By: M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec
sir," she said then yawned tiredly.
Snuggling down into the blankets and her pillow, she couldn't help
but think of the one factor that has been here her entire life.
Lothos had been the one that had talked with her when she needed
help, walked her through tough passages in her life, and the one who
punished her when she went astray as well.
Closing her eyes, she swallowed hard knowing that his warning was
enough to keep her straight as an arrow.
"Goodnight, Lothos," she whispered even as she fell
as he responded softly, "Good night, Tala," Lothos noticed Dr.
Hugen, in his office and shifted his focus there.
longer shackled or impeded by the frailties of mere humanity, but rather
being in his opinion, vastly superior in his present form of a
quasi-living hybrid supercomputer, Lothos was able to observe and do
countless operations with speed, flawlessness and efficiency. Now as he focused and conversed with Dr. Peter Hugen
regarding the physician’s prognosis and somber speculations about the
future ramifications of Zoe Malvison’s health and physical abilities,
Lothos also maintained an uninterrupted vigil over Tala as she slept.
He knew it would have stunned Tala to know that he had done so from
the moment of her birth some twenty-three years previously.
With the effortless ease of a computer, Lothos zoomed the focus of
one of the two cameras affixed high on the walls of Tala’s bedroom
bringing *her* face into closer, sharper focus. Adjusting the camera lens
to an infrared setting, the darkness of the bedroom was no hindrance to
Lothos’ viewing as he studied his youngest daughter’s sleeping
my precious daughter* he mused silently, studying every nuance of her
face, noting how her long, dark auburn hair spilled across the pillow.
On a whim, Lothos imposed a picture of her mother beside the view
of *their* daughter. The
similarities were there but only he and a handful of others knew about the
relationship of the two women.
there were also certain things about Tala that he was gratified that she
had inherited from him. Her
tenacity about completing whatever she started and, though it didn’t
surface often, her temper was more like his own, than Zoe’s.
intensified the close-up on Tala’s face and increased the hypersensitive
listening device until he could hear the whispering of her steady
breathing. From somewhere in
the vague and fragmented memories left over from his humanity, Lothos
‘smiled’ when Tala sighed then shifted a bit.
are as lovely as your mother* he thought to her.
*And I know how you’ve wondered through the years, Tala, about
your family…who they were,* he pondered silently, *…your longing to
belong. But before you knew
of your heritage, your family, I deemed it best and more important that
you learn self-sufficiency and independence., first, and you have made me
proud, my child. Even in your
mistakes and failures, Tala, you have made your father proud.*
paused in his silent monologue to just watch his second born as she slept.
*Soon…. Very soon, Tala, we will talk and you will learn that
which you’ve yearned for these many years - you will know your
heritage.. But for now, rest, my child.* As that thought ended, he totally
shifted his viewing to Zoe Malvison’s room where she, too, slept,
keeping vigil over them as he had always done.
were arguing with her, weren't you?" he demanded more than
sir," Trevor responded instantly, his tone just barely respectful,
not dropping his eyes for an instant.
"She…" he glanced at Siren's draped, prostrate form on
the floor, unable to hold back the bit of a smile as he added,
"She… might have overheard something that lit her fuse…"
not quite smart-ass remark got him Peter Hugen in his face
with the rough edge of the doctor’s tongue.
"Give me another answer like that, Mister Conroy," he
snapped, "and you'll find yourself on the wrong side of a whip!
Now, wipe that smile off your face and answer me!
What was going on here?"
was such a thing as pushing the envelope; after that, if a person didn’t
realize when it was time to shut up, or just didn’t care what happened,
came reckless stupidity. Neither
applied to Trevor Conroy, and he complied instantly.
the best of my knowledge, sir," he said, his tone more professional
and the smile gone. "I think she was listening…eavesdropping at the
door when I was talking to Allen McAllister just before he left for the
day. " He paused to take a deep breath, noting that Dr. Hugen hadn't
budged, his gaze still pinned on him.
"What happened to her?"
not caring for his amended attitude, Peter took one step closer to the
senior logistics technician and informed him, "She had a diabetic
Trevor’s gaze went instantly to the woman still lying quietly on the
heard me," Peter snapped at him.
"Lothos just confirmed that Siren took her medication this
steadily into Mr. Conroy's light blue eyes, he continued.
"She's never missed a dose of insulin since she was put on it.
So that means that one of two things happened." He took
another step at him, watching as Trevor moved back a step.
she maxed out on sweets, and that's extremely unlikely.
Or second…" Peter’s eyes flashed a warning, cutting the
other man off when he started to interrupt.
"… she lost her temper.
