Aurora: Pegasus (Aurora 2)
He looked up to the dark gray sky and squinted at the rain, cursing the fact that he’d left his umbrella behind at the hotel in Boston. Hunching his shoulders and clasping his collar tight around his throat, he made a dash for the front door as the air-taxi hovered up off the ground and flew away.
The keyless entry enabled quick access to his apartment and he closed the door behind him, breathing a sigh of relief. He was glad to be in from the cold, glad to be back in his sanctuary. His age was showing, he knew it. Once upon a time he thrived on jetting about, speaking at conference after conference and dazzling his audiences with his knowledge and skill, but these days he preferred to dazzle them from the comfort of his own home. One could still hold the attention of thousands, millions, delivering a speech via 3D hologram conference, all the while sitting in one’s slippers with a nice hot cup of tea to hand.
He headed straight down the hall to his bedroom, flicking on the lights as he passed, and placed his suitcase on the foot of his bed. His eyes lingered briefly on Deidre’s side as he felt a sadness befall him. Her death still weighed upon him greatly; his own wife, dying from a cancer he could do nothing to stop. Such a highly-acclaimed surgeon, the best of the best, could do nothing but sit by and watch the best part of his life get sucked away.
Deep down he knew she was better off dead. Not because of the pain the cancer would’ve caused her, but because of the other things that weighed down his mind even more greatly. Things he never dared tell her. Things he could not speak of. The truth was terrifying, and because of this, he told himself it was better to see her go as nature had intended, and not the way she might have done if she’d lived on. Not the way of the horrible truth that he had concealed from her.
Closing his eyes tightly, he caressed his forehead. He needed to forget such thoughts. What he needed now was a hearty meal and a nice hot shower. He heard the bang of the cat-flap and the jingle of Jeanie’s collar. He smiled. The cat was the only company he kept these days. When Deidre had first brought the fluffy black and white kitten home, he hadn’t been too fussed with it. But since his wife’s death he’d grown quite fond of Jeanie. It was like a little piece of Deidre lived on in this fluffball of a cat: keeping him company, snuggling in his lap, never judging him for the choices he’d made.
He walked back down the hall and into the kitchen, flicking on more lights as he went.
“Miss Jeanie? Are you hungry?” he called.
He went to the freezer and pulled out a ready-made meal his housekeeper had left, placed it in hyperwave, then turned to inspect the vase of pink roses standing on the kitchen bench. He was proud of these specimens, although they barely had a day left in them. Being semi-retired had enabled him time to engage in perfecting such pursuits. Deidre’s death had, at least, taught him to value life because of its brevity. He really only continued the odd bit of work to satisfy his ego. Arrogant as it sounded, he was one of the best, so it had been hard to turn his back completely. He liked to keep his finger on the pulse, and knowing the things that he did now, it was paramount that he do so. Especially given the most recent turn of events.
“Miss Jeanie?” he called again, peering into the darkness of the living room, “Where are you, little miss?”
He waited to hear the light pitter-patter of paws on floorboards, the jingling of a bell, but heard nothing. Not even the usual meow hello. He smoothed his fingers back and forth over the limp petals of the rose he’d been inspecting, and looked again into the darkness of the living room.
“Jeanie?” he called again. When he heard no reply, he suddenly grinned to himself. “Are you playing your little stalking game?”
He stepped away from the kitchen counter, taking the vase with him, deciding to put the roses in the bin and pick a fresh bunch tomorrow. Moving slowly toward the living room, his eyes scanned for where that little minx might be hiding, ready to pounce out at him.
“Hiding under the couch are we, Jeanie?” He smiled again. “Going to jump out and attack daddy’s legs are we? Hmm?”
Stopping at the doorway to his living room, he checked to see the front door was still closed as he’d left it when he’d entered, then scanned his eyes in the darkness for her. The weather outside, paired with his thick, blanketing curtains, made it seem as black as midnight, but eventually he saw those glowing little orbs shining at him through the darkness, reflecting the kitchen lights behind him. Jeanie wasn’t under the couch at all. She was sitting in the corner armchair, facing him.
“Miss Jeanie! What are you doing? Are you hungry?” He stepped toward Jeanie, then stopped. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he noticed that she was sitting on something that was itself sitting on the couch. Then suddenly he saw two more glowing eyes shining at him in the blackness. Two eyes that seemed to sit at human height.
His breath caught, and the vase slipped from his grasp, smashing onto the floor at his feet, water splashing up over his already wet trouser cuffs. The lamp beside the armchair clicked on, and there he saw Gray Quint staring back at him, hands firmly around Jeanie’s throat, holding the animal forcibly in his lap.
“What are you doing here?” he blurted at the Jumbo. “How’d you get in?”
“You should pay more attention to your security,” Quint answered, his voice and still-glowing eyes dead of emotion like they always were.
“What do you want?” he asked, trying to control his anger at this gross breach of his privacy.
“What do you think?” Quint stared back. Jeanie’s head roughly bobbed up and down with every heavy-handed stroke Quint gave it, her claws digging into his trousers to keep steady, her face unimpressed.
“I assume you’re here to deliver a message?” the surgeon managed through a tightened jaw.
“Gee, you’re real smart, Surgeon,” Quint stood and tossed Jeanie off to the side. The cat quickly found her feet on the floor and scuttled past her master down the hall to safety. Quint approached him, and despite his fear the surgeon held strong. He would not show these people weakness.
Quint came to a stop right in front of him, eyeing him with those dead, threatening eyes. Those eyes, that he, the surgeon, had created. And as he stared at the Jumbo now, he couldn’t help but admire his own handiwork. They’re magnificent, he thought in awe.
“They invented things like PDPs so we could communicate,” he snipped at Quint. “You know, so we didn’t have to be seen in public together. I told Sharley if I was going to do this, I wanted complete anonymity!”
