual?”

“I’ll be right back,” Gabrielle said and walked away.

Charles smiled.  “I was here for six months.”

“Wow,” Jack said and paused to consider that revelation.  There was so much about Charles that he didn’t know.  But this was one more thing he could file in the small mental file cabinet of things he was learning about the man.

“Iron Butterfly,” Gabrielle interrupted his ruminations and placed a tumbler in front of Jack.  “On the rocks.”

“Thank you,” Jack said with his best smile.

“And an Astronaut.”  Gabrielle placed the drink in front of Charles.  “No spit.”

Jack blinked and looked at their drinks in confusion.  “No spit?”

Charles shrugged.  “She did threaten to space me the last time I was here.”

“True.”  Jack looked at his drink with a calculating stare.  “Gabbi?”

Gabrielle aimed a sweet and innocent smile at him.  “Yeah, Jack?”

“Have you ever thought about spacing me?”

She just chuckled and stepped away from the bar.

Jack eyed his drink doubtfully.

“Don’t worry,” Charles said and picked up his drink.  “There’s enough alcohol in that to kill anything that isn’t good for you.”

“True,” Jack returned and lifted his drink.  He took a sip and the Irish cream went down smooth.  He relaxed and they began to talk.

They spoke about how amazing Enterprise had been.  Hopefully still was.  They talked about Admiral Bainbridge and just how bad Epsilon Reticuli had been.  They talked about Los Angeles and anything else that came to mind.  They talked about their favorite rock bands.  Jack’s was obvious.  Even if they weren’t rock.  Charles extolled his appreciation for Springsteen and other classic rock gods.  They talked until they were all out of things to talk about.  Then they sat in silence and finished their drinks.  It was a good talk.  It was a good silence.

They left an hour later and walked back towards Jack’s quarters, two friends that didn’t really need to say a thing as they moved through the corridors. 

“Jack?” Betty interrupted their companionable silence as they approached his quarters.  Her holoform stepped beside him and he paused to look at her.

“Yes?”

She pursed her lips.  “Natalie is still in there but she isn’t responding to me.”

That was odd.  Jack frowned as something occurred to him.  “If she’s not responding, how do you know she’s there?”

“She has a Do Not Disturb sign up,” Betty said with a patronizing smile.  “She’s there and she’s active but she’s not talking.”

Jack frowned at the nearby hatch.  “Did you tell her we’re coming?”

“Yes.”

Jack scratched his jaw and considered the situation.  “Still no response?”

“Nothing.”  Betty shook her head in a helpless gesture.

“Should I go?” Charles asked.

“No.”  Jack shook his head.  “She’s been through a lot lately, but it would do her good to socialize a bit.  I think.  Maybe,” he finished with a shrug.  Then he smiled at Betty.  “Open wide.”

Betty crossed her arms, nodded, and the hatch slid open.  It slid shut a moment later and no one said a word for several seconds.

Finally Jack cleared his throat.  “Betty?”

“Yes?”

“Did you tell her we were bringing company?”

Betty winced at his last word.  “I may have left that bit out of the update.”

“Right.”

Charles cleared his throat.  “I think this is my queue to leave.”

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Jack protested.  “She doesn’t…I don’t …we’re not…”

Charles sighed and placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder.  “I am the one in error here.  I should not have intruded on her at this time.”  He shook his head slowly.  “You have more important things to do.  We will talk later,” Charles finished and walked away without another word.

“But we don’t…” Jack trailed off again and Charles just nodded.

Jack watched him leave and sighed.  He glanced at Betty and she smiled back at him.  Then he turned back towards the hatch and pulled in a deep breath.  He stepped forward, the hatch opened, he stepped in, and the hatch closed behind him.  A skirt and blouse lay on one end of his bunk, a mix of blues and blacks spiraling through the outfit.  A beautiful flowery scarf brightened the ensemble.  On the other end of the bunk lay her dress whites, identical to his except for the knee-length skirt.  She looked much better wearing that than he ever could.  Natalie stood with her back to him and he had to concentrate real hard to keep his eyes pointed above the neck.  There was an awful lot to look at below it.

Jack cleared his throat, stepped up behind her, and tried to concentrate on what she was doing rather than how she looked doing it.  “It’s not easy is it?”

“Mmm?”  She didn’t move.

Jack frowned and looked at the two outfits.  He was pretty certain he knew what they symbolized.  “Choosing which life to lead.  Military.  Civilian.  Hard choice.”

