Disclaimers: See part 1.

Ok, it's my turn to do these. There is bad language and a bit of violence. If that bothers you, why have you read this far? Please send all comments that are positive to Sparky. Send all negative comments along with all spelling and grammar comments to adarkbow@yahoo.com . She'll forward them to the appropriate beta reader. Now I'm off for a week to visit family in sin city. We will commence to finish Part 6 upon my return. Have a great Holiday.

Windstar: I would just like to stick a note in here thanking our two fantastic beta readers. Cayld and Ellen, thank you so very much for helping us with those pesky grammar rules. As always this is for Angel.


Pathfinder 5


Metal decking streaked underneath her as she ran. Sweat dripped down her sides, and her hair was plastered to her head. Her breathing was harsh and labored as she pounded down the corridor. The Explorer class ships were among the largest ships ever built in the Coalition, even the Republic couldn't best them for sheer size. At over a kilometer long, they were massive machines and even the Coalition could only afford to keep a limited number of them in service.

Right now though, none of that mattered to the irritated Ex-Captain of the Explorer ship Pegasus. Maria seethed as she ran down the hallway trying to run off some of her anger.

Pathfinder! That bitch renamed my ship Pathfinder!

To be fair, it had been put to a ship-wide vote. This raised another point about which the now Executive Officer was not just a little upset and disappointed. Her crew, the people she considered her family, hadn't even mentioned the change in name to her!

The ship's name was just the tip of the iceberg. She knew that there were other things that truly disturbed her.

But she just couldn't make herself face them, not this morning. Not after last night and the events that had very nearly left half of the senior staff dead. Today was a day off for most of the crew.

After around the clock non-stop work, the ship once known as the Pegasus had been reborn as Pathfinder. From the outside the ship didn't look any different, but that only masked the changes that had occurred inside.

Tomorrow's the big day for the Kursk. We're so far past the point of no return I can't even see it anymore.

Rounding a bend, Maria nodded in response to the small group of crewmembers she passed on the way. A few she recognized as being part of her old crew, but most were from the Republic ship, the Kursk. Nearly everyone was taking advantage of the day off to catch up on lost sleep. Usually she would have loved to have slept in. Morning was not her best time of day. Unfortunately, Maria had barely closed her eyes at all last night. After the death of her former XO, her own and the near death of the others, she'd been far too wired up to attempt to get a couple of hours of shut-eye. Even after trying to settle down with a hot shower, a good book and some wine, she hadn't been able to do more than toss and turn all night long.

Feeling the burn start to work its way up through her legs, she pushed herself harder. As she picked up her pace and ran past the large crew cafeteria, it sounded like a good proportion of those who hadn't decided to sleep were yelling out bets.

Being a good officer, she knew when to take a look, and when to pretend to not have seen anything non-regulation. Especially since it appeared to be a boxing match underway, with bets going on for all sides. Besides, she noticed Chief Rozov was keeping an eye on things, and she winked as she caught his eye and kept on going.

No excuse not to do this more often now, I guess.

She used to run every day in the academy, and loved it. She hadn't even minded the dreaded ten-mile marches that were the traditional bane of first-year cadets. Those daily runs had slowly given away to her increased duties, until as Captain she'd barely had time to fit in a good long run during the week. Using an access tunnel, she climbed down to the next deck, intent on doing at least one more complete circuit of the ship before she headed back to her cabin and took a shower.

Her legs burned, and she was gulping air as she headed towards the bow of the ship. Here, on what had been exclusively the science department's deck, there were even more signs of the changes that the ship had undergone. Entire labs had been closed, their walls reinforced, and the makeshift armories filled with missiles transferred over from the Kursk. Below and above her, other changes had been made to her beloved ship. Energy weapons had replaced crew quarters and entire cargo bays.

Her ship.

Her beautiful Explorer had been raped and turned into something she hardly recognized.

Swallowing, she forced herself to complete the run. Maria could hardly feel her legs, she knew it she couldn't keep it up much longer and soon she'd have to slow and rest for a bit.

I'm more out of shape than I thought. I could have run the entire ship without stopping before.

Tomorrow was going to be a very long day. They'd be leaving the gas giant behind soon. Right after they decided where to go that was. The Captain, and it felt strange even to think of the tall woman with the unpronounceable last name as the Captain and not her, would have to decide soon which way they were going. They were lost, pure and simple, without even the faintest idea of how to get home. Although, Theodore might come up with something from the samples of the alien ship that Julie had managed to bring back.

The beginning of all this seemed like ages ago.

I promised I'd get my crew home though, and I will, no matter what. If it means I have to give up my spot as Captain, then, so be it.

She'd gone as far as she could without passing out. As she reached the end of the corridor, Maria slowed to a walk. Shaking out her arms, she resisted the urge to sit down and stop walking. She'd done that once, and only once. The painful cramps that had followed had forever cured her of that mistake. Running a hand through her damp hair, she was just about to turn around and start walking back towards her quarters when she heard voices.

The door to the aft observation deck was open. Frowning, she stepped closer. It wasn't until she peeked around the corner that she spotted the two of them. Kuzmin and the Captain were inside the darkened room, standing face to face with the whirling gas giant below as a backdrop. Embarrassed that she had just witnessed a tender moment, she started to slip away when she noticed the way they were facing each other. The defiant stance of Kuzmin and the look in Svetlana's blue eyes did not lend itself to a romantic interlude. They were speaking Russian again, and the small smattering that Rosov had managed to teach Maria wasn't enough to let her understand much.

Oblivious to the shadow lurking outside in the corridor, the two women inside continued to confront each other. Svetlana had thought that the problems between them had been smoothed over during the incident with the power conduit explosion. That, however, hadn't proved to be the case. Svetlana tried again to get around Kuzmin's sudden stubbornness.


Kuzmin cut her off before she could try though.

"No Svetla! I'm not going to let you pretend nothing is wrong."

Grinding her teeth in annoyance, the Captain gestured angrily at the blonde woman in front of her.

"Nothing is wrong, Yona! Why are you making this so difficult?"

The blonde backed away from the taller woman, shaking her head, and avoided the embrace that Svetlana had been about to draw her into.

"Why are we still together, Svetla?"

"Yona, I love you!" cried Svetlana.

"Yes, Svetla, you love me. But you are not IN love with me. There is a difference and I'm just starting to see what that difference is."

"Is this because of that durak of an engineer?" Svetlana took a step towards the other woman. "She's trying to get into your bed, isn't she?"

"This has nothing to do with Sparky! This is between you and me and where our relationship is going!" Kuzmin angrily ran a hand through her hair, trying to get Svetla to understand.