“We’re not in public. I’m at your house.”
“Yes! You’re at my house!” he hissed. “And how many people saw you come here?”
“No-one.” The Jumbo’s pale-green eyes stared at him. “No-one saw me, ’cos I’m a ghost. I appear, and then I vanish. Just like that.” Quint blew a brief burst of air into the surgeon’s face.
He flicked his face away angrily, “What’s the message?”
“Be ready,” Quint said, staring him down a moment, before heading for the front door, crunching over the broken vase.
“What do you mean, ‘Be ready’?” He held his hands out in question. “You came all this way, you risked detection, to tell me that?”
Quint turned back to him. “Sharley told me to tell you to be ready. So, be ready … Because the next time you see me? It’s game on.”
The surgeon’s breathing suddenly turned a little shallow. “Who’s it going to be this time?”
Quint gave a small, terrifying smile, then turned back for the door. “Don’t go on any holidays now.” He opened the door, bathing the surgeon’s face in the shadowy light from outside, then glanced over his shoulder one last time: “’Cos I’ll find you. Appear … and vanish. Remember that.”
With that, the Jumbo closed the door behind him, shrouding the surgeon once again in complete and utter darkness.
Aurora: Pegasus-Chapter One: Carrie Welles
Corporal Carrie Welles was in a very dark place. Walking along a blackened corridor, she tried to see what lay ahead, but couldn’t. She slid her hands along the wall to guide her way forward, her breathing the only sound to cut through the thick silence that surrounded her. Suddenly, she saw something shining in the distance. She hesitated, but then decided to make her way to it, crossing the corridor to touch the other wall. She continued to slide her hands along the smooth, hard, shiny surface until it seemed to change texture. It was still smooth, but somewhat softer, and undulating. She moved her face closer to the surface to try and get a better look, then felt a slight wind in her face … or was that breath? She tilted her head in the direction it came from and saw two eyes gleaming down at her. She froze. Her eyes darted back to her hands and saw they were resting on a man’s chest. She looked at the eyes as they moved toward her, when a patch of light appeared and revealed the face.
“CHET!” she cried, lashing out.
“Ugh! Jesus!” she heard a voice call out.
Lights suddenly pierced her eyes and she felt her hand hurting. She squinted through the brightness and saw Doc throwing back the sheets, his hand over his face and his naked form making a beeline for the bathroom. Had she been asleep? Dreaming?
“Fuck!” Doc’s voice spat.
She looked about, dazed, threw her sheets back, and moved naked in the cool air toward the bathroom. She saw Doc leaning over the basin, examining his bleeding nose. His brown eyes caught hers in the mirror and they were angry.
“I—I’m sorry. Was that me?” she said, moving up behind him and placing her hands on his shoulders.
He didn’t answer, but leaned over and began to rinse the blood away.
“Are you okay?” she asked as he straightened up to examine his nose again. More blood dribbled down and he grabbed some tissues and held them under it. Upset by what she’d done, she gently squeezed his arm and he looked over at her.
“Chet? Again!” he asked, his voice tight.
Carrie looked down at her hand holding his arm, then back at his face. “They’re dreams, Dan, I can’t control them.”
“Carrie, they’re dreams you’re having almost every night. This is the second time I’ve copped a blow trying to wake you from them. It’s got to stop.”
“I know … I don’t know where they’re coming from.”
“Then call that number Harris gave you! It’s got to stop!” He threw the tissues into the bin and pushed past her to head back to bed. He climbed in, and threw the sheets over himself.
She stood in the doorway watching him for a moment, then slowly made her way back to the other side of the bed and climbed in. As soon as she was in, he reached up and turned off the light. As she lay there she felt a lump begin to gather in her throat. It upset her to see Doc hurt. This man she loved more than anyone else she’d ever known. She hated to think that he could be angry with her. She looked over at him, lying with his back turned, purposely facing away from her. She slowly moved up behind him and slid her arms beneath his, hugging him, pressing her naked body against his.
“I’m sorry.” She softly kissed his back.
“Just call that number,” he said, the anger gone from his voice. “I can’t stand watching you have these dreams any longer.”
“I know,” she whispered.
They laid there for a moment in silence, before Doc rolled over onto his back and she adjusted herself to snuggle into his side. She could just make out his silhouette, and saw him looking at her.
“Chet’s dead, right?” she whispered as though thinking aloud. “So why do I keep dreaming about him? Why am I dreaming like this at all? So frequently, so fluidly? It’s weird.”
“I have no idea. If I did, then my nose wouldn’t be throbbing right now.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, reaching up to kiss him on the lips, careful not to knock his nose while she did so.
“Just call that number,” he said softly, then rolled away from her again.
She lay there watching him, and thought about the psych card that Captain Harris gave her at the Darwin mission’s farewell drinks. She remembered he’d scrawled his number on the card too. Whether he was just doing his job or whether he could sense something was up, she didn’t know. But she’d been having these dreams on and off since the Aurora left Station Darwin after what had been her first mission on Space Duty for the UNF. A classified mission she’d not only wanted to forget, but had been ordered to forget. Yet these dreams would not let her.
She rolled onto her back and sighed quietly. She didn’t want these dreams to interfere with what she had going with Doc. To a certain degree she’d risked her career to be with him, although that said, so had he. She’d wanted to stay on with the Aurora team, but she knew deep down that it wasn’t an option once they started sleeping together. As soon as the Darwin debrief had finished, she’d felt compelled to go to his hotel and find out if he felt the same way. He did, they fell into bed, and had not much been out of it since.