“Yes,” she said and still did not move.

He placed his arms on her bare shoulders and leaned in close.  The smell of chamomile filled his nose and nearly made him forget himself.  Nearly.  “Whatever you do.  Wherever you go.  You’ll always be one of us,” he whispered in her ear.

She placed a hand on his and leaned her head into his.  “I don’t care what they say,” she whispered.  “You’re a dear.”

Jack frowned at the statement.  He couldn’t decide if was a compliment or an insult.  “What who say?”

Natalie laughed.  It was a good laugh.  Jack would have liked to hear more of it, but Natalie hadn’t been laughing like this since Louis died.  It felt right for her to laugh like this.  “Everyone who falls for your ridiculous ‘Jack of Harts’ routine.”

“Ah.”  Jack smiled and shrugged.  “Well it’s a good routine.  Comes from some of the best heroes in literature.”

Natalie turned to face him and wrapped her arms around his neck as she shook her head.  He wanted to look down.  He wanted to look down.  He really wanted to look down.  But he met her gaze with iron determination.  She smiled.  “Batman does not qualify as literature.”

“Says you,” Jack retorted and wrapped his arms around her waist to pull her in close.  That made it much easier to keep from looking down.  Though it made other things harder.

“You aren’t going to talk me out of leaving,” she whispered into his shoulder.

“I know,” he said into her chamomile-scented hair and began mentally counting from one to…some really high number he would probably never reach.  “But if you’re going down to Serenity anyways, maybe we could go together?”

Natalie laughed in his arms and shook her head.  “Delaying the inevitable?”

“Living in the moment,” Jack corrected.  “You should wear the dress whites.”

“Why?”

“Because your current attire would get you arrested?” he tried with forced levity.

Natalie laughed again.  “Why the uniform?”

“Ah.”  Jack chuckled.  “Purely selfish reason there.  The bars haven’t started accepting money from people in uniform yet.”

Natalie laughed into his neck.  “Always so mercurial.”

“I prefer penny pincher.”

Natalie stiffened and he felt her look behind him.  He blinked a command and his contacts showed him the person standing behind him.

“Hey, Jazz,” Jack said with a smile.  “What’s up?”

“I’ve been thinking,” Jasmine answered and he sighed.

“That’s never good.”

“Hush, you,” Natalie and Jasmine chorused and Jack had to chuckle.

He patted Natalie’s back and extricated himself from her arms before turning to face Jasmine.  He pursed his lips in momentary thought and felt his confidence waver.  “Are you leaving, too?”

Jack heard the holoemitters in the room pulse to full power and Jasmine’s hands reached out to pull his face back up to meet her gaze.  Her eyes didn’t betray even a hint of hurt.  They showed only determination.  “Not happening,” she said in a voice that matched her eyes.  “In fact, I was thinking I want to get a real body.”

Jack’s eyes flicked over to Natalie for a moment and caught a smile on her face.  “Really?” was all that came out of his scrambled brain.

“Well, you’re going to need someone to knock some sense into you,” Jasmine said in a wry tone.

Jack shook his head.  “The joys of concussive psychotherapy?”

Jasmine nodded vigorously.  “Exactly.”

Jack sucked in a deep breath and felt his confidence starting to return.  He smiled and stepped out of Jasmine’s hands with a forced chuckle.  “Well, that settles it.”  He glanced at Natalie.  “You’re wearing the uniform.”

She raised one eyebrow at him.  “I am?”

“Absolutely,” he said with a wry smile and turned back to Jasmine.  “And you’re coming down with us.”

“Oh?” Jasmine asked with crossed arms.

“When did I agree to going down with you?” Natalie added to the discussion.

“You didn’t.”  He smiled at Jasmine.  “We’re going down to do some body shopping.”

Jasmine blinked.  “Right now?”

“Absolutely,” Jack repeated.  “I’m not going to miss the chance to see you trying on new bodies.”

“Ah,” Jasmine said with a knowing smile.  “You know, I could just order one.”

“What?” Jack asked in a scandalized tone.  “Online?”

Jasmine crossed her arms again and raised an eyebrow.  “Why not?”

Jack expanded his smile into something more akin to a used car salesman on the prowl.  “I will have you know,” Jack began, getting into the act with all his enthusiasm.  “A new body is a deeply personal thing and you can’t just order it up and accept whatever shows up in the mail!  You have to try different models on so you can get a feel for what you like best!”