Siren's got a hair-trigger temper to match her father's," he
said bluntly. "And there
have only been a couple of times since she was diagnosed with diabetes,
when something…or someone…" he cocked a eyebrow at him, "has
tripped that temper. And both
times she had a seizure." Now
the doctor moved steadily toward Trevor Conroy, forcing him to move
steadily backward and out of the office until he backed against a desk. At that point, Peter Hugen got up in Trevor’s face.
Mr. Conroy," he demanded once more, holding the fury in his voice in
check, his eyes boring into Trevor’s.
"_Exactly_ what happened here?"
not taking the rap for something that's half her fault, and that's for
damned sure! Trevor
determined barely before the doctor finished breathing fire and brimstone
in his face.
bumped into her in the cafeteria at breakfast and caused her to drop her
tray of food," Trevor responded in a blunt but respectful tone,
lifting his chin slightly as he met Hugen's gaze without blinking.
"She took my offer to help clean up the mess…wrong, and
basically tried to intimidate me with her position as the new supervisor
of this sector.” He couldn’t stop the indifferent shrug of his
shoulders as he added, "I told her to send the bill for getting her
uniform cleaned to me, but when I didn't 'kow-tow' to her, she followed me
out into the hall and screamed at me as I was heading back here to work.
I… told her, as politely as I could, that if she was going to
chew my ass out for something, it wasn't going to be on my time, and my
breakfast hour is _my_ time," I say firmly.
when she finally got into her office," he continued, standing up
straighter and thus forcing the doctor, by the action, to step back,
"she proceeds to try the intimidation again." He lifted his chin
a bit again. "Not once
did I raise my voice to her, Dr. Hugen.
I gave her the respect that her position demands.
If she got hot over something she heard while eavesdropping on a
private conversation… that's her problem."
listened carefully to him, but knowing Siren as he did, he couldn’t help
but question this young man and his actions.
doubt that it was just a private conversation, now, was it, Mr. Conroy?
I know how Siren has a way of getting under some people's skin, but
that doesn't mean that talking loudly to another person would constitute a
private conversation, would it Lothos?" he asked aloud, knowing that
Lothos, as always was listening, keenly noting the subtlest of nuances in
every word spoken, especially since the present situation dealt with one
of his daughters.
response was pithy. "Your intuition is uncanny, Dr. Hugen."
Lothos’ response, Peter’s gaze narrowed as he maintained eye contact
with the technician.
Mr. Conroy, try again. And
this time tell me what you said, exactly, from the moment that
Siren came to the office until now. And,
I do hope that you answer correctly."
The glare he leveled at Trevor indicated exactly what would happen
if the absolute truth wasn’t forthcoming and right now.
Hugen’s attitude was such that Trevor wanted nothing more than to ignore
him and walk out of the office, but that was not an option in any way,
shape, form or fashion.
may be watching and listening,’ the
tall, dark-haired man mused silently as he looked into the doctor’s
steady gaze. ‘And I know you’re one of the few human beings that
Lothos trusts, doctor, but I will not be intimidated.
Not even by you.’ One
other thought traversed Trevor’s mind as he took a slow, steadying
breath. ‘Thank God
for a near photographic memory.’
Without batting an eye, he proceeded to repeat every word spoken
between Siren and himself from the first time she hit that intercom button
about thirty minutes ago.
he neared the end of his recitation, a soft sound distracted Trevor, and
his eyes flicked in its direction, toward Siren, still laid out on the
floor and hiding under the doctor's lab coat. But a glance back to the doctor revealed a trace of
indecision in his eyes. His
attitude hadn't changed... much... but there was a little bit of
difference there. Finally....
that, Dr. Hugen," Trevor finished up, "is _every_ word that she
and I said to each other since she...got to her office."
He paused then added in a very respectful tone and, though
difficult, schooled his eyes to quietness.
"I'm sure that Lothos also has audio and visual records of all
of it, too." Stepping
back, Trevor added one last opinion.
not saying that she's totally at fault in this matter, sir," he said
clearly. "But neither am
I admitting that it's all my doing. She
is as much at fault for... unprofessional behavior as I am.
And if correction is warranted, I dare say that she ought be up for
the same punishment that I get."
Lifting his head to look up at the camera that affixed above the
door in this office, Trevor dared to add.
"I'll take my punishment, but I don't believe that I should be
the only one to bear the brunt of this whole situation."
Lothos pronounced decisively. "I
will decide who deserves and receives correction, as well as who bears the
brunt of the situation. Do I
make myself clear?" he snapped, not waiting for an answer.
"Hugen, if Siren is able to stay to continue her work, then
she may. As for you, Mr.
Conroy, you are required to stay until eight o'clock and you will report
for work at seven thirty tomorrow. Is
Lothos," Trevor responded with utmost respect.
It wasn’t possible to see Siren from his present position, as he
for all intents and purposes, faced Lothos.