Once the Aurora team had split up and gone their separate ways on leave, Doc had stayed in her apartment in Fort Centralis for a couple of days as they continued their clandestine affair. She’d never felt so insatiable as she had done those first few days: whether it was just that they were so damn glad to be alive or not, she didn’t know, but the intensity of those feelings had surprised her. No man had ever consumed her mind as much as he had. No man had ever so much as touched her heart before, yet Doc had somehow swooped right in and stolen it clean from her chest.
After those first few days were up, Carrie knew she had to go see her father. He was expecting her visit and she had a lot to thank him for. She was sure it had been his connections as a retired UNF colonel, an ‘Original,’ that had ensured the Aurora team a fair hearing during the Darwin debrief. After all, on the face of it, the Aurora team had been responsible for the deaths of seven UNF scientists. In reality, they weren’t just scientists. They were also in the UNF Advanced Soldier Program (UNFASP); they had become part human-part animal beings dubbed ‘Jumbos,’ and they were very, very adept at killing.
So Doc went home to Colorado to see his family and Carrie went to visit her father at his holiday villa in Sarasota, Florida. When her father first saw her, he gave her a big hug which he had not done in a long time. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time. Actually, she couldn’t remember the last time he’d showed strong emotion of any kind. He seemed so grateful to see her, grateful to have her home safe. The last time he’d seen her had been over a transmission from the Aurora on its way back to Earth, when her face had been quite bruised and swollen, the result of a fractured skull from the Jumbo attacks. Naturally, it didn’t take long before her father’s curiosity got the better of him, and once she’d settled into her room, the questions began.
“You gonna tell me about it?” he’d asked, standing in the doorway, arms folded, eyeing her carefully. She smiled at the fact that he’d never lost his Australian accent despite spending six months of the year living in the States.
“I can’t, Dad. The mission’s classified,” she answered, her own Australian accent still firmly in place as well. Whenever she was around her father, it seemed to get stronger.
“I’d like to know what I put my neck on the line for.”
Carrie gave him an empathetic look, eyeing the gray strands scattered through his hair, the lines around his blue-gray eyes. Although he was still solid in stature, she could see that age was catching up with him.
“But I guess I understand why you can’t tell me,” he’d added, reluctantly.
“It’s best if you don’t know, Dad. The further you stay away from it, the better.”
“What on earth did you get yourself into?” he asked quietly, shaking his head.
“Whatever it was, it’s over now. That’s all you need to know.”
They eyed each other for a moment, before he shook his head again. “The UNF is not a life I want for my daughter, Ree, my only child.”
“I’ll handle the UNF, Dad. You taught me that much; to stand on my own two feet.”
“Nobody handles the UNF, Ree.”
“Well, we did this time. So, thank you,” she told him. “For all that you did. Whatever you did … Who helped us? Was it Edgely?”
“It’s best if you don’t know,” he repeated her words.
She’d wanted to push him for information, but didn’t. She couldn’t tell him her side, and he couldn’t tell her his. She understood. He took her chin and turned her face to get a better look at the stitches that ran between her left brow and left cheekbone.
“That’s some blow. It’s going to scar, you know that?” he’d said.
She’d nodded. Doc had told her that when he’d stitched her up on the ship.
Carrie stared at her father again, and as the silence sat between them, couldn’t help but sense the awkwardness. After all, she’d spent more of her life away from him than with him. The only thing they really had in common right now was the UNF. And genetics. They were the only family each other had.
“C’mon,” he told her, “let’s get something to eat.”
She’d spent the time with her father as family, rather than as fellow soldiers … he packed the ex-colonel demeanor away for most of it, and she likewise her corporal. It was a strange sensation, but a welcome one. They lazed about in the sun together, dined at nice restaurants overlooking the ocean, and even found time to catch a game of Australian Football League in an obscure pub he had found. She felt so far removed from Station Darwin, it was hard to imagine it even existed, floating out there somewhere in space.
Although it was somewhat surreal to be spending this quality time with her old man, their conversations never ran deep. Jeffrey Welles was a soldier through and through, always on guard. There was no place for emotive displays when you were an ex-colonel. You had to be tough and always in control. And he always was. Even though he was playing “father” this trip, he couldn’t quite stop his colonel’s eyes from watching her carefully, analyzing her, and maybe, just maybe, even judging her.
So while she spent the next several days reconnecting with her father, Doc was never far from her mind, and it seemed she wasn’t far from his either, as he called her a couple of times. And a few days before she was thinking about moving on, he’d called again.
“Hey, how’re you doing?” The sound of his voice made her smile.
“I’m good. I’m good. So, you’re due to leave your old man in a few days, huh?”
“You decided where you’re going yet?”
“I thought maybe I’d go check some of the outstations and see what work is going.”
“Yeah? So, you’re going to turn down Harris’s offer to return to the Aurora?” His voice turned serious.
“I don’t know yet. I don’t know if I can—if I could, go back now, after what’s happened,” she’d thought aloud.
“Well, if it’s what you want … I wouldn’t stand in your way. Harris doesn’t need to know what’s happened between us. In fact, it’s best he doesn’t,” he’d said with a kind, gentle voice.
“But if I went back on, this would have to stop, and …” Her voice drifted off.
Doc was quiet for a moment, then sighed, “Yeah.”
“So how’s Colorado? How’s the snow?” she said, changing the subject.
“Well, actually, that’s why I’m calling.”
“You’ve never been here, right? To Colorado?”
“Would you like to?” His words released another smile from her.
“Go to Colorado?”
“Yeah. Why don’t you come and visit? I’ll take you skiing. You ski?”
Carrie had let out a laugh. “No. There’s no snow where I come from.”
“Well, there’s a first time for everything.” She could hear him grinning over the phone. “I used to be a ski instructor, you know?”
“Mm-hmm,” Carrie nodded, smiling to herself. “Rich, bored housewives, right?”
Doc laughed. “I never said that!”
