It was funny how things work out, he thought to himself. Then he thought this was a horribly cliché thing to think, laying there as he was in his rack, with her body snuggled close to his in naked defiance of the jungle planets oppressive heat. She was going to get him spaced one of these days, he was sure. He’d known it, too, the moment he met her, but to be perfectly blunt about it:
Not a single fuck was given.
Now that he was thinking about it, of course, he remembered that night quite clearly. It started out as a pretty typical night, in his favourite bar. Ah, Mama Rabbit’s, as the joint was called. He’d been smitten by it the moment he saw it, looking across Stargates infamous “Red Star District” from the tram stop. He almost missed it, nestled as it was between a variety of other bars, against the space stations inverted and obnoxiously close horizon line. Now that, that would have been tragic.
You see, Mama Rabbit’s place is one of those old fashioned sorts of bars, a retro dive where you can forget your troubles and imagine life in an earlier, simpler age. It featured an authentic neon sign over it’s swinging hinge doors, which opened by being pushed and swung closed of their own accord, with not a single motor or electrical device at all. The countertop and tables featured a fine, faux wood covering, and all the way at the end you would find an old jukebox, so old in fact that it played MP3 files of all things.
It had made him feel old to know what these were, and much like Coleman himself, the relic had gotten a new lease on life. That was one of the supposedly great parts of being a Synner. Actually, take that back, because Coleman had never been in anything near this good of shape in his natural life. He was far from the only Synthetic Human to marvel at this physical transformation, either. He smirked to himself, remembering how he’d always thought the synthetic wood pool cues Mama had were a nice touch, but they revealed a fresh Synner like nothing else could. The new guys didn’t really know their own strength so well, after all.
That night in particular had been busier than usual, he recalled. So much so, that even if he wasn’t a Protocol Officer, he could of guessed that a new batch of Synners had just finished their training, fully joining the ranks of clone warriors set to defend their mother earth on all fronts. One of these days, he had mused, he might actually do his job and read over all the personnel files sitting in his inbox. He liked to think, though, that he got a better feel for the new guys like this, just observing them as they carouse.
Take the kid he was shooting pool with, for example. Not a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, but his buddies, well… peer pressure is a powerful force. That was how the betting pool riding on their game had gotten so large, in fact. The poor Private looked like he might just up and keel over at any moment from the excitement, if it was even possible for a Synner to have a heart attack. Coleman didn’t know, and wasn’t about to try and test it. His one heart attack at the tender age of sixty seven was more than enough.
There were only two shots left in the game, when he’d decided to let his finger slip off the cue. Naturally, the assembled marines went crazy with excitement, giving Coleman his chance to slip away quietly and go back to the bar. He was quickly glad that he did, his gaze landing on a delicious piece of milk chocolate eye candy sitting in what was his usual seat.
“How about a beer as a consolation prize, Mama?”
But it was the marine he’d been quietly ogling on his approach that answered him as he sat down beside her, “You can put it on my tab.”
Mama smirked, “I’ll put this one on the house. You don’t look to need much in the way of consolation, Caleb.”
He’d held his hands up in mock surrender and replied, “Grunt needs the money more than I do.”
She’d laughed. Well, they’d both laughed, but Mama had this little polite laugh, the kind that she could believably pull off even if she wasn’t that amused. The new girl, though, she laughed from much deeper in her belly, the kind of laugh someone has when they truly appreciate what it means to laugh. Or at least, Coleman had always thought so.
“Glad to know someone is getting paid well around here.”
“Well? That’s a joke. Well enough though, with how little there is to do on this wheel.”
He was starting to get this feeling that he knew this woman from somewhere, so he considered his next line carefully as he took a long pull of his freshly delivered beer.
“I don’t know you. “My name is Coleman.”
She laughed again, and he decided then and there that he really liked her laugh.
“You don’t, but you will. My name is Sabouni.”
Damnit. He knew he recognized that name, and he was increasingly dreading finding out where from. So clearly, the only course of action was to get it over with.
“Sabouni, Sabouni… Where do I know that name from?”
