chapter six
Part Five

Finn's eyelids fluttered as he bit his lip and tried to find the inport connecter through touch alone.   He didn't look at the altimeter anymore, chances were he was already too late and if that were the case then he just didn't want to know.

His pinky fought the increasing wind and ran carefully along the seat at the bottom of his tunic looking for that one spiky connector that could mean salvation.   He didn't know if he could find it, didn't know if the connector would mate should he succeed, but Finn knew this was the only chance he had, if only he could... YES!

Finn dug the twin plug into the inport connector and felt it tug.   Mating was successful.   Then he turned the Rifle over and tugged three times on the Arc generator slider.   The unit began to glow as the internal plasma generator revved up quickly for a burst powerful enough to match a lightning strike.

Then he toggled the release forward and twisted it back, something it fought against because of the safeties.   Finally, with only seconds remaining and a long since lost horizon, Finn pulled the trigger on the Arc emitter.

* * *

Celeste jumped at the explosion and tensed as a swimming pool of rain cascaded over her nude form.   She shivered as she opened up her eyes and looked around wondering what the Pete had happened.   There was nothing around but the mist.

She rose as the sunlight beat through the rainbows around her and brought her hand up to her eyes looking skyward.   She couldn't see anything.

* * *

Finn was definitely going to barf.   Once was more than enough, twice in three minutes had quite exceeded his tolerance.   He looked around hazily.   He was hovering at three thousand metres, the power cells were fully charged but his twin plugs were fried when he channeled that much power through them.   He was surprised he didn't fry the entire system.

Finn looked down.   The boat was still there, the small figure on the boat standing and looking around.   Like it or not Finn decided, she was going to have a visitor.

* * *

Celeste watched as the dark figure slowly descended toward her boat.   She did nothing to hide herself, it hadn't even occurred to her.   They were two hundred years beyond that nonsense and besides, every inch of her had been projected on screens all over the planet for years.

In fact with the sophistication of Rez-Ney systems Celeste was sure anyone that interested in her had better knowledge of her body than her last three lovers combined.

Finn slowed as he approached and flipped the front visor of his helmet up.   She could see in his eyes how sorry he was to intrude.   She supposed he was saying something to that effect as well but she couldn't hear him yet.

Celeste cupped her hands to her mouth and spoke as clearly and firmly as her theatre trained voice allowed, "I can't hear you but you're a long way out so welcome aboard!"

Finn glided closer, still trying to give the lady her distance, and the time to put something on.   His boot touched the desk at nearly the exact same spot that he'd planned to only five minutes, and several lifetimes, earlier.

The moment he was down he cycled down his Grav-Vest and reached up to remove his helmet.   "I'm very sorry Ma'am.   I didn't mean to intrude."

She still hadn't done anything to hide herself and that was distracting for Finn.   Her skin was disturbingly smooth and clear and her form stirred desires in him that quite frankly he didn't need at the moment.   And either she didn't notice his discomfort, or reveled in it.

"It's alright Mister Finnegan.   I've been expecting you."

"Bloody Nora!"   Finn replied without any knowledge he'd spoken.

* * *

Twenty minutes later the Network Barge pulled up along side "Carte Blanche" reuniting Colonel Nickle and Captain Sandoval with Finnegan.

"Put some clothes on Celeste," Nickle barked it like a command as he stepped aboard, "this isn't one of your movie sets!"

Celeste returned his admonishment with a gesture everyone recognized as unbecoming such a lady.

Nickle climbed up topside and looked at both of them.   The High Altitude Drop ready, combat dressed Astral, complete with Grav-Vest and Rifle perched ever vigilantly beside the blonde and blue-eyed starlet, propped up on her delicate elbows, wearing nothing but her sun-pod lenses and a smile.   He shook his head; it was quite a contrast.

Celeste, of course, had insisted that Finn sit down with her, she'd actually wanted him to strip and join her, but the quiet, stoic black man who had fallen from the sky, insisted that he was still on duty and such displays wouldn't be appropriate.

