‘What the…’ the curse, ripped from Sam’s lips at the same moment she lost her grip on the glacti-cycle. Watching the machine, it became swept up in the black winds of a vortex. Heavier than a human, it sank into the raging storm below. That’s when she noticed her uniform.
What the hell, she thought, pink, I haven’t worn pink since, well never! Even my mother hates the colour. And a mini skirt, that’s like so last century. My ring, don’t tell me I’ve lost my wedding ring. Oh Mark’s just going to love that. They had to cut the last one off my finger in sick bay a week ago. I’ve only just got the new one.
Suddenly the wind stopped howling. She’d been unceremoniously ejected from the vortex. Spreading her arms, Sam finally noticed the ground a hundred meters below her, on it lay her yellow cycle in a thousand shards. It seemed to be coming up at her incredibly quickly. A glance at her wings and she understood why. Before she had a chance to consider her impact with the ground, June brought The Siren under her. Landing perfectly in a crouch, the platform beneath her feet began to descend at the same time as the plasti-glass dome closed.
‘Glad to see you back,’ Jason remarked.
‘You’re safe, Princess?’ Mark enquired, sparing her the quickest of glances before returning his attention back to the main screen. ‘Punch it, Tiny. Let’s finish Spectra’s latest mecha off.’
‘We’re away,’ Tiny pushed the throttled as the ship surged forward.
‘Bird missile ready,’ Jason jumped to the gunners’ position, waiting for the opportunity to destroy the millipede reassembling in the attempt to climb the wall Princess had just flown over.
‘Fire,’ Mark yelled.
Three torpedos left the bay in rapid succession. The explosion rocked the Phoenix, sending Jason into Princess, still standing in the middle of the cabin with an unusual expression on her face. As the fireworks died away, the young woman pushed the man off her. Lying in waste, metallic shreds of Spectra’s latest mechanical monster smouldered on the ground.
‘Hey,’ Jason regained his footing, ‘what’s the meaning of shoving me!’ he glared at Princess.
‘Let’s head for home, Tiny,’ Mark ordered. Rising from his seat, he stood between the two combatants. ‘Jason,’ he warned, pointing out Princess’s shredded wings. Turning his attention to the female member of the crew he asked, ‘what happened?’
‘Mark,’ Sam unthinkingly rushed into his arms. Used to feeling his warm embrace whenever they got close, it took several seconds to realise he didn’t return the gesture.
‘Princess,’ he looked embarrassed, cheeks colouring under his helmet. Gently he pushed her way, ‘this isn’t appropriate even if you’ve had a bad experience.’
‘Bad experience,’ Sam repeated, astounded. ‘Bad experience,’ her voice rose at least ten decibels. She missed the rear doors opening and closing. Mad as hell, she finally allowed her shocked brain to take in the surrounding. ‘What are you doing on the flight deck of The Siren and why is Joe here too. Last I heard you and the Red Devils had been assigned to finish off Sparta’s base in Europe. What the hell is going on around here? Jen,’ she called, looking frantically around the cabin, ‘Commander, are you girls playing some very unkind joke on me! Well I can tell you it’s not funny!’
Felling a prick in her leg, Sam looked down into the strangest set of eye’s she’d ever seen set in the face of an outlandish child. Noticing the hypodermic needle in his hand she knew he’d just delivered a sedative. Eyes wide in shock, she crumpled onto the hard deck. Not even her husband bothered the catch her.
‘Jason, Keyop get her to sick bay,’ Mark ordered, ‘I’ll radio the Chief and let him know Princess has been injured.’
‘We’ll be back at Centre Neptune in thirty,’ Tiny offered.
After that it all became hazy. The sedative didn’t knock her out completely just altered her perception enough to accept the strangeness without question. Sam found one arm around Joe as he almost dragged her to the infirmary couch. It looked so much like the interior of The Siren. Their ship, named after a mythical half bird, half woman, fitted their team perfectly. However these two boys, wearing similar uniforms to Anne and Sue but with strange looking helmets seemed to be comfortable moving about sick bay.
‘What,’ a string of strange noises followed, ‘do you think,’ once again those incessant sounds, ‘happened to Princess,’ the little man finally got out. To the little guys’ credit, he did seem concerned about Sam. He had to know she only allowed her husband to get away with calling her Princess.
‘I don’t know,’ the one she knew as Joe answered.
Only Mark called him Jason. Confusing, how so much resembled her reality with some bazar twists. Wondering who’d come up with this simulation, Sam considered Jane. She’d have the technical ability and the pull with Joe to set something as complex as this up. But, how would she get Mark to play along. He’d been embarrassed, EMBARRASSED, to show her any affection. That had never happened before. In fact, the other girls often teased her about the fact they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
‘Mark,’ Sam managed to slur through her drug induced haze. If she could just get him down here, she’d ascertain the truth, one way or another. The man she’d married two years ago held few secrets for her.
‘Whatever possessed you,’ Jason wondered, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his tone, ‘to act like such a girl.’
‘Got,’ that infernal speech impediment annoyed the hell out of Sam, ‘Mark’s attention,’ the youngster seemed happy about the incident, as though he’d never seen the two of them together before.
‘Not in the way she’s always wanted,’ Jason responded with a sigh. ‘I’m going to have to stay down here with her, Keyop. Let the Commander know.’
‘Ten-four,’ he managed, before rushing back to the main deck.
‘Mark,’ Sam tried again, this time with tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. Feeling frustrated, her movements slow, she attempted to sit up.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ Jason easily pushed her back onto the bed, ‘Mark would have my hide if anything else happened to you.’
At least, Sam thought, that hasn’t changed.
‘Not,’ Jason continued, ‘to mention Chief Anderson. He’s going to tie the Commander up in red tape over this for the next year. We’ll be lucky to see him under all the paperwork. I told him not to let you go on this one alone.’
Listening with rapt attention, Sam began to realise the situation might be a lot more complicated than she’s first suspected. Somehow that vortex changed her world, altering it to the torture she now endured. If she could just get her husband’s attention, they’d be able to sort this mess out.
Lifting her hand, a white gloved hand, she missed the flash of gold. He acted as though they’d never met, never mind married. Impossible, Sam’s mind flashed back to that moment in his arms. She knew when a man wanted her. She knew when her husband wanted her. Boy, the evidence had been there for her to feel before he pushed her away.
‘Joe,’ she remembered his name in this universe and made a hasty correction, ‘son.’
‘Yeh,’ he looked over from his position, holding up the wall, arms crossed protectively on his chest. The look of desperation in Princess’s eyes drew him. By the time he reached her, she’d acted like a real girl for the first time in her life and fainted. Bringing his communicator to his mouth, he called, ‘Mark, we have to get the Centre Neptune on the double. Our Swan just passed out.’