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Another Day on Cirrus One

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Johnna Hebbs was up to something. Mack hadn't yet figured out what it was, but he recognized the signs, and he wasn't happy about it. Of course, he might well be even less happy once he discovered just what it was the stationmaster was plotting, but he didn't let that stop him from trying to find out.

Mack had never been very fond of surprises. With one notable exception.

"Three days. All I want is three normal, uneventful days." In three days, he'd be leaving this station in the more than capable hands of Steffan Adler, and Mack would be returning to his Vedritor.

Mine, again. He looked forwards to it immensely. The moreso because Gillie had assured him Adler wanted the change as much as Mack did. There were no losers here, for all that the top brass might be viewing Mack's move as a step back.

Well, then maybe they won't be thinking of my name the next time they come across a problem that needs fixing.

"I think that around here, that's a contradiction within terms." Tobias chuckled. "You can either have a normal day, or you can have an uneventful one, but not both at the same time."

"Current and past evidence seems to suggest you're wrong there, Lieutenant." Mack had been polite, but clear and firm, he thought. He didn't want a medal or a raise or even a promotion. He just wanted his ship back, and he wanted to be able to spend time with Gillie.

Unsurprisingly, the first had been much more readily granted than the second.

"Oh?"

Needless to say, he had judged it best not to share the details of who, exactly, Gillie was - or why the Vedritor was most definitely his already now, regardless of who might be listed as her captain.

"In this place, there aren't any uneventful days," Mack said. "Somewhere, there's always trouble. If today seems quiet, it's just because we haven't figured out what's going wrong yet."

"Spoken like a true optimist. How are the plans for the honeymoon coming along?"

"I am still considering destinations. It's amazing how few places there are that are reasonably hospitable, yet also cut off from all communications."

"There might be a nice asteroid or something like that in the Vedri's database."

"Alas. Plus, call me old-fashioned and demanding, but I thought it might be nice to be able to kiss without risking suffocation."

 

The lifts were malfunctioning (again) and so Mack found himself headed for the stairs. He'd have liked to give Adler a station where things worked a bit better - and on one level, he felt that if he'd just been given an extra month, he might have come a bit closer than he was now.

Supplies and extra personnel had finally started to trickle in. Hebbs was beginning to see those extra job openings Mack had been promising her for months now. Things were starting to look like they might, at some point, actually get the Project on the road - and only about six months behind schedule, too.

Mack knew how these things worked, though. He hadn't gotten where he was by not knowing how to read a situation. Right now, he was a hero.

In another month, they'd probably have forgotten his existence - or at least any promises they might have made him about another assignment or some leave to go on a proper honeymoon. Mack sourly reflected that they'd probably remember his existence all too well, as soon as they needed his talents.

Under most circumstances, he wouldn't have minded. He took pride in his job, and in doing it well.

It was just that, nowadays, there was more to his life than work.

 

If there was one thing Mack might actually miss, he supposed it would have to be Maguire's.

Fleet rations were not nearly so poor-tasting as their reputation claimed - and coffee, thank the Lady, could be made as easily and as well in space as on a station. They kept a man (or woman) well-fed and healthy.

They might even serve as a honeymoon dinner, although Mack had some ideas about that.

"She's polite," he told Gillie. Realizing how that sounded, he added: "It's not like her at all. I suppose it's making me suspicious."

"Or paranoid." Gillie grinned, and somehow, Mack knew she was remembering that night Hebbs had taken her for 'a night on the town'. Introducing her to some of the station's 'eligible' bachelors, so that she would be 'off the market' and no longer of any interest to Mack.

Needless to say, things hadn't worked out as planned ... at least, not for Hebbs. For Mack, things had turned out quite well, indeed, if perhaps also not at all as he'd been imagining the rest of his life.

"She canceled our morning meeting with some vague excuse." Mack had already forgotten what it had been, but he remembered the expression that had passed over her face as she'd informed him their meeting would have to be postponed. It had almost been comforting, to see the old, arrogant Hebbs again, who would always put herself and hers before anyone else.

"I thought you said she was being polite."

Mack sighed. "It's just a feeling I'm getting. I'm sorry for being such poor company tonight. Let's talk about something else. Anything else."

