by Brian Jeffreys

“This is intolerable,” Tyrel huffed. “I demand to speak to your commanding officer and have additional equipment shuttled aboard.”

“That will not be possible as the ship has already left orbit.”

With that, Tyrell threw his hands up and marched back into the lab tossing various invectives about that began to tinge the paint on the walls. Cheryl watched him for a few minutes more as her own temper subsided and then noticed Candice standing beside her.

“He’s not that bad, really,” Candice said. “He just gets worked up over the importance of the project and the timeline we’ve all been given.”

“Yes, I understand. I’m lieutenant Kinson,” Cheryl said.

“Candice Picoult, parapsychology.”

“Is there anything we can provide for you that we have available aboard ship?”

“No,” Candice sighed. “But I wouldn’t get too close to this project if I were you. Someone is likely to get … hurt.”

Candice turned and wandered back into the lab leaving Cheryl wondering if she were completely sane. She had heard that precogs were often quite unstable.

She turned to see Conner walking into the science compartment with a frown.

“Everything ship-shape in here lieutenant?” he asked. He glanced inside the biolab module where Tyrel was still swearing as he worked at a computer terminal.

“Of course, sir.” Cheryl said.

Conner looked at Cheryl and lowered his voice. “Lieutenant, I don’t need to remind you of the importance the Emperor places on the success of their research.”

Cheryl stood a little straighter and Connor saw a spark of defiance in her eyes. “Commander, I know exactly how important this is, but these are civilians and an eccentric batch at that. I’m not sure they would be satisfied if we gave them control of half the ship.”

Connor thought about that. He wanted to push Cheryl to find out what she was capable of, but he also needed to ensure she was successful. She had already done penance for the engineering prank, so he decided to remind her that she was part of the leadership team now.

“Understood, lieutenant,” Connor said. “Look, I know I’ve been rather hard on you—“

“Yes sir, I know. The engineering stunt wasn’t such a great idea—“ Cheryl began, looking down at the deck.

“Actually, it was brilliant,” Connor said, allowing himself a slight grin. “In fact, that is exactly the kind of ingenuity I expect from you, especially now that I know you have it in you. Just keep the brilliance to official tasks from now on.”

He saw Cheryl’s neck flush and knew he had made his point. He leaned his head to one side and raised his eyebrows. “So now lieutenant is there anything you need.”

“Not at the moment sir. I’ll see to it that they’re ready for the technology demonstration tomorrow morning.”

“Good. If there’s anything you need, be sure to let me know,” Connor said, turning to leave.

That is when they heard Sandy Ziegler scream.

Connor turned and ran through the hydroponics lab which was the quickest way to the source of the commotion. Cheryl raced through the bio-med module and arrived in the high-vac lab a split second behind Connor. Sandy stood with her back to the wall as she stared into the large, high-vac chamber used for extremely low pressure experiments, her face contorted with fear.

“What happened in here?” Connor asked using his command voice. Cheryl followed Sandy’s gaze and took a closer look into the high-vac chamber. Cheryl gave a startled gasp and turned to look at the gauge on the wall which indicated a pressure approaching the vacuum of space.

Sandy was a gibbering mess caught between tears and terror. Willow moved to help Sandy slide to the floor where she collapsed into a heap of tears. Connor moved over to see what Cheryl was looking at and saw the mangled remains of a human body inside.

“Sir, this is impossible. There are dozens of sensors and interlocks that would prevent someone from being injured in this chamber. They couldn’t even access the controls from the inside,” Cheryl said, shaking her head, her brow knitted in frustration.

“Which means someone put this person there,” Connor said. He moved to the wall and pressed the communications switch and the code for security section. “I need a security team to the high-vac lab on the double.”

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