On her way, Caroline left a message on the comm with someone to tell Erica that their departure might be pushed back.
Returning to Isamura’s quarters, she pushed the entry chime and waited. It actually took a minute or so for Isamura to answer, appearing with damp hair and a towel in her hand.
“Hello there Caroline. This is your second visit in one day. To what do I owe the honour?” she asked.
“I need to talk some more. Can I come in?”
“Indeed you may,” Isamura said with a smile, standing aside and ushering Caroline in. “So, what troubles you now?”
“Am I that easy to read?” Caroline asked, with a half-turn and a backward glance.
Isamura shook her head. “No. I was merely speculating. But of course, I am here for you if you need someone to talk to.”
“Thank you.” Caroline took a seat on the sofa and let out a weary sigh. “I want to take a shuttle out to get a closer look at that portal, find out what we’re dealing with before we write it off as being beyond repair. My first oficer thinks I’m being too reckless and we should just get closer and make some scans from the ship.”
Sitting next to her, Isamura shrugged and replied, “Is it really so reckless? Did you not fly the shuttle capably when you rescued your comrade?”
“I suppose so. The point is, starship captains usually don’t fly potentially dangerous missions. Someone else goes in their place. Someone like Rebecca.”
“Caroline, in the time that I have known you, you have demonstrated that you are far more than just a starship captain. This is not the time to start doubting what you can do.”
“I’m not doubting. Just tell me objectively, am I putting myself in unnecessary danger?”
Isamura hesitated. “I can’t do that, Caroline.”
“What? Why not?”
“Caroline, when I kissed you earlier, that was not some empty gesture.”
“I never thought for a moment that it was,” Caroline replied, not sure where this was going.
“I have feelings for you. Feelings which may cloud my judgement,” Isamura added. “I may tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear.”
“Isamura, whatever you have to say, I want to hear it. I’m open to suggestions.”
“Well that is certainly convenient. When it’s you deciding whether putting your life on the line is worth it, you’ll take my suggestions. Will you also consider suggestions regarding our relationship?”
Caroline was speechless for a moment or two, staring wide-eyed at Isamura. “First of all,” she said calmly, “I didn’t come to see you because it was convenient for me. I seriously thought about talking to someone else, but the problem there is that the crew is under my command and will for the most part go along with what I think is best, because I’ve been right before. Paul, and Rebecca, it’s their job to point out other options, even if I don’t like them.”
“So what am I?”
“Isamura, you’re not part of my crew and you don’t answer to me. You could go your own way if you wanted to, but you’re my best hope for an impartial opinion out here and I hope that you hang around for a while longer, because we could use your help.”
“All righty then.” Isamura considered that for a bit and answered with a musing tone, “I think that you should trust your original instinct. I may not be an expert in such matters, but it is obvious enough that your shuttle is a smaller and more manoeuverable vessel. If you really wish to get close to the portal, it is the better choice.”
“Thanks. Now that you put it that way, I wish I’d said that to Paul.” Caroline smiled at Isamura appreciatively. “Isamura, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know if I’m ready for a relationship with you yet,” Caroline said, avoiding Isamura’s gaze.
“Caroline, I am not asking you to start anything. I just want to know how you feel about me.”
“Fine.” Caroline threw up her hands in defeat. “Right now, I feel as tense as a teenage girl thinking about her crush. I’m excited just being near you, and afraid of what I might do if I don’t restrain the urge to kiss you.”
“Well, at least you are honest about your feelings. I respect that, Caroline. If and when you are ready, I will be here for you.”
“Thanks for being understanding,” Caroline said, pulling Isamura into an affectionate hug.
It was comforting to feel Isamura’s arms wrap around her, and yet it made her heart ache like she had just broken up with a girlfriend. Caroline felt tears welling up and then overflow, tracking down her cheeks, and then she sniffled which only made it worse.
Isamura sensed the change in her mood, and gently disengaged, cupping Caroline’s cheek and asking her, “What’s wrong? Why the tears, Caroline?”
“I don’t know. I feel sad that, I don’t know, here I am with someone I have actual feelings for, that I could have an actual relationship with, and all I can manage is a hug.”
“Shh, Caroline, it’s alright,” Isamura reassured her. “I do not think any less of you for it.” She tenderly wiped the tears from Caroline’s cheeks and then kissed them in turn. “Now go. Do what you have to do. Then when you come back we can talk some more.”
Caroline nodded, blinking her moist eyelids a few times as she admired Isamura. “We will,” she promised, and as an afterthought, she added, “I have a feeling that we will have more time to talk when we meet again.”
She squeezed Isamura’s hand affectionately and kissed her farewell on the cheek, then reluctantly stood and left, feeling giddy with emotion.
Erica was waiting for her in the shuttle bay, securing a pair of EVA suits in the rear compartment of the shuttle.
“Are you alright?” she asked when Caroline approached the shuttle.
“You look like you’ve been crying.”
“Oh, that. I’m fine now,” Caroline said, flashing her a reassuring smile.
“Okay then. Oh, while you were gone, someone called in a fault with the power flow to the sub-light engines. I’ve got someone trying to work around it but for the moment the Orion is staying put.”
“So much for Plan B,” Caroline muttered. “What’s with the suits?”
“Oh, these? In case I have to pop outside. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, you know.”
“So why are there two?”
“Oh, you know, in case I need rescuing, there’s one for you.”
“Alright then. Let’s go.” Caroline headed forward to the cockpit. Erica joined her shortly, after re-sealing the rear hatch. They ran through the pre-flight checks and called the bridge for authorisation to depart.
Paul was reluctant to let them leave. “If you run into trouble out there, we’re not going to be able to come and get you.”
“We’ll try and make this quick, then,” Caroline replied.
“Very well. You are clear to launch.”
The shuttle, guided by Caroline’s thoughts, left the Orion shuttle bay and turned gracefully onto a course for the damaged dimensional portal.
“I really hope we can fix this thing,” Erica said. “Being able to see home again, it would be a major boost to morale right now.”
“I know. But no pressure. If you can’t figure it out this time around, we can come back another time.”