"Parrots?" Gillie grinned.

"Yes, even that. I hope nobody's yet decided our avian invaders ought to be deified, too, for their role in saving the station?" If so, he might have to reconsider handing this whole mess to Adler. Some things, you simply couldn't ask of a friend.

"Give it a few centuries and some enthusiastic script writers. Or no - I think there's just too few people who actually know what we did. Which is probably just as well."

"Yes. It probably is." If the Fav ever heard of how close they'd come to succeeding, they might try again - and this time, they wouldn't be scared off by the appearance of a more than solid defense.

Even if Mack hoped recent events had ensured that if there ever came a next time, the Confederation would have its defenses up and ready.

"Dessert here, or shall we order it to go?"

"Doc's been telling me I need my sleep." For some reason, Janek seemed to think that because Mack would be leaving in three - now two days, he should take it easy. Let things go. Cut himself some slack.

"Going to bed early sounds like a very good idea," Gillie said. Her eyes were sparkling.

"Doesn't it? We'll get it to go, then."

 

"I apologize for the inconvenience," Hebbs said, her tone not the least bit apologetic. "I'm just going to have to reschedule our meeting for this afternoon. How's four?"

The parrot population appeared to be increasing, given that Izaak had found eggshells yesterday. A shipment of uniforms had (predictably) either been held up on Lishak or disappeared completely. The company that might have supplied parts that might have been used to fix the lifts turned out to have gone bankrupt two years ago, meaning Fleet saw no way to get Mack the parts he needed.

As Tobias might have said: it was a normal day.

"I already have other obligations at that time." Nothing he couldn't reschedule as well, but he'd be damned if he'd spend these last few days on the station dancing to Hebbs's tunes. She was (he hoped) an intelligent enough woman not to blame Adler for Mack's offenses - meaning Mack was free to be as rude to her as she was to him.

Who knew? With any luck they might never sit through another meeting together.

"Tonight, then," Hebbs said. "After hours."

"No." That was going too far. "Absolutely not."

Hebbs glared at him, as if he was the one who insisted on canceling an appointment at the last minute and then suggested they reschedule the thing after what was shaping up to be another long and hard workday. "I'm not having you put this off until your last day, Makarian. We do this tonight."

Mack wished she would have added the 'or not at all' out loud. In that case, he knew what his choice would have been. As it was ... well. Just two more days. "Fine. Tonight."

Hebbs nodded once, then broke the connection without so much as a 'thank you'.

Just two more days they might be, but Mack suspected they were going to be very long ones.

 

If this is a last-ditch attempt at some stupid seduction, I may commit murder.

Hebbs had given him an address, claiming their meeting could not possibly take place in their workplace, considering the time. Mack had left a message for Gillie, with a request to come and rescue him if he stayed away too long. He'd mostly meant that last bit as a joke.

The building (a warehouse of some kind) looked to be utterly deserted, which did little to allay Mack's suspicions. At least it was on one of the fairly respectable decks - not an obvious place for an ambush, if such had been Hebbs's plan.

He tried the door. It was unlocked.

"Anyone here?"

Nothing, although for one brief moment, Mack thought he might have heard someone giggle. Someone decidedly not Hebbs.

Mack considered his options, then decided he might as well open the door and go inside. Anyone intending him harm would find him far from defenseless - anyone not intending him harm ...

... would be here for a surprise farewell party he'd probably have found an excuse not to go to, if anyone'd asked him.

"Surprise." Amazingly, Hebbs actually smiled at him. In a friendly, completely non-seductive kind of way.

And then Gillie came walking up to him in a dress that managed to be at once perfectly respectable and incredibly sexy, and he forgot all about Hebbs. And everything else.

 

"I don't really like surprises," Mack confessed. "Or parties. As a rule."

"It's for her, too, you know." Hebbs was scowling again. Strangely, it made Mack feel better.

"And I, for one, quite like both surprises and parties." Gillie grimaced. "Well, most surprises."

Mack filed that bit of information away for future use and decided to ask Janek how, exactly, throwing him a surprise party was supposed to help him get a healthy amount of sleep.