"What do you mean where it's going? It is going fine!" Svetlana didn't fail to notice that Kuzmin was apparently on a first name basis with the chief engineer.

"It's not going anywhere! When was the last time we tried to do something romantic? When you did something for me just because it made you feel good? All our relationship is about is sex, and only when it's convenient for you!" By now, the normally soft-spoken blonde was shouting at the Captain.

The dark-haired woman almost recoiled in shock at the sudden onslaught from her long time lover. She hadn't known that Kuzmin was upset about any of this. That fact, above anything else, scared her. "Yona, please, you know it's difficult to have a relationship and be Captain. We have to keep it low-key!"

"Sparky at least shows an interest in me outside of her basic needs. This relationship has always revolved around you, and what's best for you. I hate to tell you this, but there are two of us in this relationship!" The weapon officer's face was red from emotion, and she could feel tears burning in her eyes.

Svetlana's mouth opened for a second at that, and then snapped shut. Her eyes blazed as she pulled back. "I'm giving you everything I can give you." She took a deep breath, trying to regain control of a situation, which she still didn't understand how she'd lost. "I love you Yona, why can't we just go back to my cabin and talk about this?"

"No Svetla," the blonde shook her head. "Going back to your cabin will not make any difference. If this is all you can give me, then I'll just have to look somewhere else for what I need."

"Are you dumping me for that Engineering freak? She can't have you!" A small voice inside Svetlana was yelling at her to shut up, but the Captain was too far-gone, her feelings too far riled up.

I am NOT going to lose Yona to an annoying Coalition engineer!

"You are not listening! You never listen! Sparky has nothing to do with this, but if you don't fix what is wrong with us, she might have a chance!" The tall blonde shouted at Svetlana, the tears now beginning to find release.

Svetlana could feel one of the foundations of her life starting to shake loose. She'd always assumed that Kuzmin, loyal undemanding Yona, would always be there. "How? How do I fix this? I don't even understand why you think it needs fixing!"

Alyona looked up at her lover, tears streaking down her face. As she sobbed, "That's what I mean, you don't have a clue," she ran out of the room.

Maria had to dodge hastily to the side to avoid being run into by the weeping woman who didn't even seem to notice her. The Captain stared after her, trying to understand what had just happened. In frustration, she grabbed the nearest stool and with a scream, flung it at the far wall.

Outside in the corridor, Maria slowly backed away from the doors not wanting to see any more. Even if she didn't understand most of what had been said, she felt guilty for having witnessed the exchange. She did know she was going to have to have another talk with Sparky though.

"Hey, Skipper, was that the weapons officer crying that I just saw running away? Should I go make sure she's ok?" Maria spun around in surprise, to find Julia LeClare standing a little way down the hallway holding an easel and a paint set. The Head of the ship's Search and Rescue squads could draw some of the most beautiful scenes that Maria had ever seen.

"No, no that's all right, let her be. You don't want to go in there."

Julia looked past Maria towards the observation room from where she had been going to draw the gas giant. "I don't?"

Maria shook her head and took hold of her friend's arm, steering her away as the sound of more and more objects being thrown could be heard from inside. "No. You don't. Come on."


After making sure that Julia found another place to draw in, Maria made some discreet inquiries into where Kuzmin had run off to. She'd been immensely relieved to find out that the blonde weapons officer hadn't gone to Sparky's quarters, since she was pretty sure that the Captain would have probably tried to shoot the Chief Engineer if she found the two of them together.

I don't understand much of what that argument was about but I better have that talk with Sparky soon.

Maria had a quick shower in her quarters after having checked up on Kuzmin. Sighing, she headed down the corridor. All she wanted to do was to go back to her quarters and pretend the rest of the universe didn't exist until the senior staff meeting that evening. The XO's plans for enjoying the rest of the day off would have to wait, though. She was in an awkward position now. She wished she'd never witnessed the scene down in the observation lounge.

On the one hand, she wanted to let the Captain suffer, to get back at that bitch for everything the Spaniard had been through. On the other hand though, an unhappy Captain, as a rule, made for an unhappy ship. Something that none of them could afford out here in the middle of nowhere.

There wasn't any chance of reassignment, no higher authority with whom to plead. Maria could see the crash coming, and, as much as she hated it, her job was to make sure collisions didn't happen.

Great. Now I have to choose between chewing out my best friend or helping a woman that I despise.

She wasn't going to admit, even to herself, that there was a part of her that was feeling sorry for the Captain right now.

Two other things made her abandon her plans for the day off and instead made her way to Sparky's quarters despite the fact that she had every reason to just let Svetlana deal with her own problems. The first was her sense of duty. Something inside her that would not allow her to shirk this talk just because Sparky was her friend or that she just didn't want to do it. The second was the memory of Witworth. Specifically, the memory of how bad an XO he had been.

I will never be anything like him.

So, she found herself at the door to Sparky's quarters. The corridor was mostly empty as she hit the admittance chime for the Chief Engineer's door.

I hope she's here. I don't want to have to track her down.

Sparky opened the door, "Hey, what's up Skippy?"

"Skippy?" Maria scowled at her friend and gave her a push back into her room. "Sit down, we have to have a talk."

"Sure, sure." The engineer picked up the half full glass on the table in front of her and waved it towards Maria. "Want some beer?" Sparky wiggled her eyebrows.

Maria sighed, resisting the urge to smack her friend. "I don't even want to know where you got beer from. Between you and Bear, you've broken about a half dozen regulations already."

The XO glanced about the cluttered room reminding her of her own. Although where her quarters were cluttered with books and clothing, Sparky's was littered with half completed engineering projects. She did her best to ignore the small brewery half-hidden in the corner of the quarters.

Oh god, she brought it along. I thought I told her to leave that back at our last supply stop.

Since she wasn't here to do something about the rather flagrant breach of policy, she deliberately ignored the brewery as she looked back at her friend.

"Look, Sparky, I want you to lay off Kuzmin."

"Aw, Skip, why? I like her. She's smart and funny, and definitely easy on the eyes." Sparky tried to blow off her friend's demand.

"Sparky, I'm not joking here. Stop it." Her tone serious, Maria leaned forward, watching her friend intently. "Just stop it for a while. I think you're doing some real damage to her relationship with the Captain."

"What relationship?" Sparky fumed. "That Captain treats Alyona like a… a… a concubine! She deserves to be treated special," the engineer finished softly.

"Oh, Sparky! And you are going to be the one to treat her special?" This was worse than she'd first thought. Sparky was getting past the lust stage. Things had the potential for getting really nasty now. "Sparky, what are you going to do? Get into a relationship with someone who's involved with the Captain? Then what? When we get home, you defect to the Republic? Are you out of your mind?"

