Just Another Night

What a group. Michael shook his head as he left off watching the activities in the Hanger and got back to checking the readings on the Lightning Storm outside. It was clearing up, and leaving rain puddles everywhere. Good for the land. The O-Storms were frequent and spectacular, but rarely carried water. April showers bring May flowers. Rhin sat down next to him and he turned to say hello.

"What a unit," Rhin said with a sigh.

Michael quietly started laughing.

"I mean, really," she waved her hand around the control room, "forty minutes past our shift start, and our Commander, Second, and Medical Officer aren’t here, Azami has drawn caricatures on every desk. Hermie the Hamster gnawed out of his guaranteed-no-gnaw-plastic-habitat and is now somewhere in our locker room,..."

Michael added to her list, "And you just spent the last ten minutes entertaining us with 15 modern verses to ‘Clementine’. At least we’ll get our money back on the habitat. And Hermie will turn up."

Rhin shrugged modestly at her contribution to the disorder, and agreed with Michael on the habitat. Then she leaned over to look at the readings. "Goodness, it’s wet out there."

The com at Michael’s station rang. Reaching over Rhin, Michael activated it.

"Michael, this is Connie." The image of Connie on the vidscreen smiled at him, dark eyes glinting, "Is Tom in yet?"

"Not a hair nor a toenail."

Connie paused at that, then half-shrugged, not losing her smile, "Right. Please let me know if any part of him does show." She signed off and the vid went dark.

"Wonder what that’s about." Rhin speculatively stared at the blank screen.

"Who knows." Michael’s good hearing picked up the familiar sound of somebody stumbling over the mat in front of the main entrance. "23’s here."

They both turned to watch as 23 went straight to the Command Post, stayed in there for perhaps a minute, then came back out with a perplexed expression on his face. He spotted them, and headed over.

"Hi, Gang. Where’s Tom?"

Both officers teased their friend, "Glad you could join us, 23."

Michael relented first, "We haven’t seen him yet."

Rhin’s eyebrows were raised, "Or Sam. We had thought the three of you were in Command meeting…"

23 frowned, "Doc got stuck in Minneapolis when an O-Storm messed up their Gates. I thought I’d arranged for Barit Hin to take her place until she gets back…" 23’s words trailed off and he focused on the desk station next to Michael’s. Suddenly he started sputtering with laughter.

Michael and Rhin looked over. On Mike M’Kinsey’s desk was a drawing of him in cowboy hat and boots, perched on top of HL1-Transport, wielding a whip herding HL1-Command into a corral. "Yea-ha!" was the caption.

M’Kinsey himself wandered over. "I’m tryin’ to figure out how to frame it an’ put it up in the Transport."

"Just get ‘Zam to draw you a new one," was Rhin’s comment.

"But it wouldn’t be the same," M’Kinsey looked at the cartoon mournfully. "Oh yeah. We found Hermie."

"Hermie got loose?" 23 exclaimed, "But that habitat was guaranteed gnaw-proof!"

"We’ll get our money back, 23," Rhin assured him. She turned to Mike, "Where was Hermie?"

"Oh," M’Kinsey leaned with exaggerated casualness on the wall, "In Mary’s shirt."

"Mary Hedley?" Rhin gulped, holding down her laughter, "Oh dear."

Michael had a hand up to his face, concealing his own grin, "How’d you get Lieutenant Hedley’s locker combo?"

"We didn’t."

"You didn’t." 23 studied M’Kinsey suspiciously, but the officer’s face was utterly bland as he examined his fingernails. "Out with it, Mikey."

M’Kinsey finally let out a chuckle. "Mary came in while we had half the lockers open and clothes scattered around. ‘Zam was on top o’ the lockers, checking the vent, so Mary couldn’t see ‘er an’ assumed she was top brass. She thought we were horsing ‘round, ‘n started pulling rank. Just when she was in full steam, and ‘Zam looking down with this big grin, an’ us tryin’ not to bust up; well right then the air conditioning went on, ‘n Hermie decides his safe little hiding place ain’t so safe after all, so he goes flying out o’ the vent, sees Azami and tries to brake, falls off the top ‘o the lockers instead -- straight into the front of Mary’s shirt." He grinned. "It was great. Would’ve gotten bonus points in basketball for sure."

"Oh... dear." Rhin collapsed on her chair, sinking down, trying desperately to stifle her laughter, then giving up and howling. That set Michael and 23 off.