But that didn't stop him from adding another black mark against her
name on his private 'opinion list'; in fact, he could foresee a lot of
very deep silent days ahead. She might be his supervisor, but that
didn’t mean that he had to be buddy-buddy with her.
observed every aspect of the situation between Siren and this senior
logistics technician from its unexpected initiation in the cafeteria
several hours earlier to this moment, Lothos could easily imagine what the
plainly annoyed yet determined Trevor Conroy was thinking about his
calling her every name in the book.’
But though he didn’t like how he had been discussing his older
daughter with his fellow office worker, Allen McCalister, Lothos drew up a
memory from his own former life, keenly understanding of how the man must
feel. ‘I have been in
your shoes,’ Lothos considered silently, closely scanning Trevor’s
determined expression. ‘Only it was with her mother...Zoe.’
dismissed the musing summarily, focusing his attention on Siren when he
observed her slowly sit up, her back turned away from the door so that she
could move the coat from her head. Shifting
his view to another of the several cameras in her office, he watched as
she moved her hair away from her face to fall over her left shoulder then
just sat there in a stunned state.
know what will be an appropriate correction for the both of you."
He paused, letting the words sink in, to let them grasp his
displeasure with each of their conduct while working.
"For the next two weeks, both of you will be required to eat
both lunch and dinner, together. You
will be pleasant with one another, and you will get to know each other.
If at any time I see that there is any disrespectfulness from
either of you, it will be two days in correction.
Period. Do I make
as if a Mack truck had slammed into her, Siren, nonetheless, sat up
straighter, listening to Lothos talking to the insufferable technician
under her supervision before addressing both of them.
She nodded to his statement, responding respectfully, "Yes,
Lothos. Lunch and
was no not listening to and hearing Lothos' pronouncement of 'appropriate
correction'. And, at Lothos'
demand, "Do I make myself clear?" Trevor, too, simply nodded,
giving the requisite reply, "Yes, Lothos." His tone was correct and calm but even as he answered, he
made a decision to do something that he knew he might not live to regret.
The acknowledgement was barely fallen from his lips when he turned
around, and before Peter could stop him or even Lothos could react, he
moved determinedly past the doctor, stepping around him then looked down
at Siren's unmasked face.
noted but didn’t react to her startled, almost frightened expression as
she looked up at him, thinking ‘If mom could hear me now, she'd say
butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.’
will escort you to lunch tomorrow precisely at twelve thirty, ma'am,"
Trevor told her with careful cordiality.
this moment Trevor had, like other guys, thought Siren was attractive.
Her not having on the mask to hide behind now, had just confirmed
what all the young men had suspected, that she really was quite pretty.
He couldn’t deny that, but seeing the expression in her eyes just
now, Trevor was under no illusion that if hate could kill with a glance,
he would, at this moment, be twitching in death throes at her feet.
But he wasn’t so, having accomplished his impromptu mission,
Trevor turned to face the camera again. He had no option but to accept
Lothos’ decision, though he would have preferred any other
correction/punishment to the two weeks he now faced with her.
Internally he steeled himself, deciding that Siren would never see
anything but that which Lothos had just ordered of both of them.
Sparing a glance down at Siren, he smiled at her then returned to
where he had been standing.
Trevor Conroy moved around him to enter Siren's office, it was something
that didn’t happen often to Peter Hugen; he was caught off guard by the
unexpected action. It caused
him to hesitate a split second too long before he rushed after him to try
and stop him. Yet by the time
he caught the technician’s arm to stop him, it was too late; he had seen
held his breath, closing his eyes then opening them again. ‘The
shit's about to hit the fan!’ he thought, watching Trevor as he
spoke cordially, telling Siren that he would pick her up precisely at
noon. A moment later when he
passed, returning to the outer office, the doctor glanced at Siren.
There was no mistaking the signs that said she was beginning to
stress again. In the next
instant Peter dove toward her as fell backwards as she passed out, barely
catching her head and preventing it from bouncing on the floor.
Carefully, he lowered her to the floor.
he was certain she was breathing normally, Dr. Hugen stood up, and marched
into the outer office to confront Trevor, this time backing the younger
man literally into a corner.
you quite satisfied with yourself, Mr. Conroy?” he said furiously.
“What possessed you to think that you had to talk directly to her? You
were not asked nor required to do so.
But now, thanks to your stunt, I have a patient that just had an
anxiety attack, albeit, thankfully, a very mild one.”
Hugen’s expression darkened as he snapped, “I hope that you are
well and thoroughly satisfied in your actions."
for an instant did Trevor’s gaze drop for a second, nor did he say a
word when the doctor came at him, at least not until Peter had him backed
into the corner; he allowed Peter Hugen to finish his rant.
may not live to see the next hour, but I'll be damned if you're going to
lay that guilt trip on me...doctor!’
he thought hotly. When Peter
paused to catch a breath, Trevor spoke, making no attempt to disguise the
sarcasm in his voice as he challenged him.