Sparky started twisting the glass she had in her hand, studying it intensely. "Do you really thing we are going to get home?" She refused to meet Maria's eyes.

Leaving her chair, Maria moved what looked like a stack of circuit boards out of the way and took a seat next to Sparky. Gently she took the glass from her friend's hands and set it aside. Guessing from the smell, Sparky had been sampling quite a bit of her own brew.

"Sparky, I have to get us home. I will not leave this crew out here. You know that I won't." She forced a smile. "I won't allow it."

Sparky wiped surreptitiously at her eyes. "I like her, Skip. I feel things around her that I've never felt before. Like when Witworth was bugging me while I was trying to install that coupler. I was about to shove a spanner so far up his ass… and she just touched my arm, and all the anger went away." Sparky looked up. "I can't help myself around her."

Uh oh.

Maria was going to yell at her friend not to be stupid, to stay away from them, that they were nothing but trouble and she took a breath to say that and more, but then she met Sparky's eyes and saw the look in them.

This wasn't lust. This wasn't even her friend just looking to score. It was far past that now.

Instead Maria wrapped an arm around Sparky's shoulders and gave her a hug. "Just be careful, ok? She and the Captain just had a big fight, and I think it was over you. I don't want to have to try to kill the Captain for killing you."

"Naw, she wouldn't kill me," the cocky Sparky was back. "Who'd fix the damn engines?"

Maria shoved her away, laughing despite herself. "Okay, smart ass, give me a glass of this new swill of yours. Let's see if you've improved the recipe any."

Sparky jumped up, swayed and fell back on the couch. She grinned unrepentantly and struggled back up again. "This stuff is much better. I asked the Admiral for help once I found out from Bear that the old guy is a whiz at brewing stuff."

Maria was fairly certain she didn't want to know why Bear and Sparky had been talking about brewing things.

"I figured out the correct amount of hops to put in this time, I swear."

"Oh god. I did NOT just hear that." Groaning, Maria leaned back and watched her friend grab a clean glass and head towards the brewery. "You do realize that's not helping my confidence levels any?"

"Aw, come on. The Admiral is an all right guy. Did you know that he has NAVY tattooed on the inside of his lower lip? You should hear the story behind that one. He lost a bet." Sparky topped off her own glass and brought Maria a full glass of a dark amber brew.

Maria took the glass, eyeing it warily and took a cautious sip. It certainly was shaping up to be an interesting day off. She still wanted to go back to her own quarters and just relax before the staff meeting. But, it had been too long since she'd gotten the chance to just enjoy Sparky's company and she reasoned, if she stayed here, she could head off any potential disasters between her friend and Kuzmin.


The conference room was already full when she strode in. The senior staff meeting had been called for just after suppertime and everyone had arrived early. Things may have thawed between the two crews, but her officers and the civilian officers from the Pegasus still sat separately from one another.

Which wasn't a completely bad thing, Svetlana thought spitefully. At least it kept that annoying engineer away from Kuzmin.

Ignoring the bewildered pain still raging inside her from the earlier argument with the weapons officer, the Captain waited until the last of the side conversations died down. Once she was certain that she had everyone's attention, she leaned forward.

"Ladies and Gentleman, I am happy to announce, despite it taking so long…" she paused for the muttered comments, "that I now have a fully functional ship at my disposal."

Out of the corner of her eye she watched as the Spaniard stiffened in her seat, and she quickly hid a smile at how easy it was to get a reaction from Maria.

"I wish to thank all of you for your hard work, and I ask that you all pass that on to each of your departments. You worked hard on this people, and you all deserved the day off." She glanced at Yona but Kuzmin wouldn't meet her eyes and Svetlana struggled to drive away the feelings that snub brought.

"Commander Fyodor Ivanovich Borozdin, my complements on how well you have completed your task. The Commander has done so well that he has worked himself right out of a job." There were some muffled chuckles at that and the Captain smiled at Bear, happy to have her friend back on the ship. Now that the Kursk had been completely stripped of anything useful, he and his work parties would be onboard full time.

"We'll discuss his new assignment shortly. Before we do I would like to have brief reports from each department head."

She had no desire to drink her tea, but she forced herself to sip from the china cup she'd brought with her from the Kursk. Despite whatever was happening between herself and Kuzmin, she would not allow her personal life to affect her command abilities. She looked at the first person to begin his report.

Carl, the chief medical officer was doing his best to avoid looking at anyone other than a Coalition officer. Svetlana noted with a sigh that he actually delivered most of his brief report to Maria. Doubtless, the auburn haired woman got a kick out of that.

"We are pretty well stocked on medical supplies, although I suggest we don't get too many more casualties." There were a few grim chuckles around the room. "Only a dozen are still in sickbay that were wounded when we were dragged here with the alien ship. They are the most severely injured and it may take them weeks to a few months before they are ready to resume their duties."

And so it went. Each department reported their readiness, any problems they foresaw and raised any suggestions they wanted to make. To her surprise, most of the officers managed to act civilly towards one another, and a few of the Coalition officers had some good ideas.

She knew what each of them was going to say, of course. Maria had made certain that she'd gotten a copy of each of the departmental assessments. To be honest that had been a bit of a surprise. Despite the animosity between herself and the shorter woman, Maria had doggedly begun doing her best to be a good XO to this annoying woman.

Which was good, since it was going to be a long trip home.

Pathfinder was in pretty good shape, considering how they got here. The supplies brought over from the Kursk had allowed the two crews to repair most of the damage from the encounter with the alien ship. Every one of the Kursk's weapons had been installed onboard the Explorer class ship even though some of them tended to short out the power conduits. Sparky and her people were working hard on solving that major glitch. The Cloak was another serious problem, and right now, Sparky didn't know when she'd be able to get it working again. Provisions were at acceptable levels for now. Although, even with rationing, the combined crews from the two ships were starting to go through supplies at a horrendous rate.

Not bad for a Frankenstein ship.

She might not be beautiful anymore, but Pathfinder was going to get them home one way or another. She'd make sure of that.

As the last of the department heads gave their reports, she once more leaned forward.

"Now that we all have a clear idea of where we stand, I'd like Mr. Renault to tell us what our options are."

Theodore blinked and gazed back at her for a second before realizing she was talking about him. Trying not to frown, she waited as the head scientist gathered his thoughts and activated the holographic display in the middle of the conference table.

