In which the ladies have a private chat and we learn more about the mysterious object in the Cobra.

“Hey Sammy, you down there?” The voice came echoing down the maintenance conduit in the Eagle.

Startled, Samantha Mcleod cursed as she bumped her head on some ducting.
“Is that you, Paulssen? What the hell are you doing down here?”

“Looking for you, dumbass. Got something for you.”

Sammy backed slowly out of the tight conduit, making sure that her tools were secure in her overall pockets. “What, you couldn’t message me?”

“Uh-uh. Didn’t want to trust this one to GalNet,” said Paulsen as she extended a hand and helped Sammy out of the access hatch. “You got somewhere we can talk?”

“Sure. My office?”

Rosie Paulssen walked with the lithe bouncing stride of one used to low Coriolis gravity. She’d been born on Cook Ring and had the long skinny limbs and elongated neck that differentiated those birthed in low-g from those born on Earth. She kept her dark hair cropped short for convenience, and her smart communication officer’s uniform was a stark juxtaposition to Mcleod’s grease-stained coveralls. Despite their occupational differences, the two were close friends and when not working were often found exercising together in the gym or drinking in the Star & Garter. They had a lot in common, including some of the men they had gone out with.

Wiping her hands on a dirty cloth, Sammy gave some instructions to the rest of the small maintenance crew working on the ship, then led the way out of the hangar to the small cluttered scrapyard that she called an office. Tools, bits of electronics, manuals and paper covered every available surface including her desk and chair.

Paulsen looked around desperately for a clean place to sit, and eventually parked on the edge of the desk.

“I know, it’s a mess in here,” said Sammy as she closed the door and moved a pile of papers off her chair. “But at least it’s my mess, I know where things are, and I know it’s secure. What’s on your mind, Rosie?”

“Well, I was on dock control this morning when we got a priority-one docking request from something that was coming in very fast. We don’t often get priority-one clearance requests, so I was curious.”

“Oh? Tell me more,” said Sammy. Marcus had shared his concerns with her that he was being pursued by some debt collector from Federation space over a dispute on his Cobra payments, and she’d discreetly asked Paulssen to keep an eye out for any unusual ships arriving.

“A completely black stealth Anaconda bearing Sol markings. Has to be a Federation security vessel of some sort, I’m thinking, so I checked his flight plan.”

Mcleod sat up a little straighter. “And..?”

“The last three stops were Kongga, Rajukru, Eravate,” said Paulssen. “Isn’t that the route that your man came in from?”

“You think he’s the one looking for Marcus?”

“Ï think it’s too much of a coincidence to be anything else.”

“This is starting to look like more than just a simple repo case,” said Sammy.

“How do you mean?”

Quietly, Sammy told her about her discovery of the strange black ovoid she’d found under the co-pilot’s seat in Marcus’s Cobra the day before. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “When I touched it, it was as though I was touching Marcus for a moment. I can’t really explain it, but just for a second it felt like I was looking at him through a black mirror or something. He was right there. It was almost as though I could jump through it and be with him. That’s what scared me the most.”

“Freaky. You think maybe it’s some kind of Federation black ops technology?” Paulssen asked.

“I’m positive it’s not any human-made tech,” said Sammy. “The way it felt, almost as though it was trying to suck me in, those weird power fluctuations, the sense of being there with Marcus… it seems like it’s not entirely present in our reality. Like it’s both here and not-here, if that makes any sense?”

“Sounds like you’re talking about some sort of wormhole or something.”

“Hmmm. You know, that might not be such a daft idea… maybe some quantum entanglement thing..? ” Sammy leaned back in her chair, idly drumming her fingers on her thigh. Paulssen, recognising the signs of some serious thinking, simply folded her arms and waited, a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips. After a few moments, Sammy suddenly sat bolt upright and turned to Paulssen. “What if it’s a singularity?”

“What? Is that even possible?”

Sammy grunted. “Not with anything we have, no. But I guess conceivably some advanced technology might be able to harness a micro-singularity in such a small container.”

Paulssen let out a low whistle. “Well, that would definitely account for the high level of Federation interest in Marcus’s Cobra,” she said. “If there’s any possibility of it being some alien weapons-grade tech, they’d be very keen to get their hands on it for sure.”

Sammy nodded. “Somehow I don’t think that would be a good idea. Think you can find out any more about our Federation guest?”

Paulssen grinned, “I’ll see if I can soften him up a bit in the Star & Garter. See you there later?”

“Sure. You be careful though Rosie. This could be trouble.”

“Are you kidding?” Paulssen snorted. “This is the most fun we’ve had around here since the Dragons left for Caerus. Besides, we haven’t had any decent men around for a while. I have a reputation to uphold!”

The mention of men brought a wistful smile to McLeod’s face. “I really wish Marcus was back,” she said. “This is his ship, he’ll have to figure out what to do with it, but you can bet he won’t want the Federation involved.”

“What about the other Dragons?”

“Commander Furieux still checks in with me from time to time,” said Sammy. “I think he has some sort of fatherly protective vibe thing going on while Marcus is gone. Likes to make sure I’m doing okay. It’s a little pathetic really, but I don’t mind.
“But you’re right, he should know about this. It’s valuable intel. Might be something the Dragons can use.”

“Do you have a way to contact him securely?”

“Yeah, he gave me a secure untraceable data drop address for him in case I needed to get hold of him in a hurry. I’ll write a report on the thing in the Cobra, you go and see what you can get out of our Federation visitor. I’ll see you in a while.”

“You bet. Captain Stealth, prepare to meet the ladies of Lushertha!” With a smile, Paulssen headed for the door.

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