Jenna Stannis was in a foul temper. This was not unlike any other mood she had been in since she’d returned to the ship, on the sufferance of everyone on board. Especially that obscenely happy pair, Avon and Cally. Not that you could tell with that stony-faced bas… Jenna corrected herself. Their expressionless technical genius.
She dabbed her cheek fiercely with the colour applicator. Argh! Why couldn't she get the shading right? Now she looked like the ghost of… She shook her head and read the label on the applicator container.
Guaranteed to make you look years younger. Younger than what? My dead grandmother?
Or your credits back. Yes, well, fat chance of that since she'd scrounged it up from the Justice's clothing and accoutrements rooms. Who knows where the ship had obtained its stores. Or why.
Expiry date…the number was smudged out. Hang on; the damned thing had an expiry date? Jenna dropped the stick with disgust and dug around the drawer for an old standby, Scansian pink. The colour rolled smoothly on.
She looked at herself appraisingly in the mirror. Just a bit more. That would stop those young blades from thinking I'm old.
Her lips twisted in a momentary scowl. Frown lines and dark circles under her eyes. It was all Avon's fault. He had her reading hour after hour of boring technical manuals. She could almost swear that he was trying to make her as blind as he was. Wouldn't put it past the vindictive…technical genius.
He seemed to find it fascinating but she wasn't buying it. No one could possibly find those dry, incomprehensible manuals - obviously written by people who had no life - interesting. She was certain that he was doing it just to torture her.
Jenna angled her head in the light, wondering if the dermal regenerator would help.
Another scowl. That would mean going to Cally. There was no way she was going to do that.
More colour applicator.
Jenna stood in line at the food dispenser. She was getting very tired of having all these people aboard. Tapping her foot impatiently, she noticed the strapping young soldier, Lt. Dain entering. He nodded politely as he stepped into line behind her. "Ma'am."
Jenna suppressed a snarl. Frown lines. Remember, frown lines.
"Good morning, lieutenant."
"It's a fine morning, ma'am."
These soldiers from Athol were so excruciatingly polite that they jangled on her frayed nerves. "It is for some people," she grumbled irritably.
"I'm sorry." Dain stared hard at her for a moment, as if he'd noticed she had grown an extra head, and then looked away.
"Is there something wrong, soldier?"
"No…I just…I've never seen that shade before. I was wondering if you were ill. "
A deep scowl added to Jenna's frown lines.
In Avon's lab, Jenna's fingers jabbed at the controls on the side of an alien-looking object as he dictated. "Mu over Si. By Al differentiated. L sin U equals. Six double xv minus phi inverted to the power of mixed gamma…"
"Slow down!" Jenna exclaimed as she tried to keep up. She felt her fingers hitting the wrong key. "Damn!"
Avon said dryly, "Did you destroy the time space continuum again? This is a finely balanced equation. It must be entered in the correct sequence. The Justice's spatial distort engines…"
"Don’t you think I know that?! You've only said it a hundred times!"
"A hundred and one."
"You're a bastard, Avon."
"So you frequently tell me. Now, shall we proceed or do your eyes need rest? Of course mine don't."
She nearly picked up the machine and chucked it at him. She said with exaggerated pleasantness, "I don't need any rest."
"Where did you make the error?"
Jenna traced back along the convoluted equation. "Uhh…" Damn! "…Mu over Si. I think I put…"
"Start from the beginning."
She groaned in annoyance. "Aren't there some technical manuals you want me to read? That 14 Gig one…hang on a second." Her faced scrunched as a thought occurred to her. "Why am I doing this manually? Don't all computers have verbal interfaces?"
Avon's lips curved unevenly upwards. "I was wondering when you would ask."
Jenna said with outrage, "You mean I've been doing this for nothing?! And don't tell me that all I had to do was ask." Her face was turning redder than the Scansian pink could cover up.
Avon said, "You assume too much and think too little."
Cally entered with her medical kit. "Is there something the matter?"
Jenna said angrily, "Ask him!"
Avon's head tilted as he followed the sound of Cally's footsteps. "Jenna assumed that all computers have verbal interfaces." He turned his head in Jenna's direction, a faint smirk on his lips. "They don't. This particular piece of apparatus is part of the ship's original design. It was never fitted with a verbal interface."