The holographic display came to life and suddenly a model of the universe blossomed into being before them. Just to be certain that everyone understood the visual, Theodore highlighted the area where the Coalition and Republic existed. "Here is where we were."

The display zoomed across the galactic core and out to the other edge of the spiral galaxy. "Here is where we are now. Under full NOVA drive, it would take us three hundred twenty four years to get home from here."

They all knew how far away from home they were, but everyone looked a bit grimmer after he drove the point home.

"The Stellar Cartography folks, having a blast cataloging all the new local space phenomena, also have come up with several possibilities to help us get home."

Excitedly, he started to describe what they'd found so far. "We have a stellar birth two light years away, here." The section he was talking about was highlighted. "What might be a black hole at twenty light years over here...."

Svetlana interrupted him. "Excuse me. Black hole? You want us to travel through a black hole?"

He'd been about to go on about a galactically nearby nebula when the Captain interrupted. Blinking in confusion, he stared at her for a moment. "What? No! Good heavens, no. Why would I suggest that? We'd… well… we'd all die."

"Then what exactly," the captain emphasized that word. "Are you suggesting we do?"

"Oh, well I was just telling you about what Stellar Cartography found. It's very intriguing. I mean, over here there're two gas giants orbiting one another, while orbiting a sun and this is fascinating also..."

Svetlana slammed her open palm down on the table to get the astrogator's attention. "Enough! How do you propose we get home? Exactly. In small, concise words and sentences."

Swallowing, Theodore nodded several times before he got back on track. Maria had to hide her grin at Svetlana's frustration behind the rim of her cup of coffee. "Yes, Captain. I was just getting to that."

"Good," the Captain almost purred. Recognizing the tone of voice, the Kursk's officers discreetly moved back from the table.

"We have a few options." Taking a deep breath, he unhappily got back on track. At the moment, the Captain wasn't looking very interested in the amazing scientific discoveries.

"Choice one, we've located an unstable wormhole ten days from here at maximum Nova. It may or may not allow us to get home. We won't know until we do a more detailed scan at a much closer range. Choice two, we head in this direction." A portion of the display flashed. "We've been picking up signals from here that match those from the alien ship. We may be able to find a way home there. Choice three, we start heading home and hope we come across something more promising." He hesitated a moment then continued. "Choice four, we find a planet and settle here."

"So our choices are an unstable wormhole, more spiny things, hoofing it home the long way, or colonization?" Svetlana summarized. "Well, you are my executive staff," she indicated to the officers around the table. "Let's hear the pros and cons of which ever decision you all favor."

There was dead silence for a long few moments. Then Maria cautiously spoke up. "The aliens got us here, why don't we see if they can get us home?"

"But how do we know they won't just shoot us?" questioned Romonov, the Kursk communications officer.

"You're the com officer, shouldn't you be able to come up with some way of communicating with them?" Carl challenged, immediately supporting Maria's idea.

"Yes, I'm sure that all of our standard salutations would work," replied Romonov sarcastically. "That's why those four alien ships were so receptive to us when we first arrived here."

At which, each of the Coalition officers then launched into a discussion with their fellow peers with detailed ideas as to why the alien ships might have opened fire. Maria just grinned and raised an eyebrow at Svetlana. The captain had asked for the pros and cons after all.

Svetlana leaned back in her chair and gave a slight wave of her hand, indicating to her XO that she was now in charge of the debate. That was the first officer's job, wasn't it, the Captain's smirk seemed to say.

Maria's smile disappeared at that and she narrowed green eyes at the Captain. That was just mean.

Svetlana just raised one eyebrow at her XO as she calmly sipped her tea.

Maria sighed, turning towards the discussion that had now spread to engulf both sides of the table. Coalition and Republic officers were arguing back and forth. The expression of opinions was rapidly turning into a shouting match.

"All right, that's enough."

The arguments raged on.

Green eyes hardened and she braced her hands on the table, leaning over it. "I said, SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

The sudden silence was deafening as everyone turned to stare at her wide-eyed. "There! Thank you."

Svetlana calmly continued to sip her tea, waiting for her XO to assert herself as the Captain's right hand.

Maria glared at them all, wondering if it was too late to give up the position of XO. "Major Dononov, what do you think?" The marine had been the only one to sit silent through the entire argument and Maria was curious to hear what she thought about it all.

The major made eye contact with the XO. "I don't have enough information to make an informed decision." she replied.

"You know as much as the rest of us here do, Major." Maria wasn't going to let her off quite so easily. Except for the Captain, she'd heard everyone else's opinion.

Dononov sighed. "Fine, I am not happy with any of these suggestions, but I think our best option is to move toward the signals. At least, our problem will be solved. They will either send us home, or blow us out of space."

The slightly fatalistic point of view was pretty much what Maria had expected from her. She was pleased to see that the Major's opinion had grounded some of her more dreamy staff members. Theodore, in particular, was staring at the Marine in shock.

"I think the consensus is that we make for the signals then, Captain." Maria turned back towards the silent Svetlana, her tone formal.

"What, no one wants to start our own little colony? And here I thought we were the best of friends," Svetlana joked. Maria nearly choked at that. Personally, she was going to be happy if no other crewmembers got shot on this little expedition of theirs.

She glanced at her XO's expression, "Well, I'm glad we all agreed on the same path, even though it was for different reasons."

"Now that that's settled, perhaps we should move onto the matter of the saboteur?" Maria carefully recommended. She leaned back in her chair once more and wondering if it was impolite to call her Captain some interesting names.

The Captain smiled, as if she knew what Maria was thinking and nodded. "Right. Major Dononov, please give us your findings so far?"

The Major nodded, her back ramrod straight as she began her report. "The auto injector used to kill Witworth was easily accessible to any of the medical staff." She briefly glanced towards Carl, and then concluded. "I have not been able to retrieve anything from the auto injector itself, such as prints or DNA, that would link it with a crewmember."

"Any idea who Witworth was working with? It seems to be a general consensus that the man was not smart enough to come up with this on his own" questioned the Captain.

"The security monitors in the area were disabled, but I think I may be able to back-track the code used to do that." Then she paused, shook her head precisely once. "No, Captain. Unfortunately, I have no solid leads at this time. I do recommend posting Marine guards at all sensitive areas of the ship until we discover who it is, though."

"Fuck that!" exploded Sparky. The other Coalition officers were quickly behind her in voicing their protests.

"I have to agree with the chief engineer, Captain." Maria murmured. She kept her voice low and glared at the others until they fell silent. Things were going to be hard enough without her crew feeling like they were under guard, too. Svetlana met her XO's defiant gaze, her own blue eyes darkening.

