Caroline slept fitfully in Isamura’s embrace much as she had the previous night. It seemed to her that Caroline was as embattled in dreams as she was in the waking world.
“Isamura?” said Caroline as she roused. She waved a hand at the bedside, and a soft glow illuminated the room.
“You were expecting someone else?”
“No. I mean yes. I-” Caroline started, then cut herself off with a resigned sigh. “I’m not going to get used to sharing my bed with you any time soon,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Well I could always go,” Isamura teased, her eyes lighting up mischievously.
“I don’t want you to go,” Caroline replied, brushing her cheek affectionately. “But… I keep thinking about Wilma. I feel like I’ve made a horrible mistake, one I will never be able to fix.”
“No matter what mistakes you feel you have made, you are not a horrible person, Caroline,” Isamura reassured her. “I don’t regret having been here to comfort you, to hold you, make love to you. Wilma is lucky to have taken a woman such as yourself to be hers. You will be hers again when you find a way home.”
“I hope so,” Caroline said, doubt clouding her eyes. “I hope there is a way home after all that we’ve endured.”
Isamura hugged her tightly and whispered reassurances in her ear. “Whatever we endure, I will always love you.”
Abruptly the lights in Caroline’s quarters died. “Now what’s gone wrong?” she muttered, blindly groping for the comm unit. Though she was sure she thumbed it on, there was nothing, not even an error beep about being unable to establish communications.
Even if she’d had tools and some light, she didn’t think she could make the comm unit work anyway. The Orion’s internal communications system relied on signal processors and repeaters designed to overcome interference from the artificial gravity grid, which ran under almost every deck. Without power, it was impossible to get a comm signal even to the next compartment.
“Great, just great,” she sighed, “I swear this ship hates me or something.”
Caroline slid out of bed and cautiously edged toward the dressing table, her toes rustling discarded clothing on the way. She found it when her knee thumped into a drawer handle, and cursed under her breath.
Opening the top drawer and raking inside, she pulled out an emergency light and clicked it on, blinking her eyes for a few moments as it cast an orange glow around the room.
Isamura smiled at her, eyes lit with amusement. “You look wonderful like that, Caroline.”
“Like… oh,” Caroline said, realising that the light was illuminating her naked form like a fiercely orange sunset. “Thanks, Isamura. I’m glad you approve,” she said with a smirk and a hand on her hip.
She turned and walked over to the connecting door, checking the panel to see if they could leave. It was dead, and no amount of prodding would coax the door to open.
Caroline sighed and padded back, meeting Isamura’s sympathetic gaze with a half-smile. She set the emergency light on the bedside and slipped back under the covers. “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while,” she remarked, thinking at the moment that being stuck here was not so bad.
“I can think of worse places to be.” Isamura smiled and tugged Caroline closer, kissing her lips.
Caroline reveled again in the sensation of those lips pressed to hers. She caressed Isamura’s cheek and her fingertips were tickled by strands of hair falling onto Isamura’s face.
Isamura filled an aching hole in her life. When the dimensional portal to her own universe had been damaged in the Siphen attack, Caroline had feared that she would never again return home, to Earth and her family. She had felt despair after the battle had been won and the adrenaline wore off, leaving her tired and depressed.
Isamura had comforted her, listened sympathetically as Caroline confided her fear, and had given her lots of reasons to keep going. She had inspired Caroline to rise to the challenge and seek out the knowledge they needed to return home.
Caroline’s fondness for Isamura had grown as they spent more time together. Their impulsive first kiss had not been too much of a surprise, although it had been a revelation of sorts for Caroline.
Now, even though those lips felt familiar against hers, Caroline was excited by them. Her skin tingled as Isamura’s fingers stroked her in return.
“I’m glad I have you next to me,” she said, smiling between kisses. “It feels like it’s getting cold in here.”
“I will just have to warm you up then,” Isamura replied with a smirk, wrapping her arms around Caroline and planting unhurried kisses on her cheek, neck and shoulder.
