Part Three: Developments
Like clockwork One o’clock came and Sheila came into my quarters. Typically I would have been ready, but the background check and review of the orders had left me short on time. I had not yet decided whether to wear my mess dress or my traditional blues. She didn’t look very surprised to find me in my skivvies and a white undershirt. In fact she looked rather pleased. She was like a hunter stalking easy prey, which made me all the more uncomfortable.
“Please come in. I shouldn’t be much more than a few minutes.”
Sheila smiled, I didn’t even wait for her to respond before I turned and walked into my bedroom. A whistle followed as the door to the hallway closed.
I looked at the suit of Confederation Mess Dress that hung in my uniform closet with more than a little disgust. To me it resembled a civilian business suit, not a military uniform. Beside them was my Marine Corps Dress Blue Alphas, the dark navy blue overcoat in pristine condition, brass highly shined and officer sword and scabbard glinting in even the soft sodium light of the room.
I wanted very badly to wear that uniform again, but I knew it would be the end of my military career if I did so tonight. I had risked a lot in even bringing it topside with me. Instead I drew the charcoal gray suitcoat and black pants next to them. It was hard to look at the formal dress uniform of the Confederation with respect, but I knew I could make anything look good. Miniature medals adorned my left breast and as I slid into my polished coreframs I realized just how long my usually short brown hair had grown recently.
‘Adapt and overcome!’ I reminded myself, letting it go. I quickly finished dressing and walked back into the main sitting area.
“Captain. If I might say so you do indeed fill out that uniform well.” I took a moment to notice what she had chosen to wear. Her full-length gown was black sequin and cut especially low and tight on the chest. Her hair was bound into a single long tail and woven with a red silk ribbon. Not typically a practical outfit in space, but formalities rairly paid common sense any mind. I had only seen her in a flightsuit before, one of many uniforms that hid a beautiful woman’s figure quite well. It had definitely been hiding hers. Sheila’s lips were accentuated with blood red lipstick and as I approached they formed themselves into her patented smirk.
“You aren’t to bad looking yourself Ms. McCrerry.” I turned and picked up the corsage I had requested. Taking the imported violet rose from the plastic case, I pinned it on her left breast.
“Call me Sheila. I don’t want to be treated like a stranger all night.” She smiled
“Ahh, but you are.” I said stoically.
“Not for long I hope, Jon.” She put emphasis on my name, as if to tell me she was not going to refer to me by title again, no matter what I said.
“Well then, if you want to be a friend I have to know a few things first.” Her right eyebrow canted and a sultry smile emerged from her smirk. “And those things are?”
“Who are you really? I checked the Datanet. Caitlin McCrerry had a sister named Sheila, but she is listed as missing. From the reports I could find she was killed on the Orbital station during the revolts. The public filebase lists you as a casualty in the assault of twenty four August, Twenty- fourteen.”
“The same one you were commended for if I remember.” she added. “ I can’t believe you actually checked the public base!” She laughed.
“We doctored all the others, I had expected I’d be wiped from that one as well. Tell me, what did you find on the Confed Security net and Intel files?”
“Nothing. You’re a ghost.” She seemed to enjoy the discoveries. “So I did some investigating though other means.”
“Unofficial means I suppose?”
“Yes, and you seem to be who you say you are.” I relaxed a bit.
“But, you have a problem with that don’t you?” I knew she was baiting me, but I continued.
“Yes. I don’t like being manipulated. Especially by politicians. I know your sister is the kingpin behind all this, I just haven’t figured out why.” Sheila laughed.
“Silly boy, Trix are for kids!” The comment threw me.
“What?” I asked. She smiled and did not offer an explanation.
“I assume you also perused the orders I delivered?”
“Yes I did, but I’m not ready to discuss them with you at this time.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Amateurs!” with great exasperation.
“Excuse me?” I knew what she meant. I had very little practical experience in the field intelligence business.
‘I am a fighter pilot damn it! Not James Bond! ‘ Then reality set in. I wasn’t a pilot anymore. I had chosen not to fly cargo haulers or shuttles, I had chosen to be an Intelligence Officer.
My watch beeped, signaling that is was time to leave. Dinner was forty minutes away, and I still didn’t have a good grip on my situation.
“Shall we?” she said, offering her arm. The irony was thick as she offered to lead me out the door. I was sure there was another game afoot, far too many coincidences had occurred to anything else to be the case. One other thing I had confirmed before Sheila had arrived, somehow I had already been registered as bringing a guest to the formal dinner. Of course the guests name had not been listed as Sheila McCrerry, but strangely it had been approved by Major Marshall and of all people me.