After a minute, 23 straightened up with an effort, "I’d better go check. The Lieutenant is probably ready to skin somebody."

"Azami rescued Hermie -- Marty has him now. But yea... ‘Zam herself wasn’t faring none too well when I moseyed out. She lost authoritarian ground with Mary when she laughed herself off the top o’ the lockers and fell on Pete."

"I hope... Pete’s... okay..." Rhin got out between laughs.

Michael was holding his sides, laughing so hard no sound was coming out, gasping for air. Tears were streaming down his face.

"Breathe, Michael." 23 was fighting for control himself.

"I’m trying!" Michael gasped out.

"Oh Jeez. I’ve gotta get over there." 23 pulled himself away from the group and headed towards the locker room.

The others laughed themselves out, and M’Kinsey wandered off to spread the tale further afield.

23 sat in the Command Chair in Tom’s Post, and looked over the reports. Every now and again, a small chuckle escaped him, at which point Azami would carefully not look up least they set each other off again.

"Oh, the Hazards of Command," Azami sighed.

"Don’t start, ‘Zam," 23 warned her, "Don’t you dare."

Azami smothered her grin, and bowed her head over the compuset.

There was a rap at the door and both of them looked up. Mendi was standing outside. 23 waved him in.

"I’m getting a Skeeter alert from B11. Seven human readings near the Sutter Cabin. No Recessives so far."

"Damn." 23 reached out to the mic, "HazLib One report to Transport Stations. Immediately." He turned it off. "Did Dr. Hin ever show up?" Mendi and Azami shook their heads. "Okay, then." He turned to the comscreen and dialed a familiar number, "Hi Tam. You’re next on the recall list and we need a doctor."

"Now?" Tam’s voice was startled, but she didn’t sound too sleepy.

"Now," 23 confirmed. "I’m authorizing a direct Gate from your house."

"Ahh... Right." The visual came on the comscreen and they saw Tamlynn taking off her labcoat and goggles, and grabbing a nearby medical kit. She punched a code on her end and a Gate sprang up at the end of her lab. When she stepped through, the comscreen on their end disconnected automatically.

"She’ll be in the Infirmary," 23 said outloud, mostly to himself. He looked up at Mendi and Azami, "Okay, folks -- head out. Both of you in HL1-Command -- I need you, Mendi, for the scans. ‘Zam, you’ll take Weapons. I’ll join you people in a few."

"Damn," 23 said, looking at the cronset. He finished up one more paperwork item and let Connie know where the HazLib team was going to be.

"Hold up before you head out -- Tom’s on his way. He’ll be in your area momentarily."

"He will?" 23 took another download of the Skeeter’s scans. Still no sign of Recs, just the humans. "I’ll wait then." He signed off before he thought to ask where Tom had been.

The door to the Command Post opened. "Hi, 23."

"Doc???" 23’s mouth was open. "But I thought you were in Minneapolis!"

"We were," she confirmed, "But there was a lull in the Storm and we pulled a priority to get through. Is Colonel Valdoon around?"

Colonel Valdoon’? She’s being formal. ‘We’? 23 peered past Dr. Helding and saw a man in RCF fatigues that he didn’t recognize.


"Right here." Tom Valdoon stopped behind them.

"Ah good." Dr. Helding moved so that everybody in the small group was facing each other. "Colonel Valdoon, Colonel 23, I’d like you to meet Colonel Kurihara from the Minneapolis RCF."

"Colonel," Tom extended his hand and the other gravely shook it.

"Colonel." Kurihara turned to 23, "Colonel."

23 couldn’t stop a small laugh as he completed the round, "Colonel." He felt like turning to Sam and adding a ‘Doctor’, to break up the flow.

Kurihara had a smile of his own on his face, "I’m here--"

The com shrilled in a ‘priority’ blast. 23 snagged it before any of the others reacted.

"23, where the heck are you? We’re ready to roll, and the night ain’t getting any younger."

"Be right there." 23 disconnected without trying to explain to the van, but he did to the three people gathered, "We’re on a call. The Skeeters picked up a group of seven humans by the Sutter Cabin. No Recs yet."

"Let’s go, then." Tom turned to the visitor, "Colonel Kurihara, would you like to join us?" He paused, then glanced at 23, "By-the-way, Dr. Hin won’t be reporting tonight -- I’ll tell you about it later."