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lone wolf frontJuly 1, 3032

Lights on the computer console flashed, catching her attention. The bridge was dark since only the bots were supposed to be at work. Matilda checked the instruments carefully.

“Rubee, lights,” she told the ship’s computer.

“Initiating. Welcome, Commander Dulac.”

The lights came up slowly allowing her eyes to adjust. There was a flicker of movement on one of her screens. Why was a mining unit on approach? Curious, she activated the Tri-D viewer, focusing on an incoming ship. None of the miners were due until 0800. Glancing at the chronometer, she saw it was only 0230.

“Mine Unit One, what is your status?”

Getting only static in reply, Matilda zoomed the viewer trying to get a visual on the pilot. The mining station’s automatic hails were being ignored. Long fingers flew over the keypad as she tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

“Mine Unit One, do you have an emergency?”

Nothing. Hitting her comlink, she beeped Marc Slatterly’s cabin.

“Captain!”

“Hmph? What? Matilda? Where the hell are you?” He hit the visual, rubbing his face to wake up.

“The bridge. We’ve got a problem. Get up here.”

“What?” Suddenly all business, he rose abruptly, searching for his pants.

“Unit One. Billy’s coming in hot and erratic. He’s not answering hails.”

“You know Guild protocol, Matilda.” He struggled into his pants, getting tangled as he tried to put his feet through.

She exhaled slowly, wiping her brow. She knew protocol as well as he, but in the ten years of Mining Guild service she’d never had to use regulation seventeen – destruction of a manned vessel. Until now….

“Maybe his comlink is borked.”

“Hail him a third time, then initiate protocol.”

“Are you coming?”

“On my way.” He didn’t bother to finish dressing. Grabbing his gun belt, he took off at top speed to the lift.

“Mine Unit One,” Matilda continued. “Slow your approach or I will enact Guild Regulation Seventeen. Do you copy?”

More static. She keyed in the coded sequence necessary to transfer the miner’s load to the cargo hold. Taking a deep breath, she tried once more.

“Mine Unit One, this is your final warning before I implement your self-destruct.” Tapping her comlink, she prayed Marc would answer.

“On my way, baby. I can go only so fast. Damn lift is slow.”

“Shit. I used the transporter.”

“There went my power. You know the drill, Commander.”

“Yes, sir.”

She lifted the clear Lucite lid over the red destruct button, hands shaking as she keyed in the final sequence.

“Mine Unit One, Billy? Can you hear me? Slow down!” Still no answer. “Don’t make me do this,” she whispered as her finger pressed the button.

The miner’s craft imploded, folding on itself like a deflated balloon. Biting her lip, blinking back tears, she turned away. Marc walked onto the bridge a second later, eyes glued to the screen. Taking her in his arms, he held her while she cried.

“You had to do it, Matilda. You had no choice. Look at his trajectory. He’d have come right through us.”

“I never had to do it before.” She wiped the tears fiercely away. And to a friend.

Marc checked the console, securing the destruct button without a word. Taking a life was never easy, but he’d grown used to it over time. Years as a Galactic Marine had hardened him. More as a Mining Guild officer had taken the sting out of senseless killing, but the first one was always the worst.

Taking her shoulders, he turned her to face him. “You did your job, Matilda. Sometimes that’s not easy.” Puzzled, he paused, looking around. “Why are you up?”

“Something didn’t feel right. I came up to check it out.” She shrugged, pressing against him as his arms held her.

“You’re like me. Your hunches are rarely wrong. I don’t know how I missed it.”

She smiled up at him, rabbit punching his ribs. “I wore your ass out.”

Chuckling, he had to agree. “How about we go back to bed and let me try to get even?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I need something to take my mind off….”

Marc slung an arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head. “I reckon I can distract you for an hour or two.” He chuckled, white teeth flashing through the confines of his dark red beard.

Back in his cabin, they wiled away the next hour. Afterward, though she was tired, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Something still felt wrong, like an instrument played off key. Now that there was nothing to occupy her mind, she focused on her misgivings. She wanted to wake Marc so she would have some distraction, but one look at his sleeping face told her that was unlikely. He didn’t sleep much, but when it did, it was deep.

Instead, Matilda rose and showered, dressing in a fresh uniform. She intended to go back to her own quarters after kissing him goodnight, but her feet took her to the cargo bay. As she approached, the creeping feeling on her skin grew worse, the hairs on her neck rising. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t determine what. Pulling herself away from the doors, she ran to the bridge, calling up the ship’s manifest.

There was a load of Trimagnite ore collected from the destroyed mine unit. In a panic, she buzzed Marc’s quarters.

“What the hell? Romance, where are you up to now?”

“Get dressed and get up here now! It’s urgent.”

“Again? Dammit, can’t I get some sleep?”

“Not if you want to live.”

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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