He made for his smokes then, a common brand of electronic cigarette, allowing him to hide his disappointment when she replied, “Bet you a beer that it’s on the Morning Star roster.”
Damnit, and damnit again fr good measure. Hoping desperately that she hadn’t noticed him checking her out earlier, he makes his concern as fake looking as possible, “Shit. Don’t go snitching on me Corporal, that’s an order now.”
She laughed again, and he’d suddenly concluded that this was going to suck, being locked in a hyperspace traveling tin can with her for some number of months.
“Snitch on what, Lieutenant? I didn’t see anything.”
He didn’t buy that for a second, in truth, but he let himself visibly relax, truly feeling like a crisis had been averted. Right on cue, then, the display panel embedded in the countertop before him lit up, with the stern face of his pilot glaring out from it.
“Sir, Wood just left in a hurry, and he looked angry. More than usual. He is headed towards your location.”
“Great, just what I needed. Thank you Ensign. Enjoy your burger, Corporal, and keep your head down,” he grumped, closing the comm channel with a tap as he slid off the bar stool and made for the door.
“Shit, that can’t be good.”
And it wasn’t. It was so not good, in fact, that Master Sergeant Wood had seemingly teleported there in his haste, his bellows partially audible inside the bar. Coleman decided to duck to the side, out of sight, and observe his squad leader as he tore into the small troupe of Synners out in front of one of the other bars. There was some other chatter inside Mama’s that Coleman mostly missed while straining to hear Wood, but he caught the jist of it well enough to vaguely answer one of the other marines question.
“That gorilla out there is your squad leader, and I’m your commander,” he informed the lanky fellow, before taking another drag off the smoke still held in his lips.
Sabouni snickered at the other marine, grinning out a comment, “See, I knew that…”
And then she had his full attention, and not just from the way her hips swayed as she slipped off her stool and sauntered closer.
“What I can’t figure out,” she began, before interrupting herself to ask the non-question of “May I?” and snagging his smoke directly from his mouth, and taking a hit off it before flipping it around to offer it back to him, “… is what you’re doing?”
He remembered being angry, and more than a little turned on. Nobody had ever displayed that level of sheer brazenness with him before, but it occurred to him just what Sabounis occupational specialty was.
“Yeup, you’re a Demo all right,” is all he said, slipping sideways and out the door instead of really answering her. He’d convinced himself later that he really did need to know just what it was the boys had done to make Wood so very angry.
Fortunately, their trespass was all too typical: fighting. In hindsight, if he hadn’t been sidetracked by Sabouni, he would of noticed that they were out front of Synful, the most expensive dive in the whole district. And with good reason, too, as it served up the double whammy of hard liqour and nude dancers. Consequently, the natural human schmucks they employed as security staff didn’t mess around, and more than once Coleman had been required to come collect some fool marine off the sidewalk, knocked clean out by the guards stun pistols.
The usual drill of impressing upon the new guys just how bad of an idea it would be to continue irritating their leadership completed, Coleman had headed back to his quarters, intent on actually reading the personnel records for a change. Or at least, a certain one belonging to a certain Demolitions Expert. He remembered falling asleep that night, in fact, sprawled out in his chair with her report on his tablet, itself resting haphazardly in his lap. A fitful sleep, if it could even be be called sleep, that ended all too soon.
Some poor schmuck on night duty had the inglorious task of waking Coleman up to let him know that two of his marines had been tossed into the brig for fighting. The memory made him smirk, seeing as he had had assumed Specialist Cash was surely one of them. Cash had been in the group out front of Synful, after all, and the medic was an ornery cuss, not prone to learning his lesson the first time.
He must have looked funny to the starman watching the brig that night, staring at the incident report on his tablet in numb confusion. There was no mistaking it, though, the first name on the list was none other than Corporal Leila Sabouni. The other was Private First Class Virgil Shaw, who Coleman recognized in hindsight as the lanky fellow that had been in Mama’s with them.