“No, Sergeant Brown did, I believe. Same with the barmaids in Hawaii, too, right?”
“Now, now. I see I’m going to have to ensure that Brown doesn’t take creative license with what I tell him in future.”
“Anyway, corporal …” He changed the subject “What do you say?”
Carrie couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face. “I’d love to, Snowflake!”
Doc laughed. “Snowflake” was the nickname First Sergeant Farris Carter had given him on the Aurora, due to his spotless record and general all-round good guy personality. It also just happened to fit in nicely with that fact that he was a Colorado native, and once the State’s junior ski champion.
“Great,” he’d said. “Send through your flight details and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“Okay, I will. See you in a few days.”
And when those few days were up, she’d said goodbye to her father. He had not been keen to let her go.
“Where are you going to? What are you going to do?” he’d asked.
“I’m going to visit a friend in Colorado and then I’m going to look for work on one of the outstations,” she’d told him.
“Back in space?” he said, his brow furrowed.
“Well, there’re plenty of jobs on Earth Duty, why don’t you just apply—”
“Dad,” she’d interrupted, “I can’t leave just yet.”
She thought for a moment, but couldn’t find the words. All she pictured was Harris’s face telling the team to play good little soldiers for the UNF. “You know Space Duty is invitation only,” she told her father. “You know it’s an honor. I applied for Space Duty because I wanted to serve. My first mission was rough, but I’m not prepared to turn my back just yet. You taught me not to give up so easy, remember? Besides, right now I’m only talking about going to work on one of the cargo docks.”
“Well, why don’t you want to go back on the Aurora then, if Space Duty is what you want? If you’re just going to work a cargo dock, you might as well do that on Earth.”
“I—I don’t know,” she’d stammered. “I just need to figure this out for myself, alright?” She couldn’t tell her father the truth about the Darwin mission, and she certainly wasn’t ready to explain the situation with Doc to him.
Her father gave her a concerned look, but said nothing. For once he was keeping his opinion to himself. She stepped up on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek.
“I’ll be in touch,” she’d told him.
He’d nodded a stern colonel’s nod, then silently watched her leave.
When she arrived at the airport in Colorado to meet Doc, she was feeling a little nervous. It had only been a couple of weeks, but she was curious as to how things would be, now they were seeing each other again.
When she made it to the arrivals area, she spotted him through the crowd. His beautiful brown eyes looked pleased when they caught sight of her. He smiled and waved, and she made her way over to him.
They exchanged a greeting, and he kissed her on the cheek, touching her arm as did.
“Let me take that,” he’d said, grabbing her bags. “My truck’s out front.”
They walked in silence, stealing glances, as they made their way to his truck, loaded up her bags, and hopped in.
“So, you have a good flight?” he asked, as the engine kicked in and he began to make his way out of the car park. His truck was sleek and shiny, one of the new programmable models, which she noticed he had set for snow conditions.
“Yeah, flight was good. Barely an hour to it,” she chuckled, looking over at him.
He eyed her briefly. “Bruises are gone, I see. I almost forgot what you looked like without them! Scar looks alright, too,” he said in a quieter, more serious tone.
Carrie nodded as her smile faded. “You did a good job, lieutenant.” She looked out the window at the mountains in the distance, covered in fresh white snow.
Doc leaned forward and turned the heat on. “It’s a little crisp out, today.”
Carrie grinned and chuckled to herself.
“What?” he asked glancing between her and the road ahead.
“So. This is Snowflake’s hometown, huh?”
“Yes, it is,” he smiled, then pointed out the window to his right. “That’s the main ski run there, although it’s still a little early for the season.”
“Yeah?” She looked over at a rather steep slope with a few tiny figures shooting down it.
“Yeah, don’t worry, I won’t be taking you on that one,” he said, shaking his head and laughing to himself.
She looked over at him. “You never know, I might surprise you, Doc.”
“All the same, Welles, I’m on leave from all medical practice.” He shot her a grin, then leaned forward to click on the radio.
After a while of driving and soaking up the views as they headed out of town up into the mountains, Carrie turned back to Doc. “So, where are we staying?”
“My folks’ lodge.”
Doc nodded, glancing over at her.
Carrie studied him a moment. “And your folks will be there?”
Doc nodded again and smiled “It’s okay, they don’t bite.”
Carrie blushed and looked out the window again. She should’ve realized that he’d be staying with his family, but she was surprised that she would be meeting them after so short a time. After all, she’d only known him about a month. She tried to wrap her mind around the contrast with her own decision to keep Doc a secret from her father.
“Wow,” she commented, when they arrived at the large rustic lodge his parents owned, perched just meters from a cliff edge, overlooking the town below.
“Pretty special, ain’t it?” he said, taking her bags, as she climbed out of the truck.
She turned to help him, but he shook his head. “I got it. This way.”
They entered the house through a side door and made their way through a kitchen that had large windows capturing the sprawling views. He began to climb a set of stairs, glancing around to make sure she was following. They ascended and came to a room at the end of the hall. He entered and placed her bags on the bed and she followed him in, automatically moving to the window to look outside and take in more of the view. After a second or two she turned around to see Doc standing there watching her.
“It’s beautiful. I can see why you come home when you’re on leave,” she said to him.
“No place like it in the world,” he smiled, “or the UNF Space Zone for that matter.”
She flashed him a smile of acknowledgment, just as they heard a woman’s voice call from downstairs: “Daniel, is that you?”
“Yeah,” he called back, then turned back to Carrie. “Come on.”
They made their way down the stairs and saw a woman she assumed to be his mother, standing in the kitchen, making a pot of coffee. She turned around and watched them descend.
“Well, hi there!” the woman smiled. She was attractive, with very few wrinkles around her blue eyes, and silver-blonde hair down to her shoulders. Strangely enough though, she looked nothing like Doc.