“In case you are wondering, my name for the evening is Evelyn Greene, we met in a bar when you went dirtside to Houston, and we’re deeply infatuated with each other.” Her accent turned quickly from Irish to Texan mid-sentence. Her gall was intriguing, and for the moment I felt trapped.
“Don’t worry, I’ll play along like a good little puppet. Anything else I know about you?” I tried to stay calm. The only way to figure things out was to stay focussed, and in control.
“Nothing we ant to say in polite company, but I happen to know you’re pretty good in bed… Stamina of a bull.” I was getting used to the familiarity she used with me, but it didn’t make me happy. We rounded the hall and passed station security and the SDO. Montgomery gave me a quick sneer, but quickly turned and started a conversation with the acting Sergeant of the Guard. None of the security staff were armed normally. Flechette Pistols were the sidearm of choice, small handheld CO2 cartridges fired needles or razor slivers with enough force to rupture vacuum suits and shred muscles, but did not represent much of a threat to the stations relatively thin hull. During the diplomatic stop over, they all had them strapped on.
The station had been designed with formal events in mind, and the central ring of the superstructure ended in a large globe room, which could be rotated with or independently of the station, allowing higher or lower gravity forces. We approached the docking collar for the inner ring, and I noticed security guards were aiding the less experienced diplomats through the transition from .8G to earth standard 1G rotations. Most seemed to be doing fairly well. Sheila and I moved through the ring with little trouble and exited into the diplomatic corridors.
At the doorway to the dining rooms Major Marshall stood with his wife Jennifer. She smiled and gave me an approving look as Sheila and I approached.
“Evelyn, this is Major Thomas Marshall and his wife Jennifer. Major and Mrs. Marshall, my date Miss Evalyn Greene.” I made the formal introductions, but I sensed Jennifer and Sheila were going to hit it off immediately.
“Miss Greene, tell me how did you get Jon to slow down enough to notice you?” Jennifer was politely kicking me with her questions. I had made quite an impression during my wetdown, and obviously she was a little surprised to see me with a date. Admittedly I had been just as shocked a few hours earlier, but for different reasons.
Sheila smiled coyly, and adopted a near perfect Texan accent.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure, but he sure does move fast.” Pulling Jennifer close, so as to shield her voice, her tone dropped to conspiratorial levels. “ I think he’s going to ask me to marry him.” Major Marshall flashed me a strangely amused look, and I had to resist the urge to yank Sheila away from the couple.
Jennifer began to blush a bit, and whispered something back that I failed to catch. Sheila laughed as Jennifer took her arm. I let her slide away, and they left us, chatting like conspirators planning a robbery. Major Marshall regained his humor and slapped me on the shoulder to break my obvious scrutiny of the two women.
“Jon, I wouldn’t have pictured you much of a fan of Texan women.” He smiled.
“Strangely enough sir, neither would I, I guess it just kinda happened.” I followed as we walked over to the appetizer and drink table. He offered me a light champagne and we continued back to a point where we could easily observe the whole gathering. The delegates were mingling with some of the military officers, and my attention was caught as I noticed Major Bachs dressed in his formal uniform, carrying on an animated discussion with a stunning red haired woman. A second later I realized who the woman was, and turned away. Major Marshall and I exchanged glances, and almost simultaneously noticed our two dates making their way back toward us. Talking like old friends, laughing and generally too comfortable with each other for my sake. Jennifer flashed me another wink and pulled on Tom’s arm.
“Sounds to me like we’re in for a rough season Tom, the Captain is keeping his private life secret from us. I would have expected better of him.” She was chiding me and I knew it, but I wondered what Sheila had said to make her so giddy. “ I think we need to leave the two of them here to spend some time together. It seems Jon doesn’t come down to Houston often, and who knows when the two of them will have the opportunity again.” With that, the Major and Mrs. Marshall slid away into the crowd of delegates, and began to mingle as well.
“ Impressive.” I said as Sheila took her place in front of me. “You won her over completely.”
Sheila didn’t miss a beat, before letting loose her retort. “Well I only told her the truth. She’s very protective of you I think. Maybe she sees something of her husband in you. Common backgrounds I believe.”
“She was both sizing me up and trying to prepare me for life with a Marine. Didn’t hurt that I told her my father had been one, and I had grown up living in Officer Quarters on Camp Pendleton.” Sheila took the glass from my hand and took a sip.
“I thought you had been raised by your mother.” I said.
“Yeah but I didn’t say that she had remarried did I.” She looked at me with a look I knew meant she was sharing something of her real past. That or she had me snowed completely. At that point it could have been either.