"We will move out tomorrow morning. Romonov, plot a course for the source of the alien signals. Sparky, I suggest you have our cloaking device working by the time we reach those signals. Until then, you are all dismissed."

The former Kursk officers all stood as one and nodded at her. Meanwhile, the Pegasus officers stood up a few seconds later after gathering their things. The Captain remained sitting but called out as the group headed towards the doors out onto the command deck.

"Commander Ramirez, stay for a moment."

The auburn haired woman shook her head slightly at the questioning glance from several of her former officers and returned to her chair. She waited patiently for the last of the staff members to leave the room before looking to the Captain expectantly.

"Commander," started Svetlana in a smooth, silky voice that seemed to put her own officers on edge.

"Would you care to explain to me your reasons for not wanting guards on my ship?" The slight emphasis on the possessive indicated that the Captain was displeased with her XO.

Maria actually had to bite her tongue to avoid saying something she was pretty sure she'd regret. Instead, she took a breath and slowly let it out before answering the annoying woman.

"Because half of "my crew" is not military. They don't like guns and they will not work well around armored people who are holding them."

"We are not in a good position to be thinking about your crew's feelings in this matter. We have at least one saboteur on board. We have hostile entities around us. Plus, we have no contact with our home bases and no way to replenish supplies. Right now, I really don't give a good goddamn what your people feel like!" The Captain's voice never rose above a normal speaking tone, but the intensity grew to such a point where Maria could almost feel each word slap against her skin.

The younger woman forced away the instinct to recoil from the anger radiating from the other woman. She hadn't done anything recently to earn such an outburst from the Captain and she'd be damned if she was going to let the other woman walk all over her.

"Well, you better give a damn, because they aren't the little wind-up toys like your crew that you can tell to 'jump' and they ask how high!"

The Captain's eyes flashed angrily and she strode towards the smaller woman, her long legs eating up the distance.

"My crew," she emphasized, "Are not wind-up toys. They are a highly disciplined, finely coordinated, working team. They understand that when I or their officers tell them to do something, we have a good reason for it. And they don't," Svetlana poked Maria's chest with her finger, "question every single fucking command."

The brunette came closer into the XO's personal space. "If I have to listen to one of your crew, down to the lowest ensign, complain one more time to me or my senior officers, I'll give them something to cry about. I made you XO. You have not been doing your job. Try to keep the stupid civilian complaints under control."

Maria's body stiffened with anger as she shot out of her chair. She was at least a good head shorter than the Captain, but she stood her ground as she stared up into the other woman's eyes.

"First off, if you ever touch me again, I promise you, we are going to have more problems than just guards to worry about." She was surprised at how level her words sounded despite her fury. Her hands had actually formed into fists.

"Second," she snapped, "they are one of the finest crews I've ever served with. We've saved the lives of over three hundred people, and unlike your crew, they are trained to think on their own. Each of them has gone through at least four years of training for this mission, so don't you ever dare call them stupid." Maria tried to relax her fists but to no avail.

Svetlana knew her anger had taken over her emotions, but something about this woman just pushed all of her buttons. "Stupid? No, I was stupid for even thinking this would work as a partnership. I should have just taken the damn ship and spaced whoever I didn't need!" She was way out of line with that remark but the hell if she would let the Spaniard know this.

"You just make sure that when your 'crew' start complaining to you about the guards, you tell them that one of their own killed Witworth. Not one of my wind-up toys!"

Maria's fists were so tightly clenched that she could feel her nails biting into her palms. If she didn't get out of there right then she was going to take a swing at the smug woman across from her.

"I hope you don't get this way every time you have a fight with your lover," she retorted. I'll tell the crew to expect your storm troopers everywhere, Captain Moluva."

She was heading for the doorway before she'd even finished speaking, intent on putting as much distance between them as possible thus missing the Captain's reaction to her jab.

Svetlana's eyes widened in shock and then narrowed. She knew the little Spaniard was right on the mark about her taking her anger and frustration out on her XO, but Svetlana wondered how Maria knew about her fight with Alyona.


Things were definitely strained on the bridge of the newly named starship Pathfinder the next morning. The Captain was glowering at everyone while the Weapons and First Officer were giving her a definite cold shoulder. The rest of the bridge staff was doing their level best to avoid the fallout from the contact involving the three of them. Luckily, Sparky was in her beloved Engineering or things could have been worse. Ironically, the animosity between the First Officer and the Captain was actually forcing the rest of the command staff to work closer together as they strove to avoid trying Maria's and Svetlana's already short fuses.

"Engineering reports engines are online and ready. All sections and all departments report ready as well." Maria's tone was cool as she did her duty and reported, but she didn't so much as glance at the Captain as she spoke.

"Commander Kuzmin, have you acquired the target?" Svetlana's voice was tight.

"Yes, Captain Montastyrskaya." Maria silently bit her lip as the Weapons officer pronounced Svetlana's last name perfectly. The tone of the blonde woman's words was so icy she wanted to shiver.

Remind me to never piss off Kuzmin.

"Very well. Prepare to fire." Svetlana felt sick to her stomach. She was blowing up her home for the last 5 years, her beloved Kursk.

Her first battle command.

"Laser cannons locked on target, awaiting your order, Captain." Kuzmin's voice softened at the end and Maria glanced over to see sadness in both women's eyes. She could imagine what they were going through. She knew what her reaction would have been if they'd been forced to scrap the Pegasus.

"Davie, open the ship's channel."

The mood on the bridge turned somber, and even the young ensign was less than his usual cheerful self as he opened the ship-wide hail. "Ready, Captain."

"All Hands, we are preparing to destroy the Kursk. A moment of silence, if you will." Svetlana's voice broke slightly on the words.

Maria bowed her head, not because of Svetlana or her crew, but rather for the ship they were about to destroy. The Kursk had done her crew proud, and she was owed at least that much respect. The silence on the bridge stretched onwards, and several pairs of eyes watched the Captain, waiting.

"Fire," came the soft command.

They were well within energy weapon's range and the other ship wasn't evading. Each of Kuzmin's shots hit the Republic Cruiser and shredded it. There was no explosion. There wasn't anything left on board that could explode, but where there had once been a ship there now was a floating debris field. The larger chunks would soon tumble into the gas giant, the smaller ones would perhaps become part of a planet's ring, a memorial to the Kursk.

"Commander Ramirez, you have the com," and Svetlana quickly left the bridge, her eyes shining suspiciously.

Whatever lay between them, Maria was still the XO. And an XO was there to make sure that others viewed the Captain in a certain light. She glared at the others until they suddenly found something to keep them busy. "Helm, come about to course one twenty, mark two oh four. Take us out of this system."