“Ma, this is Carrie Welles,” said Doc.
“Hi, Carrie. It’s lovely to meet you,” she said, holding out her hand for Carrie to shake.
“Likewise. You have a beautiful home, Mrs Walker,” Carrie said taking her hand.
“Oh, please, call me Ellen.” She smiled, then turned around to the counter. “You want a coffee, or maybe a tea? I’ve just made a pot?”
“Er, maybe one to go,” Doc answered. “I thought I’d give Carrie a tour of the town before it gets dark.”
“Okay,” Ellen said, reaching for an electro-flask, filling it with piping hot coffee and handing it to Doc. “Will you be in for dinner?”
Doc shot Carrie a glance and nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
Ellen bid them farewell, and Doc moved past Carrie with the flask, flashing his keys, as he made his way back to the truck. Carrie thought Ellen seemed quite relaxed about her visit. She figured that could mean one of two things. Either Doc did this quite often so she was used to it, or he didn’t do this often and she was trying hard not to make a big deal out of it. Carrie was hoping it was the latter.
That afternoon he’d taken her for a cruise around town, pointing out all the “Snowflake” sites at Carrie’s request; such as his school, where he used to play baseball, where he had his first kiss. To finish off, he took her to his family’s secret lookout, dubbed “Brody’s Ridge” after a rather colorful ancestor of Doc’s. Brody had been quite the world traveler and a discoverer of out-of-the-way places, a man who’d lived life to the full and apparently built the lodge that Doc’s parents now resided in.
Brody’s Ridge was not too far from the lodge, and he’d timed it perfectly for them to watch the sunset over the mountains. They pulled up close to the edge of the lookout. Doc got out and walked around to the front of his truck, leaning against it, placing the electro-flask of coffee on the hood. Carrie followed, taking a seat up on the slick hood and tucking the heel of her shoes behind the bumper.
They sat there in silence for a while, just soaking up the views and inhaling the cold, crisp fresh air. They watched as the rocky cliffs, covered in white snow, slowly turned a fluorescent pink in the sun’s dying rays. It was peaceful, and it was all theirs. There wasn’t another person in sight.
She looked over at Doc and studied his face. Somehow in all this snow he still managed to have a tan that complemented his dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Carrie smiled to herself, then felt a shiver run up her spine. He looked over at her curiously.
She shrugged. “Unfortunately, my wardrobe is based on Florida weather.”
He grinned back. “I was wondering how long it would take you to admit you’re cold. I see your stubbornness is still intact?”
“I can handle it, lieutenant,” she said, putting her nose up in the air, jokingly
“You know …” he said slowly, taking the flask and placing it on the ground, then sliding up on the hood alongside her, “it’s a well-known fact that the best way to warm up is through body heat.”
She saw him flashing her a cheeky grin and laughed. “Is this what you said to those rich, bored housewives?”
He chuckled back, shaking his head. “No.”
She gave him a teasing smile, while he did his best to ignore it.
“So are you cold or not, corporal? Would you like my jacket?”
She upped her teasing smile to a sexy one. “Well, if you think that body heat works better?”
He looked at her a moment, his eyes falling to her mouth, “Are your lips cold?” His line was cheesy, but she couldn’t help the big smile that erupted. Her face then softened and she nodded. His eyes drifted down to her mouth again. “Maybe I should start with them, then …” His voice trailed off as he leaned over slowly and kissed her, soft and warm. After a moment, he pulled back a little. “How’s that?”
Carrie smiled. “That’s a start,” she said softly.
Doc grinned and leaned in again, as Carrie brought her hand up to his face.
“Jesus!” he said, grabbing both her hands to hold them between his and rub them. “They’re like ice!”
“Mm-hmm. You better help me quick, Doc.” Carrie moved to kiss him.
Doc held both her hands, trying to warm them, as they continued to kiss with growing fervor. After a few moments, Carrie pulled her hands free of the lieutenant’s and ran them up over his arms and around his neck. Keeping their mouths connected, Doc slid off the truck’s hood, and moved to stand facing her. She placed her legs either side of him, welcoming the opportunity for their bodies to meet. He ran his hands over her legs and around her back, pulling her tightly against him, and she curled her legs over his hips in response, as their mouths continued to explore the other’s.
Through the cold, their heavy breathing sent wisps of foggy air swirling about them. Carrie couldn’t help but think how she didn’t notice the cold anymore with Doc pressed firmly against her. Just as he began to move her backward to lie on the hood, they heard the screeching of tyres, the honking of a horn and voices yelling out at them.
“YEAH! GO FOR IT!
“GIVE IT TO HER! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Carrie and Doc stopped and looked up to see a bunch of teenagers driving past, hanging out of the car, waving and laughing.
“DON’T STOP! GO FOR IT! WOOOOOO-hoooooooooo!” they continued as they drove off.
She looked back at Doc and they burst out laughing. She playfully smacked him across the shoulder. “I can’t believe we just got honked by a car full of teenagers at the town lookout!”
He shrugged. “I guess this place isn’t as secret as I remember it.”
After a few moments their laughing slowly died down. Carrie’s body gave way to another shiver, and Doc pulled back from her, sliding her off the hood of the truck.
“C’mon, let’s get back to the lodge before you get pneumonia,” he said, taking off his jacket and putting it around her shoulders.
They drove back to the lodge mostly in silence, glancing over at each other and occasionally bursting into laughter as they thought of the car full of teenagers again.
That evening they joined his parents for dinner. When his father, David, joined them, she saw straightaway where Doc got his looks from. He was the image of his father. She smiled to herself at the opportunity to glimpse what Doc would look like in the years to come.
As they began to eat a lovely roast, Ellen took charge of the conversation.