All three of them had to be up early in the morning, though the others didn’t know it yet. Thus, he decided to skip the full review of the security footage, and see what the detainees had to say for themselves. The stun pistols seemed to have fully worn off, for as the heavy hydraulic door of the brig slid open, both marines snapped to attention fluidly.
“Corporal Leila Sabouni… PFC Shaw. Not two people I would have guessed I’d ever find in a brig, much less together in that brig. Would either of you like to tell me what this was all about?”
“Just a minor disagreement, Sir! One that won’t happen again, Sir!” Sabouni replied.
To his credit, Shaw added, “It was a petty disagreement that quickly escalated because I was being immature, Sir.”
Good enough for government work, and seeing as Coleman was tired and more than a little cranky, good enough for him, too. Laying his hand on his tablets screen, in the designated space for a biometric reading, he intoned the pre-defined command phrase, “Open cells one and two, authorization, Coleman, Caleb, synthetic human, United Terra Reconnaissance and Peacekeeping Force.”
The electric motors sprung to life, wheeling the barred doors open as he continued, “Come on. You two have to be escorted back to your respective barracks. It’s policy.”
It was on the way back, having left Shaw at his barracks, that he’d decided he wanted to get a better idea of what the fight had been about. He could just watch the tape, of course, but why do that when he could get it straight from the horse’s mouth? So he looked at Sabouni sidelong as they neared her barracks and inquired, “Off the record, Leila, what was that actually about?”
“That’s twice now,” she noted observantly, grinning at him infectiously, “And what part? The part where he was slinging accusations, or the part where I jumped him for treating me like a little girl?”
He’d laughed in response. He’d had to, really. He hadn’t realized he was using her first name, already, and he knew deep down that was a bad sign, but for the moment he let it be as he replied, “Observant. Good… How about, you start with one, and then let it segway naturally into the other?”
She was smiling brightly, “Shaw doesn’t have a high opinion of the Master Sergeants leadership skills, or yours. To each his own if he thinks that way, but spouting it publicly is another matter. When I called him on his lack of respect, he decided he’d up the ante with a double whammy of claiming an airlockable offense on your part, and dismissing me… with a hair ruffle.”
It made him snicker sill, these many months later, remembering how she’d gotten progressively more sheepish as she approached that part. He’d thought it was funny at the time, quiping, “A mistake, clearly. He’s lucky you didn’t have your combat knife. Can’t man a Howler minus a few fingers. What was the accusation?”
“Carrying a gun on the wheel,” she’d replied immediately, stopping just a second to let him step ahead of her, thus giving her a chance to very blatantly check out his posterior with an entirely too amused grin returning to her face as she added, “’Course, he’s probably too hetero to have spent enough time looking to have noticed. He must be mistaken.”
Back in the present, Coleman had to stop his recollections a moment to adjust the way they were laying, a convenient cover for his soft snickering at the memory. That and his arm was falling asleep.
“Oh, is that all? This thing here?” he had said with barely suppressed laughter.
Then he drew the pistol shaped device from waistband of his trousers, and pointed it directly at her face, prompting her to freeze. She didn’t look particularly scared, but she jumped and outright emitted a squeak as he pulled the trigger, launching forth a searing gout of flame all of three centimeters from the end of the barrel, a relic from times when people got their nicotine by actually burning plant matter.
“Ass!” she’d exclaimed at him, laughing, “You just surprised me, is all. Lemme see that.”
They’d laughed and smiled the rest of the way back, and she’d hinted that she was going to get him back for that stunt. For just a moment, or really more like twelve moments, he’d completely forgotten where and what they were. Then she vanished into the barracks, and the sudden return of awareness hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks. Another old saying, since kids these days were liable to never have even seen a brick.
That night, he’d wandered Stargate, the greatest space station humanity had ever built. Round and round the great wheel he went, lost in his thoughts. Tonight though, tonight was different. Tonight, in spite of the fact that being caught in bed together could very well get them both executed, he was much more at peace.
And so he held her that much tighter, and drifted off to sleep, knowing that tomorrow they had a mission to complete. The dangerous sort of mission that Synners like them had been specially created to go on, and even with all the might of human science behind them, any one of them might not return.