"So what am I suppose I'm supposed to do?
Talk to the back of her head, or through the paper sack she'll be
wearing when we're dining? Is
that how it will be, Dr. Hugen?" he demanded.
Being almost nose to nose with him, Trevor saw the line of
Peter’s jaw tighten, heard his teeth gritting together, but that
didn’t stop or slow him down.
"I don’t know about you, Dr. Hugen, but when I dine with a
woman, I like to see her face…all of it," he forged ahead, glancing
past the doctor’s shoulder to Siren, still on the floor in her office
then back to him. "She's nothing special.
So why the mask?"
had heard all he intended to hear.
he said suddenly, his voice booming in the room.
the first insolent word out of the technician’s mouth, Lothos
instantaneously altered what he had been about say. His first inclination was to order this man to the correction
facility and let Xavier himself have at him, with anything that he chose
to do, for the next two weeks. But
Lothos saw beyond the obvious, knowing what it was Mr. Conroy was trying
to accomplish, namely trying to wiggle out of being with Siren. The tone and volume of his voice when he spoke left no doubt
that the attempted subterfuge was useless.
Moreover, it told one in particular that it would have been better
if he’d just kept his mouth shut and accepted the first correction.
this moment on, there will be no more questions about the mask or about
anything,” Lothos stated, his tone clearly indicating that to do other
than listen, accept and obey what was said was not only vastly stupid but,
where he, Lothos, was concerned, could be fatal if he so chose. It was a
fact of complex life that had been set in stone almost from the beginning,
that Lothos’ word was absolute. The
two men waiting before him, knew as everyone in the complex had learned at
some point in their lives, that Lothos had destroyed many over the years
for infractions far less than that the insolence just exhibited by one
you have seen was not for your eyes,” he informed him. “Make no
mistake, I know exactly what you are trying to wiggle out of, Mr.
Conroy," he continued more softly, letting his tone drop to a level
so low that the object of his focus had to strain to hear it.
"And since you don't want to have anything to do with her, let
me change your part of the correction."
Lothos paused for effect then lowered the boom on him.
will spend all of your spare time away from work with Siren for the next
two weeks, and you will continue to have dinner and lunch with her until I
tell you otherwise. If I hear
any sarcasm or observe the slightest disrespect toward her, or vice versa,
I will take whatever action that I deem necessary to correct the offender,
promptly. If you have any
questions, ask them now."
‘I'm probably going to meet my ancestors momentarily’
was the only thought that filled Trevor’s mind as he opened his mouth to
speak. It was plain that
Lothos was trying to force him to like Siren, but as far as Trevor cared,
Lothos had just hopelessly lost that intent.
Trevor forced himself not to react in the slightest to the gasp
that came from Siren in the office, when he looked straight at the camera
affixed above the door and all but demanded, "Does that mean I'll
share her quarters…and her bed, too?"
the deafening split second of silence that followed, Trevor held his
breath, wondering if he would still alive a moment from now.
there any possibility at all...however slim... that Zoë will ever regain
the use of her lower body and legs?"
didn't have to think about his answer. He had seen the mess that her
spinal cord was in. Even the
best of surgeons couldn't have repaired it any better than what he had.
"No, Lothos. Not by human means."
He knew that he had stepped out on a limb with his statement, but
it would be the only way that he could see that anything could be done.
Any other way would never work.
well," Lothos responded to Hugen plainly blunt reply.
"See to it that she gets the best of care." As he moved
toward his desk, Peter couldn't help but pause in his steps as he heard
the malice as Lothos stated quietly "Calavicci's and Beckett's days
have just become numbered."
down in his chair, he scooted himself up toward it and swallowed then
arched an eyebrow with a slight tilt to his head before he picked up his
pen and started to work.
returned to his office after making sure that Siren was out of danger and
able to work, Peter had returned to his office, and now waited a moment to
be certain that Lothos had ended their conversation.
When there was no further comment forthcoming from Lothos, Peter
remained at his desk for another hour dictating further meticulous notes
concerning Zoe’s surgery. He also dictated an order for the procurement
of the specialized wheelchair with oxygen bottle attachments that Zoe,
would need should she survive –and at present there was no sign she
wouldn’t do so. When that
was done, Peter got up and went to prepare for the three surgeries –two
new implantations and one gallbladder removal – that were scheduled for
the afternoon; all three were completed without any unexpected problems.
After changing after the last surgery – the gallbladder – he checked
in on each of the three patients in recovery.
the third surgical patient’s room, he told the nurse who followed him
out, “Standard orders for an implantation.
No talking or loud noise in the room, and keep the lights dimmed
for the next twelve hours. When
Ms. Royal wakes and you’re sure she is alert and coherent, she can have
clear fluids for the first six hours.”