They would engage NOVA drive only when they were clear of the system's gravity well. For now though, Pathfinder's powerful engines came online. Smoothly, the large ship began to accelerate away from the inner system.


It would take them another day to make their way out of the system to where they could use the NOVA drive. From there, it would take two days using the NOVA drive to get them to the closest origin of the Alien signals that Theodore and his people had located. Maria had turned over the bridge to Bear at the end of her eight-hour shift. She hadn't seen the Captain since Svetlana had fled the bridge after the destruction of her ship. Bear had been worried, and against her better judgment, she'd told the large man that she'd make sure the Captain was all right.

Obviously I'm losing my mind.

Wondering when she had become such a sucker for punishment, Maria made her way down the corridor towards the Captain's Quarters. God, how she missed those quarters, they were at least twice as big as the space she had right now.

Let's be honest here, what I really miss is the full-sized bathtub.

Halfway through her shift, Carl had discreetly commed to tell her that a half dozen crewmen had been escorted to sickbay after having been assaulted. Maria had been horrified, right up until she'd learned that the crewmembers in question had been cheering the destruction of the Kursk. The Republic crew had, predictably, taken offense at that. Wondering if she should bring this to the Captain's attention, Maria hit the admittance chime for the Captain's quarters.

After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal a disheveled Svetlana. "Shto?"

For a split second Maria didn't recognize the person standing in the doorway. Green eyes widened as she realized that the listing person in front of her was Svetlana.


Svetlana blinked at her XO. "Da." She then turned around and walked deliberately to the table that had a nice bar set up on it.

Glancing up and down the corridor to make certain that no crewmembers were near enough to have seen the Captain's condition, Maria followed her inside. Some of the bottles she recognized as having come from her own little wet bar, others were unfamiliar to her.

Uncomfortable, she stayed near the doorway, watching the tall woman stagger about. Maria finally ventured, "We are underway," thinking that was safe enough to say.

"Horosho" responded Svetlana as she sat herself down with a grunt.

"Excuse me?" Maria wasn't sure what that meant.

Svetlana blinked at her XO, revealing the redness in her eyes. She thought a moment then said, "Good."

The Captain is three sheets to the wind. Great. Just Great.

It had been on the tip of her tongue to ask if she should go get Kuzmin, when she realized that probably wouldn't help matters. Instead, she hesitantly took a step further into her old quarters. They looked different, the floor was clean for one thing, and no littering objects tossed everywhere.

I should have known she would be a neat freak.

"Is there something I can get you, Svetlana?" The first name was out before Maria could call it back.

"Sit, drink." Svetlana punctuated the statement by slamming down a glass on the table and filling it with Vodka.

On Maria's top ten list of things she'd rather not do, drinking with the person who had taken her command was very near the top of the list.

She should just leave and go back to her quarters she thought. Maybe go to the bridge and relieve Bear, have him come down and get the Captain to sober up. Unfortunately, while she was thinking of all the ways she could excuse herself, her body betrayed her and she had moved to sit down across from the captain.

"Apologize for recent fight," The startling admission came from a heavily accented Captain.

If she hadn't already been sitting down, she would have fallen down at those unexpected words. If the Captain wasn't totally drunk, then she was obviously nicely buzzed.

"Should I go get someone?" This was going past the uncomfortable stage to the just plain weird. Even though she was not completely sober, Svetlana apologizing indicated that she wasn't quite the bitch that Maria figured her to be. And that meant she might have to have to revise her opinion of the other woman.

Damn it, why can't she just stay bitchy?

"Nyet. Drink." Svetlana pushed the drink closer to Maria. "All First Officers drink with Captains."

"Not where I come from." She sighed though and took a dubious sip of the drink, coughing as the liquid burned down her throat. Her eyes watering, Maria looked at the other woman and hoarsely croaked, "What is this?" and then tried to catch her breath.

"Good Vodka, not Bear crap." replied the captain as she threw a shot down her throat.

Appalled, Maria stared at Svetlana, then looked down at the drink in her hands. "This is 'good Vodka'?" she said incredulously. She'd rather be drinking Sparky's beer than this.

"Da. You no like?" Svetlana's English was rough, but she was not slurring like most drunks.

Maria watched the other woman warily, not sure what exactly was going on here. "It feels like I'm drinking drive plasma."

Svetlana looked through her other bottles and pulled out a whiskey that she had found in the room when she moved in. "Good?" she held up the bottle.

"Hey! That's my.... I mean, yeah, I suppose that would do."

The XO looked slightly chagrined at nearly having admitted to smuggling her own little wet bar onboard. Taking one of the relatively clean glasses she filled it halfway with the good aged whiskey and took a sip. Licking her lips she searched her mind for something to say, somehow she didn't think making polite conversation would work with the woman across from her.

"No more ship," said the brunette, tears forming in her eyes. "Good ship, good crew." She took another gulp from her glass.

The Captain was downing those shots at what Maria considered an alarming rate.

What the hell do I care what she does?

Keeping that thought firmly planted in the front of her mind, she nodded. "You still have a good crew."

She ignored the tears, hoping that if she didn't pay attention to them, they'd go away. A crying Svetlana was just too much for her to try to comprehend right now.

"Da. Good crew. What left." Svetlana scrubbed her face with her hands.

Judging by the number of empty bottles lying about and the thickening accent, the tall woman had been at this little activity for quite a while. Probably since they'd destroyed the Kursk. Sighing mentally, Maria chalked up what she was about to do to her sense of duty.

"Lan..." Coughing, she covered over that little slip. "Captain, have you eaten anything yet?"

"Lana. Not hungry." The Captain removed her hands from her face, picked up another bottle and drank right from it. She stood up and walked carefully over to the little kitchenette and opened a cabinet. She removed a package and walked slowly back over to the table, where she threw the package down in front of Maria. "Eat."

As much as she loved the prepackaged emergency rations, Maria decided she'd take her chances with the whiskey. "We'll be clear of the system and ready to go to NOVA drive by tomorrow morning." She hoped that information would edge Svetlana away from the self-destructive drinking binge she seemed intent on.

"She hates me," Svetlana turned to her first officer with beseeching eyes. "Why?"

If there is a god or goddess in this universe please take me now. I do NOT want to have this talk with her. I don't even like her!

Since she didn't seem to be about to die, and no ship-wide emergencies appeared to be about to come to the rescue, Maria sighed and set aside her drink. "I take it you mean Kuzmin?"

Svetlana placed her hand on Maria's arm." I give her all I can. I not know what Yona wants."