“I can do that in the virtual showroom,” Jasmine retorted with a wry smile.  “And satisfaction is guaranteed.”

“Virtual showrooms are just fine for digital purchases,” Jack said with a hint of pomposity.  “But for a truly analog purchase like an android body you need to give it a trial run in the world all around us.  Go for a swim, feel the wind blow through your hair, watch all the men trip over their own two feet as they see you coming.  You have to try out the little joys in life to make certain they work the way you want them to!”

Jasmine gave him a skeptical look.  “And I suppose you want to help me decide?”

Jack smiled innocently.  “I will always be happy to help you find whatever looks good on you.”

Jasmine shook her head and smiled.  “Of course you will.”

“What can I say?”  Jack paused to make certain he was projecting his most earnest side to her.  “I’m a helpful guy.”

Jasmine rolled her eyes.

“While you’re being helpful, why do I need a uniform for this?” Natalie asked.

Jack turned back to her with a conniving smile.  “Because once we’re done and walking down the street with Jasmine’s new groove, three of us in dress whites will look so much better than just two of us.”

Natalie raised an eyebrow at him again, letting him know she knew that he wasn’t telling all the truth.

“And because it’ll really help me play up that ‘Jack of Harts’ act,” Jack added with an innocent shrug.  “Honestly, you’d just be helping The War effort.”

“Of course,” Natalie said and rolled her eyes.  “You never change, do you?” she asked and began taking the dress whites off the bed.

“I try not to,” Jack answered.  “It’s so much nicer when the bad guys underestimate me,” he said and turned back to Jasmine with a serious look.  “Are you sure?”

She nodded with a soft smile.  “Yes.”

“It’ll be a whole new world,” Jack said in all seriousness.

She nodded again.  “I know.”

Jack placed a hand on her holoform’s shoulder, making certain not to push hard enough to break through.  “Even the most powerful holoforms are different from a real body.”

She held his hand and smiled.  “I know.”

“You really want this?”  Jack asked and poked her chest.  “For you?  Not anyone else?”

Her smile softened again.  “I will admit to having many reasons,” she said honestly.  “But I do want this.  For me.  And I have for a long time.  I’ve just never…” she trailed off and nodded towards Natalie.  “Well, seeing her makes me want it more now.”

Jack turned to see Natalie slipping her dress shirt on and a fresh pang of loss shredded him.  This would be the last time he watched that.  She froze as she registered his stare and turned her head to look at him with narrowed eyes.  “What?”

“Sorry,” Jack said, suddenly feeling like a peeping tom.  He turned away and tried to clear his throat.  “Nothing.”

“Oh, no,” Natalie corrected.  “That was not a ‘nothing’ stare.  What’s going on?”

Jack frowned but didn’t answer.

Jasmine sighed and cocked her head to the side to look at Natalie.  “What’s going on is that he’s going to miss you.”  Then she winked as Jack’s frown turned into a glare.

Natalie wrapped her arms around him from behind and rested her chin on his shoulder.  Chamomile once more filled his senses and he could have stood right there until the universe went cold and be happy.  “I’ll miss you, too.  But we have different jobs now.  You need to help hold things together here.  And I’m going to help build a better future for all of us.”

Jack sucked in a long breath as his mind made the connection.  Charles had known it would be a bad time to intrude.   “The bastard recruited you.”

He felt her smile press into his shoulder and knew he was right.  “Yes.”

“Remind me to punch him the next time I see him,” Jack said with a sigh.

Natalie hugged him harder.  “It’ll be all good, Jack.”

Jack put a hand on hers and smiled.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was afraid you’d punch him the next time you saw him,” Natalie teased.

Jack had to laugh and patted her hand.  “Touché.”

“You should come see what we’re going to make out there,” Natalie said.

Jack squeezed her hand in promise.  “I will.”

“Good.  Then I think it’s time to go help Jasmine shop for a new body,” Natalie said and stepped away.

Jack scanned her dress whites in appreciation and nodded.  Then he turned to Jasmine with a questioning look.  She nodded back.  “Well then.  I guess it’s time to mix business with pleasure,” Jack said and stepped towards the hatch.

The two cybers just shook their heads and followed him out of his quarters.

2307_angelstrike

2307_angelstrike_chapter8.txt · Last modified: 2018/01/16 05:50 by medron