Glancing at Sheila as she jotted her notes, he asked, “Who’s on
afternoon-evening rotation?” To the nurse’s prompt reply of, “Dr. Maury,” Peter
nodded. “Call him if there
anything comes up with any of them.”
Whelch nodded yet again then added, smiling up at him, “You need to get
some shut-eye, doctor. You’ve
been on duty since six this morning.”
returned a tired grin. “Is
that all? I thought it was only twelve hours.”
and nurse parted ways, she toward the nurses’ station for the Recovery
Area, and Peter toward the elevator and ultimately, his quarters.
In spite of the adrenaline-driven hours of the first six hours of
doing everything in his power to keep Zoe Malvison alive –and
succeeding- it had been a normal day on the complex’s twelfth level
where the infirmary was located. Now,
all he wanted was to lock the door to his quarters, take a very long and
very hot shower and then log about twenty-four hours of uninterrupted sack
time …but he would settle for eight or nine hours of uninterrupted
with those simple goals before him, Peter Hugen had no intention of
thinking of himself before his most critical patient, even though she had
always been nothing less than a royal pain in his ass since he’d first
met her. To that end, he
walked past the bank of double elevators and continued to the I.C.U.
situated at the opposite end of the long hall he was presently in.
duty nurse, behind the Intensive Care Unit’s nurses’ station desk,
Hazel Anderson, an experienced surgical recovery nurse of twelve years,
looked up as Peter Hugen entered the area.
Dr. Malvison?” he asked, pausing at the desk,
and, at the moment, sleeping quietly,” Hazel responded.
“Do you want her chart, Dr. Hugen?”
shook his head. “No.
I just want to take a look at her before going off duty.”
Hazel nodded, watching him enter I.C.U. Unit #2 situated directly
across from where she sat. She watched for a moment, and then returned her attention to
what she had been busy with prior to his arrival.
at the foot of the bed, Peter Hugen’s expression was unreadable as he
noticed the machines that were attached with leads and tubes to Zoe’s
body. Each lead, each tube,
every monitor and gauge….the ventilator ceaselessly pumping oxygen into
the severely injured woman’s lungs… all of it necessary to her
survival. And of that
outcome, there was not the slightest doubt in his mind that she would do
around to one side of the bed, Peter glanced at the bank of monitors,
reading each with ease then, for another moment just stood, watching
Zoe’s face as she slept a drugged sleep.
Privately, were he so inclined, and someone offered him the bet,
Peter would have readily put money down that Zoe Malvison would stay alive
just to spite the man who shot her, as well as to be in the thick of
planning and implementing his death.
Considering how her life had been so utterly and irreparably
altered by his actions, at this point, ruination of his life and that of
his family would, he was certain, no longer an acceptable outcome of her
next encounter with one retired Rear-Admiral Albert Calavicci.
There was also no doubt whatsoever that Zoe’s angry, gasped
demand for Admiral Calavicci’s head on a platter was what she wanted
more than anything in the world; possibly even more than the ability to
a few more minutes, Peter exited I.C.U. Unit 2, took his leave of Hazel
and the other nurses just coming on duty for the evening, and went to his
quarters. Only when his front
door was actually locked and he was standing in his shower being pummeled
by the sharp needle-like spray of hot water, did he at last begin to
relax. And when he at last
toweled off then crawled immediately into bed, Peter Hugen’s last waking
thought was, “Please… no emergencies… at least until tomorrow.”
the moment it took the elevator doors to close, Thames just stood and
daydreamed a dream that not only had as its star the redhead he’d winked
at but was also several "x's" beyond triple before turning to
continue in search of Johanna Royden’s quarters.
Moving along the halls, he soon found door marked 733, he pressed
the doorbell and waited for it to be answered.
A moment later he heard soft footsteps inside approaching the door,
then the door opened and... my, my, my, my, my!
was one thing to have to work all hours of the night in her interim job as
a logistic aid while waiting to be called up for a leap, but for Johanna
Royden it was absolutely another to have someone ringing her doorbell at
7:30 in the morning. She
whimpered slightly in her sleep and turned over, but she knew that there
was no such thing as just not going to see who it was.
she thought sourly and climbed out of bed, the silky red long nightgown
slipping back down her long legs. Walking
toward the door, she ran her hands through her long brown hair.
the short trek she stretched her arms high over her head, paused in her
steps and yawned, one of the spaghetti straps of her nightgown sliding
down her arm, dipping low and exposing her cleavage.
Reaching out, she took hold of the doorknob and opened the door.
Blinking at the brightness of the hallway, her gaze fell on the
form standing in her doorway -- the one and only Thames.
Thames purred softly, unabashedly enjoying the sight before him, surveying
her up and down quickly before locking gazes with her.