This situation had now become number one on Maria's list of things she'd rather not be involved with. Mentally groaning, she awkwardly patted the Captain's arm. "I don't know enough about the two of you to answer that." That seemed like a nice safe answer.

"I love her, but Yona says I do not." Svetlana rubbed her face with her hands again and looked up. "I am losing her." Tears started running down her face.

Oh no, she's crying! SHIT! What do I do now? Quick, think! Quick!

Hesitantly, Maria wrapped an arm around the crying woman and offered her a hug. She really didn't know what else to do. If this had been any of her crew, she'd know exactly what response to have. However, with this woman she professed to hate, things seemed to be a bit more complicated and confusing.

Svetlana buried her face in Maria's neck and let out all of her hurt and frustration that had been building from the beginning of this mess. By the time she was done, a wide-eyed Maria was staring at the growing wet patch on her shoulder.

"You are a good officer," sniffed the red-eyed Svetlana.

"All right, now I know you're drunk. Come on, you're going to bed." From the moment Lana, Svetlana she mentally corrected herself, started paying her compliments, she knew sanity had been left behind. Keeping the other woman's arm draped over her shoulder, she managed to get them both standing.

Svetlana started to remove her clothes on the way to the bedroom. She spied the bathroom and lurched off in that direction, almost knocking Maria down.

Maria could see herself trying to explain how the Captain had died falling down drunk and hitting her head against the countertop. Just in case, she followed closely behind Lana.

Svetlana seemed to get tangled up in her pants and started to fall forwards.

Suddenly realizing what the Captain was doing, Maria lunged forward and wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist, hauling her erect again. Trying desperately to ignore the warm flesh under her hands.

"What are you doing?" Maria grunted with the effort of holding the Captain's weight upright.

Svetlana pointed at the head.

God give me patience.

Maria situated the Captain on the receptacle and held her vertical, as Svetlana was listing definitely to the side. The smaller woman averted her eyes, doing her best to pretend she was somewhere, anywhere, else. The evening was getting stranger by the minute. She wasn't sure that the long-standing tradition of keeping your shipmates from making a fool of themselves when drunk applied to this situation.

After Svetlana finished her business, she stood up and tried to kick off her pants. Maria, realizing she was having a problem and to make the job easier, bent over and took off the Captain's boots. Another first, she muttered. Helping her Captain take off her clothes wasn't really standing out against the other events of the evening. Which, she supposed, said something about how the night was going so far. Taking Lana's arm once more, she led the tall woman through the mostly darkened cabin towards her bed.

"Things will be better in the morning." It seemed like the right thing to say.

"Thank you," muttered the brunette as she fell on the bed.

Before she could think about what she was doing, Maria drew the blankets up over the tall woman. "Good night." She whispered, and then fled the room for the safety of her own quarters and a good stiff drink of her own.


Svetlana strode onto the bridge wishing that her head didn't feel like an over ripe fruit getting ready to explode. Her XO gave her a strange look as Maria approached her.

"Captain?" Maria wasn't sure how to act around the other woman after last night. She wanted to hate her, but the view of the captain as something other than a bitch had eroded some of that feeling.

"Yes, Commander Ramirez?" Svetlana hoped the shorter woman couldn't see her squinting against the overhead light and blinking displays at each station.

"We are ready to engage the NOVA drive. Sparky reports that she will do her best to ensure that the Cloak is working before we reach our destination, but she isn't promising anything." The XO struggled unsuccessfully to not notice the slight pallor the Captain was sporting this morning.

The Captain waved her hand dismissively. "Have the engineer conscript some of the weapons techs from the Kursk to help her out." Svetlana slowly sank into the command chair with a slight grunt.

Maria couldn't help but glance towards the weapons technician that was filling in for the head weapons officer. Kuzmin had already descended to give Sparky a hand. She hesitated slightly before responding. "I'll pass on the word."

"Thank you." Svetlana replied absently.

Maria hesitated then nodded and made her way back to her own station. "Shall I begin the checklist to NOVA drive initiation?"

"Da," responded the Captain. Her eyes glanced around the room, the snapped back to the empty weapons officer station. "Commander Ramirez. Have you seen Commander Kuzmin this morning?"

The XO's back stiffened momentarily at the question, and only the fact that she was facing away from the Captain, kept Svetlana from seeing the wince that crossed her fact. "Yes Captain." Everyone on the bridge suddenly developed an urge to study his or her instruments with great detail.

"Where might my weapons officer be, Commander?"

Please, please let me be wrong.

"The Chief Engineer was up here to ask the Weapons Officer a question regarding the Cloaking unit. I believe Kuzmin volunteered to help her."

I need to com down there and warn them. This was not going to be good.

Svetlana stood quickly. "If the Engineer asked for advice, I should go and find out why she needed my Weapons officer. I do have a degree in engineering myself. I might be able to lend a hand."

Svetlana's vision was tunneling down. The last time she felt this kind of anger was right after she found Tasha's body. "Commander, you have the com." The brunette strode quickly off the bridge.

"Davie, I don't care what you have to do, but get me Sparky and get me her now!" She couldn't leave the bridge, not when they were starting to go through the checklist to engage the NOVA Drive. But if she didn't get help down there soon, they might not have a Chief Engineer anymore.

"Davie, you better get me Bear as well."


Sparky had been surprised, pleased but surprised, when Kuzmin had agreed to come down and help her work on the Cloaking device. She'd done her best to keep to her agreement with Maria, but darn it, the weapons officer wasn't making it easy.

Right now, for instance. They'd just managed to disassemble the primary and secondary power relays and both of them were smeared with grease and sweating. They'd long since gotten rid of their uniform tops, and were down to their t-shirts. Working in close proximity to the blonde was not doing wonders for Sparky's willpower.

Stealing another discreet glance at the flesh just a mere foot from her, Sparky sighed and started to crawl back into the maintenance hatch. She expected some seriously good karma for being so good.

"Commander Kuzmin! Why aren't you at your post?" Svetlana entered the room, the air almost boiling around her.

Kuzmin was just about to follow Sparky down into the maintenance hatch to see if they could rig a bypass when Svetlana barged into the lab.

"I was assisting the engineer in something that I understood was high priority. Getting the cloak working?" She answered coolly.

"Why are you here and not one of your techs?" The Captain demanded, her eyes narrowing.

"Because I am the head Weapons Officer, and I know this equipment better than anyone else onboard."

Kuzmin's features hardened as she faced Svetlana. "Or should I have cleared it with you first, Captain?" Kuzmin deliberately tossed in the rank.