Nickle wouldn't have begrudged him that, she was after all the number one star on the planet, but he wouldn't have taken the offer himself, though for different reasons.   Despite her willingness to participate in these exercises, her behaviour, as demonstrated by her insistence at being nude, was too far from military for his comfort.

And should he allow himself to fall into her orbit a second time, he had no doubt the torrent of interruptions and calls would once again drive him to another six month stint at Starkey Station, the one place in the whole solar system that guaranteed peace and quiet.

Colonel Nickle reared up, an ego gesture to be sure and spoke clearly at Finnegan, "That was quite a brilliant piece of on-the-spot engineering, Leftenant."

Finn hadn't thought of it as being anything but an attempt to avoid death.   He nodded though, accepting the compliment. "What made you think of it?" Nickle continued.

Finn paused, he didn't recall thinking of it.   He didn't really recall doing it.   "I needed power.   Had I been able to generate it by flapping my arms I probably would've."

"Well it was brilliant, Leftenant.   Absolute magic."

Finn was even more confused now, "If you don't mind me asking sir, what normally happens in this exercise?"


"I mean, if no one has ever jury-rigged alternate power before, what happens?   Surely you don't..."   He made a plummetting gesture with his left hand.

"No, no, of course not.   We're Network, Mister Finnegan, not barbarians.   Normally, we uh, we..."   He turned to Salvador.   "What normally happens?"

Salvador looked back at the Colonel like a deer in the headlights; Celeste spoke up, "Normally they land on the boat the first time.   Then I get to scream blue murder and pretend like I'm about to get raped and all sorts of wonderfulness!"

Finn raised an eyebrow at her.   She was definitely a different creature than he was used to being around; that was for sure.   "Pretend?"

"Absolutely darhling, that's why they involve me."

Nickle chortled, "That, and she's free."

Celeste purred toward Nickle playfully, "Oh, I get paid."

Nickle shuddered, he'd be transferring to Starkey again soon; he just knew it.

Finn was still confused, "So, the information on the file about her...?"

"Completely false."

Celeste suddenly exuded an air of boredom as she lay back, "It's the plot of my latest movie.   We 'wrapped' in Vegas last week.

"It's a thriller," she continued, her voice was light and silky, a most intoxicating combination, "although it turns into a romance by the end of it, I think they're planning to call it 'Vegas Syndrome', or something."

Finn watched as her entire personality appeared to change instantly.   Amazing.   He looked up at Colonel Nickle.   "Did I pass?"

"Did you?" Nickle burst as though Finn had just told the most incredible joke.   "Mister Finnegan,!   I've already ordered a full analysis of telemetry with the idea we incorporate this contingency in the next round of training.   Bloody brilliant."

Off in the distance the movement of a fast craft crossing just above the surface of the water caught Finn's eye.   He tilted to the right so he could see past Nickle's leg.   Everyone except Celeste noticed this and followed his gaze.

The Network Shuttle, a Tolex class craft with the name "Dennis Kingman" along its cockpit, glided up along side the boat and Nickle's skiff.   The pilot wasn't used to hovering above a moving surface this close to the ground, evident by the uneasiness they had matching the movement of the ocean.   By the time the craft synched up with the skiff and the hatch opened the person who appeared in it was a bright shade of green that seemed to match his tunic.

Neither Nickle nor Sandoval recognized the person but Finn stood up immediately, "Major?"

Ethan fought back the need to hurl lunches from past lives across the Atlantic.   He'd feel much better if the damn horizon wasn't undulating all around him.   Finn saw his distressed, excused himself from Colonel Nickle and crossed over the skiff to his former commander.

In close proximity Finn let down the shield of formality, "Ethan, are you alright?"

It was a phrase Frohman had heard from this person far too often, but that gave him comfort.   As long as Finn was around he'd be fine.   "Busy?"

* * *