Kitiara Oshida is on her way to a new start on a newly discovered frontier world when she is awakened from cryosleep to save the colony vessel from a fiery encounter.
That would be bad enough on it's own, but all is not entirely as it seems.
Kit falls in love with Astrid before she's even laid eyes on her, and her feelings do seem to be reciprocated so it's almost inevitable that they end up in bed together.
But every silver lining has it's cloud, and this cloud is darker that Kit could ever have imagined.
This story has it all - spaceships, sex, vampires!
It's not working, she thought with a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. The cryosleep process was failing and a new beginning would be denied to her. It was all so unfair. The work she had done, the tests she had passed, the sacrifice she had made sending Hannah out of her bed, her life and her future all counted for nothing if she were one of those unfortunate enough to be resistant to the chemical cocktail designed to suspend her body's higher functions whilst it was carried, frozen in a plastic and metal sarcophagi, through the cold depths of space.
Kitiara Oshida tried to pull herself up, but her muscles remained stubbornly uncooperative. Her head lolled to one side and her articulate demand for assistance came out as a soft moan. She did not understand what had gone wrong – the test results had said she would be fine, but no sooner had the domed lid of her cryosleep capsule locked down with a soft hiss than it had slid away.
"Do not try to speak," said a soft feminine voice, sweet as syrup.
She could not see who had spoken, in fact she could not see anything except a painfully bright light, but her mind's eye sketched in the details; sun-bronzed skin stretched over a tall athletic body, gently rounded hips and a small proud bust; an oval face with a generous, wide smiling mouth and large doe eyes framed by shoulder length auburn hair. She pictured them lying twisted together on black silken sheets. The image dissolved as her conscious mind rattled its chains, asserting its authority and driving her fantasy away.
"I have given you a mild sedative to allow you to sleep normally," the voice continued, threatening to rekindle the banished thoughts. "The full revival procedure is in operation and when you awake you should feel more normal."
Awake? Revival? Then that meant it had not failed! Elation flooded through Kit with the realisation that she was away from Earth and her past. But also away from Hannah. That thought cast a cloud across her mind, but only for a moment. Her new life, cast from the womb of cryosleep, was just beginning and that made the price, however high, worth it.
Life rarely meets expectations, and Kit's new beginning soured almost immediately after she awoke for the second time. The nameless technician who oversaw her recovery was nothing like Kit had imagined. She was a small slim woman with a boyish figure and a pasty white face with an unattractive hook nose and dark eyes. It was only when she spoke, which was seldom, that Kit realised she was not the one who had spoken to her earlier. Her voice was cold and dead, without any hint of sweetness, and it certainly failed to conjure up any fantasies. The technician only spoke to give curt commands or monosyllabic answers to any questions put to her. Only once, in the briefest of wide-awake moments, did Kit manage to get more than three words out of her at the same time, and then wished she hadn't as she learned that the giant colony vessel was still heading for Elysium, only eighty years into the journey.
That had rocked her. She wasn't one of the paying colonists pursuing some frontier settler fantasy. They has just turned up, paid their money (admittedly far more money than she'd ever had or would hope to have) and settled into cryosleep sure in the knowledge they would wake up in a few hundred years' time and find themselves in Nirvana. Kit had worked her passage – several times over as far as she was concerned – ensuring the ship's systems talked to one another and understood one another. Making certain that redundancy cover was built in and that self-repair routines worked. She drifted off again into an uncomfortable half sleep haunted by disturbing dreams.
It was only when she was pronounced hale, healthy and suffering from no nasty after-effects from her long sleep that Kit got to meet the owner of the sensuous voice that had spoken to her oh-so-briefly as she began her recovery. Astrid Nilsson, as she introduced herself, proved to be somewhat different from Kit's fantasy, although she exceeded expectations by as much as, if not more than, the technician had fallen short.
Astrid's skin was pale, which was only to be expected on someone working in space and her bust was slightly more prominent than Kit usually preferred, but her face surpassed all expectations. Porcelain smooth skin stretched over perfect high cheekbones that framed the most amazing jade green eyes that Kit had ever seen. Astrid's long auburn hair fell past her shoulders. If Kit had fallen in lust with the voice before, she had fallen in love with what she saw at first sight.