Sparky stopped halfway down the ladder rungs, wondering if she should just try to disappear and try to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Svetlana gritted her teeth. What Kuzmin was saying was true. She did know more about the cloak than anyone else on board. Svetlana was well aware that she was really upset because Kuzmin was working with Sparky. The Captain might have let the whole thing blow over, normally, but since it was the multicolor hair freak, the brunette just couldn't let it go.

"Do you think it's a good idea to be showing a Coalition engineer how the cloak works?" she finally managed to get out.

"Hey!" Sparky yelled from down below. She wasn't going to take insult no matter who said it. The engineer climbed up the ladder so her torso was above the hatchway, intent on coming to the weapon officer's defense. "You want it working, I have to know what your power requirements are."

Kuzmin blinked in surprise, having hoped that Sparky hadn't heard the little exchange.

"This is between me and my Weapons Officer. Stay out of it!" Svetlana resisted the temptation to kick the Chief Engineer back down the ladder.

Kuzmin moved between the irate Captain and the open hatchway, just in case Svetlana tried exactly that. She switched to Russian. "Why are you down here Svetla?"

"Because you are down here with her," she replied in Russian, waving at Sparky.

"What does that have to do with anything!? We're working on the cloak, not making out!" The blonde angrily spat. "What are you going to do? Put a brand on my forehead to try and mark your territory?"

"She doesn't care that we are together. To her, it's all a game. "Let's cuckold the Captain!' I will not be stuck with those horns, Yona!"

"You don't care if we're together either! You think you do, but all you want is a warm body at night when it's convenient for you! At least she seems to want to be around me more than just in the bedroom!"

"Yona, that's not true! I love you!"

Sparky didn't know what was going on, but judging by the amount of shouting, it wasn't good. She tried to gauge the distance between herself and the nearest com unit, wondering if she could reach it with a desperate sprint.

Kuzmin shook her head, tears freely spilling down her cheeks at that. "If only you did, Svetla."

"Look we are all in a very stressful situation. I think things are being said that neither one of us mean. How about we take sometime and cool down, ok?" Svetlana tried to reason with her lover.

"Time." Kuzmin half laughed, half sobbed.

"You've had since we were in the academy! If that hasn't been enough, what do you think a few days will do?" Sadly she shook her head once more, backing away.

"No Svetla. We need more than just time."

"Yona, what are you saying?" The captain could feel her whole world tilting dangerously out of control.

Sniffling, Kuzmin straightened her shoulders.

"I mean, it's over, Svetla."

"No Yona, you don't really mean that!" Forgetting Sparky was still in the room, Svetlana was not above pleading.

It was obvious that Kuzmin was crying, and Sparky just couldn't handle the weapons officer tears. Climbing all the way out of the maintenance hatch, she took a step out into the room where the cloaking device was being installed.

"Hey, leave her alone, you're making her cry." Her mouth worked before her brain could intercept the impulses, something of a personal flaw for the Chief Engineer. Beneath their feet the decking shuddered slightly, thrumming as the ship went to NOVA.

Svetlana rounded on the engineer, the instigator of all her problems with Kuzmin. "You!" she roared in English and started toward the smaller woman.

Sparky, not a small woman herself cringed as the Captain made towards her. She was trying to grab one of the heavier pieces of equipment from her utility belt to use in defense when Kuzmin lunged between them. "Svetla, NO!"

"This is her fault," Svetlana tried to explain to Yona, reaching around the blonde to grab at Sparky again.

"No it isn't. We aren't good for each other Svetla." Kuzmin desperately tried to talk down her lover, knowing if she didn't, Svetlana was going to explode.

The brunette stopped dead in her tracks. "You are my everything Yona," she pleaded. "You don't think I'm good for you?"

Kuzmin smiled sadly, touching the other woman's arm. "I'm not your everything. If I was why am I still just your lover, occasional lover at that, after all these years? There is more to love than that. Remember Tasha?"

Sparky's face darkened and the Engineer took a step forwards, only to be shoved backwards by Kuzmin. "Stop it you two! People have known about us for years Svetla. They knew on our first ship, they always knew."

"But, but, why are we having problems now?" The Captain narrowed her eyes at Sparky.

"Because it can be better than that. Because I, because we, both deserve better than that." Kuzmin pleaded, trying to make the dark haired woman understand.


"Why now?" Svetlana insisted. "Is it because of her? Do you not think she is just using you? She's a dog. She has more than one woman in every port!"

Even though tears still leaked from her eyes, Kuzmin shook her head and pushed Sparky to take a step away from the Captain with her. "Just leave me be, Svetla."

"No Yona, I can't. I love you! We have been together for 10 years, Yona. You can't just throw that away!" Svetlana matched them step for step, pleading.

"We haven't been together! We've been pretending. Svetla. you are my friend, but I think that's all we should have been. You turned to me after Tasha, and I... I let you because I thought I loved you."

"Wait, what do you mean you thought?" Svetlana couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Look, you should just go, it's pretty obvious she doesn't want you to stay around." Sparky, interjected, not liking being left completely out of the conversation and being continually shoved backwards by Kuzmin.

Svetlana gave the annoying engineer only a glance before driving her fist in the multihaired freak's face with a punch that strong enough to break her nose.

"What do you mean think, Yona! I really want to know?" She dismissed the engineer after the woman stumbled back holding her bleeding nose.

"Sparky!" Kuzmin gasped in horror, turning just in time to see Sparky slam against the bulkhead, covering her bleeding nose with both hands. She turned and slapped Svetlana across the cheek so hard that it hurt her hand.

"Get OUT!"

The brunette held her cheek where Alyona had slapped her and stared at her now ex-lover comforting the Coalition Engineer.

Kuzmin was alternately trying to help Sparky stop the bleeding and keeping the Engineer from attacking Svetlana when Maria, with Bear a few steps behind, came into the small lab at a dead run.

"Sparky!" Maria yelled in surprise and anger as she spotted her friend against the far bulkhead, blood dribbling out from between her fingers that clutched her nose.

Bear immediately stepped behind the Captain and wrapped her up in a hug, murmuring in her ear. He had noticed the signs of discontent coming from Yona for some time. It looked like the engineer had forced the issue to a head.

Sharing a glance with the concerned Bear, Maria helped Kuzmin get Sparky to her feet. Between the two of them they got the woozy engineer walking towards the corridor and the lift that would take them to the med bay. Kuzmin glanced over her shoulder once, bowed her head and kept on going to the door.

Svetlana sadly watched Alyona leave the room with Sparky from the confines and comfort of Bear's arms. The big man's arms had gone from restraining to consoling as Svetlana watched her ex-lover leave her behind.

To be continued.

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