"I hope I didn’t catch you in the middle
him purr her name as his eyes roamed over her body up and down, his
suggestive tone wasn’t lost on her.
"You did... dreams of you, Thames," she said with a wink,
smiling sleepily at him as she leaned against the doorway.
"What can I do for you?"
hormone in Thames’ body shrieked, demanding that he answer her, "Invite
me in and lock the door!" But
the last thing Thames’ didn’t need, the very last thing he didn’t
need would be for Lothos to hear and watch him using this assignment to
his private advantage. Still he couldn’t help surveying Johanna's
luscious curves and...’oh sweet Aphrodite...that …ummm….that fine
cleavage’.... before he very unwillingly, and to the extreme
disappointment of his hormones, reigned in his thoughts and re-focused
Johanna’s dark eyes again, in spite of sleepiness, there was no missing
the fact that she knew what he was thinking…well, for the most part.
When he at last got to the point of his early morning call, he
watched the sleepiness fade from Johanna's eyes.
Malvison's been shot in the back. She's
in surgery now, and it's highly unlikely she'll ever leap or observe
geez…just another half inch!’
he whimpered silently when Johanna straightened up suddenly, the movement
causing the bodice of her red silk nightgown to shift minutely,
tantalizingly downward. When
it came to women, Thames was always the first to admit that he wasn’t
always the strongest of men when it came to will.
That point was proven as he battled what he wanted with what he had
to do, namely prying his gaze from Johanna’s bosom that was *this* close
to being 'open for public viewing'. But
he did it.
has charged me with finding a new senior leaper and senior observer,"
he told her, keeping his eyes on hers.
"You wouldn't be interested...would you?"
was no way Johanna could not notice the way that Thames kept looking her
up and down. She had known from the moment that she’d met him over five
years ago that he appreciated her curves, a fact that was only confirmed
by the catcalls, the "ohhh baby" calls and the long stares.
But when he came straight out with the reason for his visit, that
Zoe Malvison had been shot, she immediately came up from her lounging
position against the doorjamb.
felt her nightgown shift but didn't care.
If it should happen to slip off right there in front of him, it
wouldn't have mattered to her. He had her attention and nothing else mattered.
You just don't go up to a leaper and hand out the information to
them, especially information such as he’d just given her; there was more
to it than that, and she had been around long enough to know it.
heart jumped up into her throat as she even thought about it.
There was no question that she’d have a competitor for the
position of senior leaper and would have to work hard to earn it.
Hell, she’d had to work hard to earn what she did get, but
neither had she slept her way up to the top of the lineup.
It had been and continued to be grueling hard work, but Johanna
enjoyed every little bit and loved her job.
soon as Thames began by saying that Lothos had given him the order, her
eyes locked with his. To his
question, she toyed, for a second, with the notion of just jumping toward
him and hugging him tightly, thanking him for the opportunity, maybe even
giving him more thanks in her bed. Instead, she stopped herself, only
stepping toward Thames, licking her lips and blinking as she swallowed
down the excitement that was coursing through her veins.
leaper would be interested in such a position, sir," she responded
respectfully. "Name the
time, the place, the game... I'll be there.
Thank you, sir, for thinking of me."
she had taken one step closer, Thames wasn’t sure what he would have
done, but she didn't. Johanna's
response though clear that she knew the importance of the opportunity just
offered to her, was very respectable and respectful.
‘Pity,’ was the only silent response he permitted
knew all the superior-ranked leapers by name, having had to review each
one's record from time to time, especially after completion of a leap for
the purpose of rating his or her performance and level of success.
Johanna Royden, however, was the only one who had achieved the rank
of superior purely on her own merits, no hanky panky, though she knew and
used skillfully all the ways and methods in which all the leapers were
trained. But for a moment,
that very thought gave Thames a fleeting doubt.
He almost didn’t voice that thought but then decided to give her
the benefit of it.
Johanna," he said at last, keeping his voice and tone even, all
thoughts of other things fading as the reason for him being there regained
his total focus. "This
is not a temporary fill-in assignment. This is for all the marbles."
He watched her blink but her gaze remained steadfast.
"IF you win this competition, you're going to step into Zoe
Malvison's boots. And girl,
you better realize…you better know right now that you've got big boots
to fill." He watched her nod again.
"There's no punches gonna be pulled in this competition
tonight. *Are* you up for it?
Are you ready to do *whatever* it takes?"
Before she could answer Thames filled in the details of when and
where the competition would take place.