What Astrid had to say brought things crashing down yet again. The ship, she explained, was locked on a course that would take it straight into a star's fiery embrace. The NavCom programming had over the decades of self-replication and repair become corrupted to such an extent that the crew were unable to do anything to alter the course. As Kit was one of the programmers who had worked on the NavCom prior to departure she had been revived to iron out the bugs before they burned in starlight in just five days' time.
She held back a hysterical laugh. This really can't be happening, she thought. It's just some cosmic bad joke. Either that or I'm still asleep and this is another nightmare. But Kit knew the difference. She'd been kicked in the teeth by life so many times that she was intimately familiar with the sensation.
With so little time available Kit began working on the problem from a console in MedLab as she continued to regain her strength. The programming, she soon discovered, was badly corrupted in a number of places. She identified several strings of redundant, and possibly even destructive code that she pulled out and quarantined as she came across them.
Captain Abrams visited just once to introduce himself and check on her progress. He was a tall well-built man with a pale complexion and flat black hair that he wore brushed back from his high forehead. He appeared short on the social graces and wasted little time in asking Kit if she could repair the NavCom.
"I believe so," she had informed him. "I'm only just beginning to unravel things but I should be able to deflect the ship sufficiently to lock us into orbit rather than plunging straight into the star. Once safe, and with more time, I should be able to do a full repair."
He had smiled briefly at that – at least Kit had taken it for a smile. His thin tight lips stretched slightly tighter across his white face. His eyes conveyed no smile – in fact they conveyed nothing at all – small, dark, cold eyes set deep in their sockets.
"That is a relief", he had said in an emotionless voice that didn't sound all that relieved. "We are dependent upon you Ms Oshida. The whole colony-to-be is in your hands. Keep us safe." As pep talks go it was not the best she had ever heard. Without another word, and merely a nod towards Astrid, he turned on his heels and strode out of MedLab.
Astrid spent much of the time over the next two days with Kit in MedLab, providing access to whatever she needed, and even fetching meals for her. She seemed to know instinctively when Kit was feeling hungry or thirsty.
Kit lost herself in the code, patching here, cutting there, and even writing entire new lines on more than one occasion. She came across several more patches of unnecessary and suspicious code. Each one, she noted, contained a short string that was nothing more than a collection of meaningless symbols that served no purpose whatsoever. She had initially taken them as evidence of corruption in the programming until she noted that each one was identical.
She eventually decided that these short strings were vanity markers – code that was essentially nothing more than electronic graffiti. Some programmers were vain enough to want to sign their work, but Kit was not one of them. As long as she was being paid for her work she was happy, and felt no need to boast about it. Not that this guy appeared to have much to boast about, she thought. Every piece of code that bore his marker was corrupt in some way.
Although Kit would not admit it, Astrid's constant presence was not helping. It was not the fact that there was someone else in the room – it did not bother Kit in the slightest when the medical technician, who's name she still did not know, breezed in and out several times throughout the day. It was the fact that it was Astrid – Kit had butterflies in her stomach and her thoughts skittered away from the task at hand every time she laid eyes on her.
The confines of MedLab meant that Astrid brushed against her on more than one occasion which Kit found both acutely uncomfortable and extremely pleasurable in equal measure. Astrid did not seem to mind either, and Kit felt sure that the brushing became more frequent the more time they spent together, with the contact slightly longer each time.
Feeling much stronger on the third day Kit chose to work from the main NavCom station on the bridge. The ship only needed a skeleton crew whilst underway which meant that besides herself, Astrid and the Captain there were only six others on the bridge, leaving many of the stations unmanned. In fact, she learned that throughout the ship there were less fifty active crew members, and these were split across three duty shifts.
To ease the stiffness in her legs which manifested itself after sitting for too long, Kit took to pacing the bridge and the nearby corridors whilst thinking. It was on one such occasion that she actually walked straight into a startled Astrid who was standing silently in the corridor, seemingly lost in thought. They clung to each other for far longer than was necessary to arrest their fall. Astrid's eyes locked with hers, some unspoken communication passed between them...
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