The informal mixer continued for another hour, and as the time for dinner approached Caitlin managed to make her way over to where Sheila and I were talking with the representative from Germany. The German delegate politely excused himself, leaving Caitlin, Sheila and I alone. Sheila excused herself a moment later, to get fresh drinks for us. There was a moment of eerie silence between us, when Caitlin decided to speak.
“Captain, who is your companion? By all accounts you don’t seem to leave the station enough to have a relationship on Earth. And I can imagine no one on the station would have any romantic interest, and you are far to full of pride to break the professional wall you’ve built around yourself here.” I couldn’t read if she was playing a game or not. I thought she might be rubbing my face in the whole situation, and the animosity I read from her earlier was still seeping through her practiced public face. Could she not recognize her own sister? The thought gave me pause, and I guess I took too long to answer. Caitlin politely coughed, breaking my reverie.
“Oh, Evelyn? We’re newly aquatinted I guess. In some ways she reminds me of someone else I have just recently met.” I gave her a look that left no room for her to guess who I meant. I noticed her shift uncomfortably, and look off to the side. I think I caught a slight blush in her cheeks.
“Well she is definitely an attractive young lady. I wish you luck in keeping the relationship going.” The wall of angst around her dropped a bit, as she sighed. Sheila walked up as she was about to say something else and the wall regained its strength. I introduced the two and watched closely for a sign of recognition between them. I expected Sheila to obscure it, but Caitlin honestly did not seem to know the woman before her. The puzzle began to grow, and I found myself unsure just who was pulling my strings. The call to dinner was sounded, and Caitlin excused herself politely. Once again Sheila and I were arm in arm, as we awaited my announcement and seating at my assigned table.
“Something wrong Jon? “ For a moment I forgot who she had been a few hours earlier and almost believed she was Evelyn Greene, a woman I had met recently and had a romantic interest in.
“She didn’t recognize you did she?” I was still trying to find some indication as I replayed the exchange in my head. I couldn’t find any indication or inference that the two women knew each other.
“Well if she did recognize me, what good would going undercover do?” She whispered before giving me a soft kiss on the cheek. Just enough of a taint in her voice to remind me of the woman who had effortlessly thrown me down and locked her knees around my neck in my quarters. We were seated without exchanging another relevant word.
The Dinner conversations continued to be polite, and fairly politically neutral whenever I was involved. Sheila did her best to play her role of Evelyn, never letting the accent slip and playing along with the small talk. After the main course was finished, the primary delegates and Major Bachs each gave a small speech about the Confederations goals for Lunar Development. Nothing ground breaking was revealed, but I had a feeling there was much more to the coming summit than they intended anyone to know. Once the speeches concluded the tables were removed and the gravity of the room was lower ever so slightly to allow normally ungraceful diplomats an opportunity to feel far more dexterous then they ever had in full Gees. I politely excused myself and Sheila and I returned to the station proper, heading back for my quarters.
“That was an interesting evening. Thank you Cap’n.” The old Sheila quips had returned.
“For a moment there I was starting to like you Ms. McCreery, I think I like Evelyn much better.” I caught a momentary flash of injury through Sheila’s normally practiced vaneer, but she either realized I had noticed it or got over it quickly. We were walking in the partially lighted main shaft of the station, and as we neared the interior ring where the crew habitat was Sheila began to slow her pace.
“Jon, I think it’s time we discussed our mission.” She was quiet, but not overly so.
“Agreed, however this is not the place. Shall we retire to my quarters or the S-2?”
Sheila sighed, and either playing regretful or otherwise suggested we return to my quarters.
“You know something Jon? The best part of this job is getting to act normal for a short period of time. Then like Cinderella you blink and the fine gown and expensive coach are tattered rags and a rotted pumpkin all over again.” I wasn’t sure how to react, so I said nothing, and opened the door to my room, giving her leave to enter first.
“The problem with fairy tales, despite what modern society has neutered, is they rarely end with a ‘Happily ever after’.” She took a seat on my couch and removed the pins which had held her hair in place. From one of them she pulled a small needle like tube, which contained a small clear piece of rolled plastic.
“Here are your orders from Confed.” She placed the small plastic slip on the end of the tube. Two metal probes let off sparks and the sheet expanded to normal scream-sheet size and color. “They place you on independent status and assign you to a school in Bayville, Texas for counterintelligence procedures. These orders will arrive via Confed secure net to the Major in the morning. At that time I will also be departing to return to Houston, and the Major will release you on travel orders with a day or two of leave before reporting.” She handed me the orders and sat back.
“I gather I’m not going to the school as planned? Based on the orders you left me with earlier.”