"It's all or nothing time, sweet cheeks," he finished,
maintaining a level gaze with hers.
understood every word that came out of Thames’ mouth... in more ways
than one way. She knew
without doubt that the competition was going to be the hardest thing that
she had ever come across to win the right to fill Zoe's shoes, but she had
to at least try. No way could she or would she just not do it.
one more step up toward Thames, putting them toe to toe, face to face, she
saw Thames look down at her chest; but when he looked back up at her, she
locked gazes with him. "No
punches... all or nothing?" She
watched him barely nod. Unwaveringly,
she told him, "Try to keep me away, Thames."
stood just about nose to nose for two of the longest minutes of
Johanna’s life before each at last took a step back, Johanna letting her
eyes roam slightly over his body. Seeing
a slight rise in his pants, she met his gaze, saying, "You never know
when you might get to fill something other than your shoes, Thames."
Giving him a wink, she turned and went to her door.
"See you tonight," she said smoothly, flashing him a
smile as she began to close the door.
spite of what many in the complex might have thought about him, at that
moment Thames’ body reminded him of just how human he was.
When Johanna had stepped up to him, toe to toe and damn near nose
to nose, there was no way that his body wasn't going to let him know just
*how* close she was. He also
made no pretense of not looking down at her chest. Seeing the not quite
sheer silk of her gown quiver with each breath she took, he began to
wonder if she was the right superior leaper to have chosen to put against
Vaughn. But then he looked up
and saw in her eyes that the delightfully curvaceous brunette watching him
knew exactly what she was doing. He
had to look even closer, and twice, to see the ever so minute shade of a
smile touching the corners of her mouth.
she's playing me like a concertmaster with a Stradivarius!’
back from her, Thames took a calming breath as he watched her finish
giving him the visual once over, her gaze lingering well below eye level
long enough for him to know she saw the effect she was having on him.
But he didn't move, made no move or suggestion about taking the
bait ..."You never know when you might get to fill something other
than your shoes"… that she was dangling subtly before him.
Yeah, he wanted her. He
wanted her so badly that it literally showed.
But wanting ten minutes with her wasn't worth losing what he had
fought just as hard to attain as what she was going to fight for later
until she had just about closed the door, he called her name, watching her
stop, opening the door so that she was framed tightly between it and the
promise what you can't deliver, Johanna," Thames warned softly,
knowing that she understood both meanings to those words. He nodded to her
again then turned and left. He
had something to take care of...now.
Thames call her name, Johanna had opened the door and framed herself in
the narrow space. Hearing his
words, she smiled at him and then watched him leave.
As he walked down the hallway, she leaned outside the door and
peered around to look at him, calling out sweetly, "I always keep my
promises, Thames. Always." She didn’t move, watching him stop in the hallway and turn
his head back toward her, awe in his expression.
Then, she lowered the boom, adding, "It's if
get a promise... that you may want to watch out for."
Giving him a smile, she looked down then withdrew back into her
quarters. It was difficult to make herself go back to sleep, but she
finally managed it.
watched as Thames made his two stops, noting and recording both
candidates' responses, Lothos focused on the always ready to make points
observer for a few moments. It
amused him to 'follow' Thames until he found a place where he attended to
close observation of Thames’ interaction with Johanna Royden, left no
doubt for Lothos that at some point or other in the not so distant future
there would come a time when Thames would find out how seriously to take
that one’s promises. The
observer had only read her records, and spoken with instructors and some
of her close friends. But
Lothos had literally watched Johanna Royden from the moment of her birth
in the complex and thereafter all through her life.
He had seen what others hadn't.
Johanna Royden was truly an example of the saying that 'still
waters run deep.' The
quasi-living hybrid computer considered that an even better description
would be that of a riptide close to the shallow waters on an ocean beach.
As she grew up, many had learned, often belatedly, not to take
Johanna’s calm, even nature for granted.
the day progressed, Lothos checked various times on the two candidates
vying to become the new senior leaper and observer.
Eventually the time for the competition drew close.
In less than an hour, he would watch to see which of them, Vaughn
Rickar or Johanna Royden, was hungrier, which of them was ready to serve
him without qualm or hesitation regardless of what he would demand of
six forty p.m. Lothos observed Thames, now much calmer and in control of
himself, make his way to the lecture hall.
The hall was empty, his steps echoing in the large room as he
walked to the center of the room and assumed a stance to wait.
having little sleep due to the fact that her mind was busy going over
things that she might have to accomplish tonight, Johanna had spent the
rest of her day awake and on edge.
dressed in her black junior leaper skin-tight Fermi suit, she pulled on
her boots and started toward the meeting at six thirty.
Moving slowly and determinedly, in order to reach the meeting at
precisely six forty five.
to the elevator, she pushed the call button then stepped into the empty
elevator car and pressed the button for the tenth level. Straightening up
to her full height, she waited for the car to stop.
As the doors opened and let on some other passengers, she moved
slightly to the side, nodding respectfully to them. But she had no time
for them, and so cleared her mind, thinking only about what she was about
the car came to another stop, she glanced up then moved toward the doors
with her 'excuse me's’ in order and exited the car.
