The Blue Jay shuddered violently as the docking collar's magnetic clamps locked against the ship. Several shapes started to groggily move around the compartment. One of the biggest men that Sam had ever seen suddenly undid his harness and nearly flung himself out of his seat. Hanging onto the seatback with one hand he stretched his legs out to their full length; his joints popping several times as he did so.
"Christ, I can't take it anymore. They make these seats so damn small for anyway."
"They don't make them for walrus's Sarge" one soldier offered.
He didn't even look in the direction of the offending remark, "What's that LeBlanc? You're handling the latrine detail for the next two weeks? Everyone give him a round of applause for volunteering."
The interior burst into a round of laugher and jeers. Another man got out of his seat and tried to restore some semblance of order, "Alright, that's enough. Sergeant Bachmeier, would you kindly get back in your seat. Thank you, alright, we won't be embarking until…"
Sam's attention was pulled away by Captain Pitja tugging at his sleeve, "That's our cue Lieutenant. Let's go get this ship ready to move."
He nodded and started getting his gear together, "Yes ma'am."
Roja looked up at him, "I guess I'll see you later then?"
Sam stopped for a moment in a way that made her concerned, "What is it Sam?"
He grinned, "Nothing, just having a thought is all. I'll see you in a bit; it shouldn't take long to get the Manhattan ready."
Well, it shouldn't have taken very long to get underway. But the quality of the maintenance staff had been rather lacking of late. There had been a massive recruitment push recently and there just hadn't been time to train the new recruits properly, or so he'd heard. Still, with SAMPSON's help they managed to finish in a reasonable amount of time.
"…Okay, check module six Tejir, that's the one setting the error code."
Tejir started growling on the other end of the line, "They got the damn thing in backwards. It doesn't even fit right this way, what kind of…"
Sam leaned back in the seat and let him rant. Somehow he'd been assigned to work with Tejir instead of Jay, and he'd insisted on not being in the command center. Probably so he wouldn't have to be around the Captain. He'd been acting strangely all day; it was like he couldn't look her in the eye after being picked up this morning. Sam couldn't decide if he really wanted to know why or not.
Sam ran his fingers through his hair a few times before getting the nerve to ask about what was really on his mind, "Captain?"
She looked up from her workstation, "Yes?"
"Hey, I was wondering… once we're underway, would it be okay to show a few of the Espatiers around the ship?"
She looked at him with an exasperated expression for a moment before shaking her head at him, "Okay, fine. You can give your friend a tour. But, nobody goes above deck five, and nobody below deck three unless escorted by an off-duty officer. Do I make myself clear?"
Sam nodded and quickly turned his attention back to his workstation, "Yes ma'am, absolutely."
He quickly checked up on how Tejir was doing; looked like he was almost done. Sam ran through a mental checklist, if he got it working again they'd be ready to start getting the Espatiers loaded and then…
Sam gave a startled glance back at the Captain, "Yes ma'am?"
She smiled at him and winked, "I said, I didn't want to hear about her turning up in your quarters either."
Sam leaned back in the seat and just listened to the engines for a while. They sounded good, it hadn't dawned on him how bad the old one was getting. The note sounded clean and perfect to him; no cracking or rumble, just one clear note.
Jay was all grins as he scanned his workstation, "Everything looks good on my end skipper, what do you think SAMPSON?"
SAMPSON's avatar nodded its head at him, "It will take some operating time for me to be able to fine-tune the engines, but mechanically everything is well within acceptable operating tolerances."
Cpt. Pitja sighed loudly and rubbed her eyes, "Okay, so the ship is running. I just got done talking with Major Peterson; his troop has pretty well settled in on decks three and four so they shouldn't need anything. Do you think you can keep us out of trouble Lt. Stenson?"
He shot her a Cheshire grin and a thumbs up, "You know I can ma'am."
She looked at him a moment before nodding, "I'll take that as a 'yes'. Alright, I'm going off duty. Just keep us with the formation and on course. I'll see you both in the morning."
With that she departed down the ladderway to deck one. Jay clapped his hands and turned to Sam, "Well 'mi amigo', here we go again. Just the two of us, so lets see if you can get yourself out of the hole you… Hey, Sam?"
Sam looked up from the message on his wireless, "Huh, oh, uh, sure. Hey, I'll be right back."
Jay goggled at him, "What? Hey, where do you think you're going?"
He glanced back from the ladderway hatch, "Just going to see if Roja wants a tour of the ship is all."
"Hey, wait a minute, the skipper said only if you were off duty…"
Sam smiled at him, "That's right, and I distinctly remember her putting you in charge, not me. Besides, I think she'd like to meet SAMPSON, I'll be right back."
He slipped out while Jay was still trying to figure out what had happened and climbed up the ladder to deck three.
He peeked out from the hatchway and glanced around the deck three living compartment. The lights were dimmed and a number of the Espatiers had already bedded down in the cots lining two of the walls. There were small clumps seated at the tables here and there, quietly talking or playing this game or that. He spotted Roja seated at one of these gatherings along with the large man he'd seen earlier.
Sam crossed the deck and sat down with them, "Hey Roja. We're underway and I've got a few minutes."
She smiled at him, "Well it's about time flyboy. I was beginning to think you guys were going to leave us stranded in the L-ROV."
