Countdown

Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Katia Santiago, Margaret Morgan

Margaret glanced up from her inspection of the shuttle to see Kim approaching. The younger Ranger was looking a little better, the swelling down and her control secure enough to fool all but those who knew her best. Margaret didn’t consider herself that familiar yet, but she knew the signs to look for. She wasn’t looking forward to this mission.

“Everything okay?” Kim asked, nodding at the shuttle.

Margaret had been considering asking the same thing. “Appears so.”

Kim nodded, her gaze sliding away. She stepped around the shuttle, hand trailing over the surface. By any stretch of the imagination it couldn’t be considered an inspection, but Margaret didn’t comment. She was almost done anyway and she wasn’t about to suggest helping inside the shuttle. Katia was there now.

Turning to inspect the wing of the shuttle, Margaret made an attempt to lighten things. “I should teach you how to brawl, I think.”

For a moment it looked like Kim was going to bristle, but then a small rueful smile curved. “Guess so. The martial arts my father taught me didn’t quite include this.”

“That’s not bad, just different. Earthforce now….”

“Meg, I think you would have learned regardless of where you ended up.”

Margaret chuckled. “Maybe so, Cyfeilles.”

Kim barely resisted rubbing her jaw, and sighed. “Believe it or not, I’ve not often had people try to hit me.”

“Well that is where you and I differ.”

Kim leaned on the shuttle, absently running her fingers over one of the hull seams. “Darquin saw it all, you know,” she said suddenly.

Margaret looked down, scowling and then up. “Ie, and?”

“He’s keeping it to himself… for now anyway.”

Margaret’s eyebrows shot up. “Why?”

“Because he knows it’s personal and….” Kim shrugged. “He’s okay.”

“As you say. I barely know him by sight.”

“Well, he had been my science junior before I left.”

“Just how long were we gone?” Margaret asked, joking, if shakily.

“A week, though I wouldn’t disbelieve a time distortion.” Kim shook her head in bemusement. On her way back down to the docking bay, she’d stopped to check in on her department. The science labs were like another place entirely. The stacks of data pads gone, everything set to meticulous order, the computer database cleared and locked down. She’d signed off on the approval of a few procedures and left in minutes. Before she’d have been lucky to get out within an hour, overloaded as she’d been.

Margaret laughed and leaned on the shuttle with Kim.

“Think we could draw extra pay for our hypothetically lost time?” Kim joked absurdly, bringing her mind back to the moment. “Or perhaps collect vacation days?”

Margaret grinned. “Vacation?”

“Yes, strange, isn’t it? I’ve heard some good myths about the activity….”

Ie, so have I.”

“Right up there with real food,” Kim quipped, and then her salvaged humor collapsed as she glanced over toward the hatch.

Done with her work, Katia had finally gathered her courage together to come out. She’d stalled the confrontation long enough. Margaret looked up and gave Katia a hard stare before deliberately looking away. Kim simply smoothed a civil mask over her emotions, facing the Chief Engineer without a flicker of what had happened between them showing.

Katia looked at Kim, and then down. “I…uhm…I wanted to apologize…It is just seeing you…and you look so much like…Anyway, I am sorry for losing it like that…”

Kim nodded with mute acceptance, if nothing more.

Katia looked at her, flustered and embarrassed by why she’d done. “Well, I think all systems are a go….”

Kim pushed off of shuttle, body no longer hiding the battered old pack hanging from one shoulder. “You both have everything you need?” She asked over her shoulder as she walked to the hatch. “Have yet to find out where *we* are going, so no telling what the temps will be like. Hope you’re both dressed for the weather. Got us some Minbari cloaks, should we need disguises.”

Margaret nodded approvingly.

Katia followed the pair a hesitant pace behind. “That is a good idea.” Taking her cure from Kim, Katia became all business. “I was able to tweak a little more power from the engines… so when it is time to get out of there we will be ready!”

Kim tossed her pack behind co pilot’s chair and stepped in, stooping her tall frame. “Good. We’ll need the extra lift if we are heavily loaded.”

“That is what I was thinking,” Katia said.

“Medkits well stocked? No telling….”

“Checked that first,” Margaret answered Kim.

“And the relief supplies are stocked and ready too… All we really have to do is wait for the Captain to give the order,” Katia added and looked at Kim questioningly.

Kim slid into co pilot’s seat with a sigh, leaning back. “Sure we’ll get the call soon. Mean time, sit back and relax. We’ll be busy again soon enough.” Kim said, and then she shifted in her seat for a comfortable position. “Wasn’t I just doing this five hours ago? Shuttles.”

Katia watched Margaret slid into the pilot seat and stretch out, preparing for the wait. Katia decided to wait in the back, making the situation more comfortable for all concerned. She sat on one of the crew benchseats and her thoughts inevitably turned to the last couple hours. She could hardly believe what she’d done.