“So, Carrie,” she started. “That scar looks pretty new? Did you get that on the Aurora?”
Carrie nodded. “Yeah, but Doc stitched me up. He did a good job.”
Ellen took Carrie’s face in her hands and eyed the scar carefully. “I always told him he should’ve been a surgeon. He’s got good hands, my boy.”
Carrie shot Doc a look and he smiled to himself.
“So, you must’ve got a concussion with that?” Ellen continued.
“Yeah, and a fracture.”
“Yeah? You been getting any headaches, honey?”
“Ma,” Doc intervened, “it’s under control.”
Ellen shot him a glance, then looked back at Carrie. “I’m sorry, honey, I guess I can’t take the GP out of the girl. So how did it happen, anyway?”
“Er …” Carrie was unsure of what to tell her exactly. “It was a surprise attack from behind. It was dark.”
“Yeah? You know, I have to say it’s hard to imagine you out there alongside the Aurora soldiers. You look too small and fragile. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great, though.”
Carrie smiled. “I’m a sharpshooter.”
“You must be pretty good?”
“She beat James McKinley on the range,” Doc answered for her.
“Yeah?” Ellen’s eyes lit up. “Bet he wasn’t too thrilled about that?”
“Not really.” Carrie smiled self-assuredly.
Ellen smiled too, but then seemed to pause for a moment. She glanced at Carrie’s scar again, as a concerned look crossed her face. “I know something bad happened out there. I know how to read my son, but he won’t tell me.” Her eyes searched Carrie’s as though seeking answers.
Doc shot Carrie a glance as if to warn her not to say anything. “It’s classified, Ma. You know the drill,” he answered for her again.
Ellen studied him with motherly eyes, then turned back to Carrie. “He never tells me about his missions. I know it’s because he doesn’t want me to worry, but not telling me makes me worry even more.”
Doc’s father decided to change the topic of conversation, “So, are you a keen skier, Carrie?”
She flashed Doc a look and saw him trying not to smile, “Er, no. I’ve actually never been skiing before.”
“Well, you’ve come to right place to learn. Lucky Dan here used to be a ski instructor, and probably even luckier, too, that he’s a medic. Sounds like both could come in handy,” he said with a warm smile.
“Oh, David!” Ellen said. “I’m sure Carrie can handle herself. If she can handle those guys on the Aurora, then she can handle anything.”
After dinner, they sat in the living room beside a log fire and she listened to them talking about the town, its history, and the latest news on the townsfolk. Carrie noticed a frame-screen on the wall displaying a slide show of family pictures and took a closer look at them. There were a few of Doc’s brothers. The younger one, Ben, looked most like his mother, sandy-haired and blue-eyed, although Ellen said he was the spitting image of his grandfather. His older brother, John, was half and half. He had his mother’s face, but his father’s dark hair and dark eyes, like Doc. As Carrie had imagined, they were good-looking. They all had the “Snowflake” genes.
Doc seemed to blush as she giggled at his childhood photos and decided to excuse them both and move upstairs. She showered first, then sat by the window soaking up the night view of the town’s lights twinkling in the distance.
“Not bad at night either, huh?” he said, standing by the door in a pair of gray sweatpants and motioning out the window.
“No, it’s not,” she said, overtly checking out his torso.
He smiled. “I was referring to the view.”
“So was I.”
His eyes washed over her too, then he stepped inside and closed the door. She moved over to the bed, looking at him curiously.
“Are your folks cool with this?”
“With what?” he said turning on the lamp and flicking off the room light.
“This? Us?” she said, motioning to the bed.
Doc looked at her as though she was crazy. “Carrie, I’m thirty-four years old. Besides, my parents are pretty liberal. Believe me, you have no idea!” He smiled at her as he pulled back the sheets on the bed and lay down.
She crawled in the other side as he rolled over to face her, resting his head up on his hand.
“So, are you telling me the colonel doesn’t let you bring strange men home to bed?” he teased.
“Oh god, are you kidding? My father? I’m pretty sure the colonel still thinks I’m a virgin!”
Doc chuckled as he reached out and pulled Carrie closer to him. “You’d better not tell him about this then.” He leaned forward and kissed her. There was no gentle start this time. Carrie soaked it up for all it was worth, as their legs entwined. She reveled in the smell of him and the feeling of having him close. She pulled herself on top of him, rolling him onto his back, then leaned down and kissed him, as she reached up to turn off the lamp. The room plunged into darkness, but only briefly. Before too long the bright Colorado moon shone through the sheer curtains draped over the window, bathing them in moonlight.
Carrie lay catching her breath, relishing the feeling of Doc’s body as it covered hers in warmth. He moved his face to hers, brushing his lips lazily across her cheek and they kissed again. The lieutenant pulled his face away and they stared at each other.
“Doc?” she asked quietly, running her fingers over his lips.
“You should probably start calling me Dan now,” he said, leaning down to kiss her neck.
“Isn’t this where you say ‘Welcome to Colorado’?” she whispered, breaking into a cheeky smile.
He chuckled quietly back. “No. This is where you say ‘I think I’m going to love Colorado.’”
Carrie smiled, stroking his face. “I think I’m going to love Colorado.”
She managed not to have one of her nightmares in the whole four days and three nights she was there. It was a welcome relief. Chet, Logan, Sharley and the Darwin were the furthest things from her mind. She couldn’t have imagined a better place to escape it all, and she fought the urge to stay there and hide forever.
On their last night they went to the lookout again, at Brody’s Ridge, and sat silently watching the sunset. She was snuggled against Doc’s side, her arms wrapped around his, their fingers interlocked. She tried to savor the moment: his smell, his warmth, his contented smile. It gave her pause to think about the feelings washing over her. She knew it was a crazy thought to have after such a short time but if she wasn’t mistaken, she was very swiftly falling head over heels in love with him.