The other man didn't smile; in fact he got the impression that he didn't like him much at all. Roja didn't skip a beat, "Dmitri, this is my friend Sam I was telling you about. Sam, Dmitri."
He offered his hand and Sam took it. It was like sharing a handshake with a granite wall. He looked him over and coldly said, "pleasure."
"Sergeant…" Sam offered right back. He didn't know why, but he didn't like the man right back.
Roja glanced between them and got the picture pretty quickly. She quickly started talking again, "Um, anyway, he's offered to show me around the ship a bit. I'll see you later?"
They got up and Roja patted his shoulder and mouthed something Sam couldn't quite make out. She crossed the deck towards the hatchway. Sam turned to go and he suddenly jumped up and grabbed his arm. Sam nearly jumped in shock but stood his ground, saints he was huge. Dmitri exhaled through his nostrils before hotly saying, "Look you, a lot went down before you just came waltzing into the picture. I don't know what game you're playing but you mess up and it's me you'll answer to."
Sam had to admit, he scared him out of his wits. He managed to keep his calm though and stared right back at him, "Sergeant, I really don't have any idea what you're talking about."
Roja looked like she was a little embarrassed for her friend, "Dmitri… let him go okay?"
He kept looking Sam in the eye for a moment longer before letting him go, "You'd just better not screw up… Sir."
Sam took a deep breath to calm his nerves as soon as they got through the hatchway. He half laughed as soon as he felt better and asked, "Who was that guy?"
Roja stopped on the ladder and looked down, "Sergeant Bachmeier? He's a friend… that's all. We, ah went through a rough experience a while back and he's a little over protective sometimes."
Sam opened the deck two hatchway onto the command deck and the two stepped through. Sam grinned at Jay, "told you I'd be right back."
Jay and SAMPSON looked up at them. Jay rolled his eyes a bit before breaking out in that grin of his again, "Hey Roja."
"Good evening SSG Ajatin. Welcome to the SCS Manhattan." SAMPSON announced regally.
She laughed a little bit, "My such a welcome… I'm sorry, but do you have a name?"
Sam felt back at ease again and laughed embarrassingly, "Heh, oh, um… Roja, this is the ship's AI 'SAMPSON'. He more or less runs most of the ship for us."
Roja rolled her eyes at him a bit, "Ha, I knew you didn't work as hard as you pretended you did. So the ship does mostly take care of itself."
She grinned and stuck her hand out to the AI's avatar, "Nice to meet you SAMPSON."
The AI looked at her for a moment before understanding what was expected of him. Gingerly, he took her hand and the two seemed to consider each other for a moment. SAMPSON nodded and simply stated, "I can see why you are so attracted to SSG Ajatin."
Sam turned a deep shade of red while Jay fought valiantly to keep from breaking out in out-and-out laughter. But Roja's expression was one of shock; she took a startled step back from the machine.
"Holy… Sam… what was that?!"
Sam futilely fought to hide his embarrassment, "It's okay, he just, says what's on his mind sometimes…"
She hadn't taken her eyes off of SAMPSON though. She cautiously approached the machine again.
It looked back at her but didn't move, "I apologize, did I say something wrong?"
She touched its housings and looked into the cameras on the avatar, "No, nothing like that but… Sam…"
Grabbing his collar, she pulled him close to her and whispered, "Sam, that… thing? It's more than just a machine, isn't it? No mere machine would think about something like that, or even care."
Sam gulped, he was such an idiot. So eager to spend a moment with her that he was putting his friend at risk. Finally, he weakly nodded, "I think he is… but please, keep it quiet."
She kept talking along her first line of thought then looked at him quizzically, "I'd heard that these things were pretty far out, but… wait, keep it quiet? Isn't this… normal?"
He kept his voice hushed, "I'm not sure… but talking to some of the old hands, I get the impression that he's, well, special. But, some consider him to be malfunctioning and they'd…"
She looked suddenly sympathetic, "They'd destroy him, wouldn't they?"
Sam nodded and she sat there, looking like she was deep in thought for a while. Finally, she glanced back up and looked into his eyes, "So?"
Sam blinked, "So… what?"
She smiled coyly at him, "Is he right? You find me attractive?"
If Sam could have crawled into a crevice in the floor he would have. He was blushing furiously now. She was his friend, and well, she was pretty so of course… he'd find… her… He felt trapped by those gleaming auburn eyes, the way she smiled at him, laughed with him. He swallowed hard.
She brushed his nose with hers and he let out a sharp gasp and fell against the command chair. She was still right there; her fragrance was filling his nostrils and making his head swim. She smiled at him a moment longer, "…I do too… but... if you aren't ready, I understand."
She took a step back, "Sam, thank you for trusting me enough to show me around. But, it's been a full day, hasn't it? I think I'll head to my bunk for tonight. I'll see you tomorrow alright?"
Sam sheepishly nodded, his heart was pounding and he felt confused… guilty. Did he really want her like that? But, what would be wrong with that anyway? Why did it feel so wrong? Like a betrayal. Finally, he smiled at her, "Yeah, I, uh… should help Jay anyway. I'll let you know tomorrow."
She crossed the deck and looked back at him over her shoulder before exiting the deck. He kept looking after her long after she was gone.
Finally, Jay cleared his throat loudly and got his attention. Jay smirked at him, "Dude, if you need to hit the shower really quick I think I can handle things up here just fine."