Caroline liked the feeling of Isamura’s lips grazing and then pressing against her skin. After so much time staying faithful and abstaining from sex, she savoured even the smallest sensation and her appetite seemed insatiable.
She supposed that in a way, she was afraid of going back to a life without sex. Functioning as a normal human being without it seemed ridiculous.
So in a shaky voice she said three little words to Isamura: “I need you.”
Erica held up a lamp as she trudged through Orion’s darkened corridors. Behind her she heard the faint scuffing of boots as her team of engineers emerged from the access tube to begin work and evacuate people to unaffected parts of the ship.
It had been thirty minutes since the failure of the crystal processor which distributed power through this section. Without it, internal lighting and door controls, as well as any other crew conveniences that needed power, would not function. Life support was running on backup power.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, power for the ship’s main systems was usually routed through this section. Power had been re-routed to those systems through the remaining two crystal processors, but with only two-thirds of the usual power available, and none of it in the section Erica was moving through.
The exception to this was the artificial gravity, which had its own power distribution systems. Erica was glad of this, since trooping through the ship in an environment suit and magnetic boots would have made her progress even slower.
Finally, she reached the captain’s quarters. She removed an access panel next to the door and plugged in a portable power unit to manually cycle the doors open.
“Hello?” she called out as she stepped inside. The lamp illuminated a wide cone of the living area as Erica searched methodically, but Caroline was nowhere to be found. So she walked through to the study, calling out again, but the captain had apparently finished her administrative tasks early and tidied her desk.
Erica tried the fresher (the nickname for a shipboard bathroom) but only found fresh towels and a faint scent of shampoo. So it was likely that the captain had taken a shower, replaced the towels, and turned in for the night.
Upon activating the controls for the bedroom door, Erica hesitated for a moment at the prospect of waking the captain and telling her the bad news. She figured though that it was best to get a gruff lecture now rather than later on, and opened the door.
The orange glow of an emergency light illuminated the bedroom. Caroline and Isamura were sitting up on the bed, tenderly kissing. The bed covers were loosely gathered at waist height. As the door opened, they turned to look at Erica.
Erica averted her eyes. “Sorry,” she apologised.
She hadn’t realised this – that Caroline and Isamura were involved. It hadn’t crossed her mind when she had seen them together, so it came as a surprise.
She managed to regain enough of her wits to add, “You had better get dressed and come with me. The severity of the power outage means this whole section is being evacuated.” The light was still spilling out through the door into the living area, casting a long shadow of Erica as she turned and stood in the doorway.
“What happened?” Caroline asked.
“One of the crystal processors failed. I’ve been able to reroute power for weapons and shields but I wouldn’t like to test them in battle,” Erica reported.
“So we’ve no replacements or spares then?”
“This ship does hate me,” Caroline muttered behind her.
Confused by that statement, Erica prompted her. “Captain?”
“Never mind.” Finished dressing, Caroline prodded Erica forward. “Let’s go. Oh and Erica?”
“Yes, Captain?” Erica half-turned as she walked, making eye contact with Caroline and Isamura.
“I’m not quite ready for everyone to know… about us,” Caroline said, smiling at Isamura and holding her hand. “Can you keep quiet about it for now?”
“Sure,” Erica said, smirking a little as she appraised them, “but if you keep holding hands like that, tongues are going to wag.”
“I like being your mystery lover,” Isamura put in with a grin, “but she has a point. One little display of affection from you and the secret is out.”
“All right,” Caroline conceded with a shrug. “After this power outage is dealt with, I’ll make it known. But I don’t expect everyone to be happy about it.”
Erica escorted them to the access tube and gave them directions to reach the next section.
“Erica, when you’re finished with the evacuation, come to the briefing room and we’ll get started figuring out how to fix this,” Caroline said as she climbed into the tube.
There was someone in particular that she wanted to evacuate next, although strictly speaking they were in the next occupied quarters on this level. Erica raised her lamp and started down the corridor again, shivering as the cold started to bite.