Chapter Four

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As Ortiz dashed to the ladder, Reza turned to retrieve his uniform.

"There's no time for that!" Ortiz shouted. She snorted as she began to climb. "Come as you are, Marine!"

"Yes, lieutenant." Reza could not imagine what the others would say when they saw him in his Kreelan regalia. They will see you as you truly are, he thought. Whirling around, he turned to follow her. When he reached the passageway above, he slammed and locked the hatch behind him, then took off after Ortiz. The lieutenant, while much shorter, ran at an impressive speed through the narrow equipment- and cable-festooned passageway. She barely had to duck her head when she darted through the bulkhead hatches, encouraged by the shouts of the sailors who were responsible for making sure all the hatches, even the automatic ones, were closed to isolate the various compartments in case Leander was hit. "Move it, Marines!" one such sailor shouted. Then he caught sight of Reza. "Move...it..." The man's mouth fell open and his eyes flew wide with surprise as Reza flew past him.

"He's with me!" Ortiz yelled over her shoulder, not bothering to so much as slow down. "Now close the goddamn hatch!"

She kept repeating "He's with me!" to other sailors they passed who were heading for their own battle stations. One of them whipped around so suddenly that he banged into a conduit junction box and went sprawling. Reza stopped long enough to haul him to his feet and propel him in the direction the sailor had been going before taking off after Ortiz again.

Despite the serious nature of going to general quarters, Reza found he was grinning. This was the closest he'd come to being able to run free since he and Eustus left the academy, and it brought back bittersweet memories of running through the forests of the Homeworld with Esah-Zhurah in his youth.

Ortiz shot through the aft hatch of the galley, which was the Marine detachment's assembly point during general quarters. From there, the captain would give them specific orders if necessary. Otherwise they worked with the damage control parties under the guidance of the XO.

"Lieutenant!"

It was Stalin, holding the upper half of Ortiz's battle armor, while Davis held the lower half. They had already suited up, as had the other Marines, who were quickly drawing their weapons from the arms locker.

"Kreelan!" Walker, who stood beside Davis, cried, bringing up her rifle as Reza entered the galley on Ortiz's heels.

"Hold your fire!" Ortiz screamed. She skidded to a stop in front of Walker, grabbing the rifle's muzzle and pointing it toward the ceiling. "He was demonstrating some things about Kreelan armor and weapons for me," she lied, loud enough to be heard throughout the galley. "On my orders. Understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," Walker said through clenched teeth, her gaze boring holes into Reza.

"You must get in your armor, lieutenant," Stalin said.

Pausing just a moment to make sure Walker wasn't going to act on her impulses, Ortiz stepped into the lower half of the vacuum-proof battle armor, helped by Davis. Then she bent over and held out her arms, wriggling into the upper half of the suit held by Stalin. Davis latched the waist couplings, after which Walker set — slammed might have been more accurate — the helmet in place and latched it.

"Reza," Eustus called in a worried voice. "Your armor!"

Confused for just a moment, Reza glanced down, thinking something was amiss with the armor he wore.

"No, your other armor!" Eustus cried, pointing at the locker where Reza's battle armor was stored.

"Marine detachment to the cutter, on the double!" The XO's order came over both the galley PA system and the individual suit radios.

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