When it came time to leave, Ellen gave her a hug and said that she looked forward to seeing her again. She sounded sure that she would, and it gave Carrie a warm feeling inside. Doc’s father simply shook her hand and said that it was lovely to meet her, and they waved them off as Doc drove her to the airport.
“So,” Carrie began, “Ellen and David are nice. I like them.”
Doc smiled. “Yeah, me too.”
“You’re lucky, you know. To have a family like that.” She couldn’t help the sadness her voice carried, as thoughts of her mother’s death and her distant father swirled around her head.
Doc glanced at her curiously, noticing the dip in mood. “Pegasus first up?” he asked, as though redirecting her thoughts.
“Yeah, I’ve never been there. It seems a good place to start.” She looked over at him. “Being based on a station can’t be too bad, can it?”
He shrugged, watching the road ahead. “I did some time on both Inca 2 and Magellan, and they were fine.” He glanced over at her. “Are you sure you don’t want to come back on the Aurora?”
Carrie sighed. “Well … I do. I know I clashed with Captain Harris at the start, but I think I could learn a lot from him. But I don’t think we can do it, can we?”
Doc shrugged. “It’s possible. It all comes down to that poker face. It wouldn’t be easy.”
“Harris is going to want to know why, if I don’t go back.” She glanced at him again.
Doc nodded. “And he’ll kick my ass if he finds out the reason why!”
“Surely he realizes it takes two to tango though, right?”
“It doesn’t matter, corporal. I’m your senior officer and second-in-command on the ship. It’ll look very bad if I’m caught sleeping with a subordinate, particularly when it’s a small crew. Not to mention me being the ship’s medic, of course.” Doc glanced over at her, then back at the road. “It could actually have quite a negative impact on my career if it got out. I could kiss any promotions goodbye. Although if the captain found out, I know he wouldn’t make anything formal of it. He’d just get one of us off the ship asap.”
Carrie thought about this for a moment. “Probably best if I give Pegasus a look first, then?”
Doc smiled gently. “Yeah. It might be worth a look.”
When they got to the airport, they said their goodbyes. She told him once she was settled she’d contact him. They made no plans, they were just going to play it by ear. She felt content though, as he hugged her tightly in the departure hall. It was honest, it was firm and it felt like he didn’t want to let her go. His kiss lingered and when she glanced back at him, his eyes smiled warmly at hers as she walked away.
She caught a tourist shuttle and made her way back into space, to Station Pegasus. This being only her second trip into space, she still wasn’t quite used to the Earth launch and suffered from a little “space-gut.” She packed away her stubbornness in time, though, and visited the ship’s medic for an anti-nausea shot, not wanting to repeat the vomiting episode of her first takeoff on the Aurora.
The express shuttle took two days to reach the station, and when it finally appeared in the observation window she carefully examined the place that would be her home for the near future. It looked, on approach, like a silver spinning top, with a round bulbous body, encircled by large rings, and a long central shaft extending beneath it. Positioned off Mars, it was part UNF military base, part administration hub serving the two civilian colonies—Elon and Brahe—located in the southern hemisphere of Mars, along with the maximum security prison dubbed “Hell Town” in the northern hemisphere.
Although she’d not had it confirmed, she was sure that Hell Town was now the place Sharley called home after being imprisoned by the UNF for what had happened on Station Darwin. Thankfully, Hell Town was quite some distance from Pegasus and she need not worry, as the prison itself was impenetrable and impossible to escape from. She had to admit, it gave her peace of mind to know that Sharley could do no harm now.
Within a few hours of landing on Pegasus, she’d lined up a trial at the local cargo docks and found a one-bedroom apartment to rent on one of the civilian levels of the station, not wanting to reside on the UNF base in the sub-levels. Although she normally kept her father’s previous position a secret, she used it to her advantage this trip. Considering the UNF controlled most things in space, it was always viewed favorably that her father was a retired UNF Space Duty colonel, and an Original at that. He’d been one of the first soldiers to work toward colonizing space, and that carried a real sense of legend with it. The legend had worked for her that day; the apartment was modern, it was clean, and the location was great, tucked away in Pegasus’s trendy French Quarter, not far from a strip of cafes and bars.
Her trial at the docks went well, and she took up contract employment, starting immediately. She liked the fact that she wasn’t locked into any term. Deep down she knew there was every chance she was going to get bored with this job. She was a trained sharpshooter, on top of her game, and overseeing the CargoBots as they shifted cargo on and off ships was bound to lose its appeal before too long.
So, she’d worked for about a week, spending the time on her own trying to decide whether it was the right fit for her. She’d spoken with Doc every couple of days by transmission, which was good in that she got to see his beautiful smile and warm brown eyes again, but bad in that it made her miss him even more. By the end of that first week, she’d asked him to visit her and he told her he’d be there in a few days.
Those few days were the longest of her life, making her realize two things. Firstly, that dock work was not challenging enough to tie up her thoughts elsewhere, and secondly, just how much of her mind was consumed with thoughts of Doc.
“Nice place,” he’d said upon looking around her Pegasus apartment.
“Yeah, I like it,” she said. “It’s a good location too. There’s a great little bar not far from here called Nectar. I’m a regular now.”
“You’ll have to take me there so I can buy you a drink,” he said walking up to her, sliding his arms around her back and lifting her up off the floor to plant a kiss on her mouth.
“I have a surprise for you,” She smiled teasingly at him once they’d come up for air.
“Yeah, what’s that?” he said, putting her back down on the floor.
She turned around, pushed her butt toward him and slid the top of her combat pants down to expose her left cheek.
“Your ass is my surprise?” he asked, amused, sliding his hand over it.
“Look closely, doctor,” she grinned.
He bent down and examined it, running his hand over a faint bruise. “Is that a needle mark? You had a shot?”