Moving toward the lecture hall, she took a deep calming breath
before putting her hand on the knob and opening the door.
Thames in the middle of the room, she saw him turn his head toward her.
She let a small smile appear on her face as she glanced around the
room, finding it empty. Taking
a chance, she moved toward Thames in the middle of the room.
Coming about ten feet from him, she stopped and stood at attention.
was 2:28 p.m., a full two minutes before the alarm was set to go off when
Vaughn woke up. For a few
moments he just laid in bed, his thoughts focusing once more on what
awaited him in about four and a half hours.
Knowing that physical as well as mental sharpness would be amongst
his best 'weapons' in the one of a kind competition that he was confident
he was going win, he got up and pulled on work out clothes then made his
way to the fitness center two levels up. Vaughn knew that what he needed
to get himself mentally and physically sharp for the competition was one
of Ivan Davies’ kick-ass two-hour, one-on-one workouts.
Davies was one of most senior of the leaper physical trainers, and Vaughn
was well aware that there wasn’t a leaper trained in the complex in the
last ten years that hadn't had his or her nose bloodied, or an arm or leg
broken at some point, by Ivan. He himself had learned, the hard way not to
take Ivan Davies lightly, having suffered a viciously given bloodied nose
for cocky insubordination during his first class with Ivan two years
the workout and a hot shower, Vaughn returned to his quarters where he
prepared himself a sandwich and a glass of milk.
For the remaining hour or so, he remained alone in his quarters,
pacing slowly and mentally reviewing all he had learned, often the hard
way, during all of the training that had brought him to this point in his
five forty-five he took a cold shower, more to add another fine edge of
alertness to his mind, then toweled off and dressed in his black, junior
leaper’s form-fitting Fermi suit. Pulling
his boots on, he checked his appearance one last time in the full-length
mirror on the inside of his closet door, running his fingers through his
hair to comb it.
are ready!" Vaughn informed his reflection with sharp confidence.
That said, he turned and left his quarters, pausing long enough to flip
off the light switch off by the front then stepped out the door and then
close and lock it.
for the elevator, he got some strange looks from a couple of guys he
passed. He ignored the looks but did ask one what time, exactly what time
for Vaughn, the remainder of his ride was solitary, giving him a few more
moments to finish clearing his mind in order to focus on what was about to
begin shortly. When the
elevator doors opened on the tenth level he stepped and headed down the
long, main corridor to the lecture hall directly ahead of him.
Reaching the double doors, he opened one quietly and stepped
toward an aisle that allowed him to walk out to the center of the room
where Thames stands, though he didn’t allow it to show on his face,
Vaughn was more than a little pissed to see that his opponent was already
standing off to Thames’ left. Seeing
that his opponent was none other than Johanna Royden just made him all the
more determined to win this competition. He refused to allow himself to consider for even an instant
that Miss ‘Goody White Panties’ was going to get what he already
considered to be his, namely the right to follow in Zoe Malvison's steps.
Thames from the right, like Johanna, he stopped ten feet from him and came
to attention. Turning his
head slightly, he slid a look at her.
Their gazes met and locked. Anyone
looking at them would have clearly seen the determination in the two
competitors’ gazes. What no one could see or know was what each of them was
prepared to do to come out the victor.
she had entered and took a position near Thames in the lecture hall,
Johanna hadn’t expected Thames to say even one word to her, and he
hadn’t. She kept her eyes
on him at all times until at last she heard her competitor enter then move
to take his stance approximately five feet away from her.
A moment later she locked gazes with Vaughn Rickar.
He's not only strong but determined as well.
I should have expected as much.
But then again, he also thinks too highly of himself, which could
be his downfall.’
Inside she steeled herself with the reassurance that she could
outdo him then returned her attention back to Thames when he cleared his
the start of the ultimate competition for promotion wouldn’t begin until
the stroke of seven, there was no doubt in Thames’ mind from the moment
Vaughn and Johanna set gazes on each other that the competition began at
that moment. They had trained
together, knew each other's strengths and weaknesses.
But this competition was winner takes all.
Once he declared a winner that would be it; there would be no
appeal. Whoever won would get
the title of senior leaper. The
runner up would become the new senior observer.
competitors had arrived early, fifteen and fourteen minutes early,
respectively. Thames didn’t
utter a word or move a muscle, instead allowing the large silence and the
two competitors’ own tension to be the first unofficial test between
them. In the business of
leaping, patience was more than a virtue.
As a leaper it was sometimes, many times the difference between
success and failure.
last Lothos' voice filled the room, uttering one word:
Thames allowed Johanna and Vaughn another moment to set their minds to
what now faced them. The
minute passed and Thames, at last, began to speak.
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