She stood up and turned around to face him. “I had the shot.” She gave him her best sexy smile and watched as his face slowly lit up.
“My fertility is on pause. Indefinitely.” She winked at him.
Doc smiled, then he bent slightly to scoop her up in his arms, forcing a surprised laugh out of her.
“What the hell are we waiting for then?” he said, carrying her off to the bedroom.
His visit became somewhat permanent, as three weeks passed and he was still there with her. They’d quickly gotten into a little routine of morning runs, a little target practice after Carrie got off work, and regular visits to Nectar where Doc was swiftly becoming a favorite with the bar staff. During the days he amused himself around the civilian areas, and even took a couple of day trips to the colonies on Mars to kill some time.
With each passing week, they came to know each other more, and Carrie only seemed to fall deeper. One night she’d blurted out how happy she was, and how she didn’t think she’d ever been happier. This caught him by surprise, but he quickly admitted that he hadn’t been this happy for a long time either. They’d exchanged stories about past loves. Carrie confessed that she didn’t think she’d ever really been in love before. Doc was the opposite. It turned out his reputation as a ladies’ man was by and large true. His list of exes was rather extensive in comparison to Carrie’s, although he’d argued that it was hard to be in a long-term relationship when he was out in space for months on end.
She’d heard the story of his first love, Jenny. He was 21 and she was a nurse who’d worked at the hospital he’d trained in. He was head over heels and thought he was going to marry her. But it was not to be. She’d died in a bus crash in South America while on holiday with her friends—a trip he was supposed to join her on, but had canceled at the last minute due to his studies. He’d been utterly devastated by the loss of her, and it had taken him a long time to move on from that.
Carrie shared stories of her not-so-good exes, her love life the complete opposite, a negative image of Doc’s rather happy and positive one. She’d playfully hit him and asked why he hadn’t come into her life sooner. He simply smiled and said, “Well, I’m here now.”
As the weeks and days began to slowly dwindle toward the date they knew the Aurora would be heading out again, Carrie noted they both started to become a little anxious. And sure enough, the dreams began to slowly creep back in.
The first one she had on Pegasus was the first she’d had since Florida. Earlier that night they had discussed the fact that Harris would be calling soon, wanting her answer, and this had led to discussions about the Darwin and Sharley.
“You been thinking about them?” Carrie asked Doc.
He nodded. “Yeah, from time to time. It’ll be hard going back on the Aurora without them. We had a good team. It worked … they shouldn’t have died. I know it comes with the territory of what we do, but that should not have happened.”
Carrie nodded sympathetically. “We’re lucky it wasn’t worse. And we’re lucky it was only a small contingent within the UNF that betrayed us.”
He looked at her with skepticism. “We shouldn’t drop our guard just yet. We need to stay alert.”
“Who were you closest to? Who are you going to miss the most?”
Doc shrugged. “It was a small team, so we all knew each other pretty well … Carter had been there the longest, though. We occasionally saw each other off duty.”
Carrie thought about the scar across Doc’s belly from an earlier mission on the Aurora, and remembered that Carter had been the one to stitch him up.
“Who’s going to stitch you now?” she asked absently, sliding her hand across his stomach.
He placed his hand on top of hers. “I don’t know.”
That night, Doc had woken her from sleep to say she’d been talking about Chet and that she’d seemed freaked. She blew it off, implying that their discussion earlier in the evening had brought things to the surface. The next night, however, she had another one. This time she’d dreamt of Logan and when Doc tried to wake her she’d landed a swift elbow to his ribs, bruising him. Again she passed it off as nothing, but she could see concern in Doc’s eyes.
“Are you sure?” he’d asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine. You know how stupid dreams can be!”
“But if something’s on your mind?”
“No, I never think about it.”
“Never?” His eyes were disbelieving.
She shrugged. “I try to forget, if anything.”
“You could use that card Harris gave you.”
“I’m fine, Dan, really.” She shook her head and smiled.
He didn’t smile back. “They say dreams … nightmares … are your subconscious escaping. That means there’s something on your mind that you’re not dealing with.”
“Dan, really, I’m fine.”
He’d decided not to argue with her, but Carrie could tell he wasn’t convinced.
And so, as the time got closer to Harris’s call, the dreams continued to come. Most of them she brushed off as the usual weirdness of dreams, but there were others where she was very vocal and these she could not hide from Doc. In fact, he’d told her that he’d gotten to the point where, as soon as she started talking in her sleep, he was wide awake and listening. And with each dream, Doc’s concern grew.
“Carrie, it’s not normal! Something is going on,” he’d argued.
She looked at him with no argument to fire back.
“Why don’t you try telling me about them?” he asked.
“Dan, I don’t know why I’m having them. How can I talk to you about them? Chet’s fucking dead, I don’t know why I’d dream about him!”
“Then use that number Harris gave you. That’s what they do. You gotta get this stuff out of your head so you can move on.”
“I know, I know. If I have anymore, I’ll call them, I promise.”
“Jesus, you’re stubborn!”
Luckily for her, she went a couple of nights without them. That is, of course, until the night she socked Doc in the nose. They were at seven weeks. Exactly one week to go until the Aurora was due to set sail again.
Before they can rise victorious, they must first descend into hell.
Captain Saul Harris of the UNF Aurora gets the call he does not want to receive. Forced to pull his team back together and go hunt down and capture old enemies, he finds himself faced with a whole new terror.
He thought the Darwin mission was over, but all those unanswered questions are beginning to haunt him.
Corporal Carrie Welles has no choice but to rejoin the Aurora crew and help her captain finish what they started. But is this mission as straightforward as it seems? Is she really prepared for the fight of her life?
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Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can still swoon with the best of them. She moved to Perth (Western Australia) to …