Jenna let out a breath of frustration. "Why didn't you say that in the first place?"
"You didn't ask."
A sharp retort was about to spill from her lips when Jenna noticed that Cally was looking at her cheek with keen interest. "What are you staring at?"
"That's not a flattering shade."
Jenna's hand touched her face. "It's my normal colour if you didn't notice. Only a bit darker."
Cally rolled her eyes in alien incomprehension. "I've never understood why humans find the aging process such a threat to their self-image."
This was the last straw. "I am not old!"
Indifferent to her concerns, Avon said, "Humans are irrational, Cally."
"But age lines are a natural characteristic of the maturation process. On Auron it was considered a good sign."
Jenna clenched her teeth. If one more person mentioned the word 'age', 'aging' or 'lines' in her presence, she would not be responsible for her actions.
Later, in Sester's cabin…
"What was that for?" Sester asked in indignation, his hand rubbing his abused cheek as Jenna glared at him, her hand still upraised.
"What did you just say?" she asked with a strong note of warning in her voice.
"I only said that…" He glanced at her hand apprehensively. "…some wines age better than other ones."
If Jenna's eyes were skewers, Sester would be trussed up for roasting. She said angrily, "Are you trying to insinuate something about my age?"
Sester gestured to the bottle on the table. "I was trying to insinuate something about this fine bottle of wine. I brought it from the restaurant we both enjoyed. It's a special vintage. Very hard to obtain unless you have the right connections."
Jenna regarded him warily. "What do you want?"
"Is everyone on this ship paranoid?"
"Only about you."
Sester chuckled as he rubbed his face. "Very true. Now are you…"
The announcing chime sounded. "Who could that be, I wonder?" he asked with undisguised delight.
Jenna said acidly, "An outraged husband? I know your type. You like to play with women you can't have." A sly, evocative, - almost crocodile-like - smile appeared on her face as she slinked up to him, her hips swaying suggestively. "You wouldn’t know what to do if a woman really wanted you." She grabbed Sester by the collar and pulled him into a long, deep, searching kiss.
Sester always found it difficult to argue with a beautiful woman, especially one who was kissing him with such vigour. He began to cooperate in the endeavour when Jenna shoved him away, her perfect white teeth flashing mockingly in the room lights. "Well? What do you say to that?"
Sester coughed and readjusted a collar that seemed too tight. The ignored chime sounded again impatiently, twice in quick succession. A broad grin spread across his face. "I say that we need more people for this party."
The way that he quickly reached forward and pressed the control on his desk, made Jenna's eyes narrow in suspicion.
Kirsten's lovely form was framed in the doorway. "What took so…" she took a step in and stopped as she spied Jenna. "What are you doing here?"
Sester's face was composed in a serious expression. "It's my cabin."
She fixed Jenna with a glare, "I'm asking you."
After an aggravating day, Jenna had been looking forward to this. Making Sester's life miserable seemed to be the only enjoyment she had on this ship. "He invited me. He wanted to show me something special."
A pained look appeared on Sester's face.
Kirsten glared at Sester now. "He said the same thing to me." She leaned forward. "What is that?" She pointed to the smudge mark on his lips.
"Oh. It's…" Sester glared at Jenna, an accusation in his eyes.
Before the poor man could say anything, Jenna said with a smirk, "Would you like to tell her, or should I?"
Whack! This time it was Kirsten who slapped him.
"Ow!" Sester held his matching cheeks. "It wasn't even my fault!"
Kirsten asked tartly, "She made you do it?"
He sputtered, "Well, she kissed me and…I didn't want to be impolite…"
"So you let her?" She raised her hand but this time he was ready and caught it.
"You only get one slap per day," he told her.
Jenna said, "He makes an exception for me."
Sester winced at the memory of their conversation in the bushes while they were trying to convince the Federation guards that they were a disgustingly amorous Alpha couple.
Kirsten said angrily, "Then you slap him!"
"My pleasure." Jenna raised her hand.
Sester backed away, his hands covering his sore cheeks. "Now, ladies…" He flashed them a quick, roguish grin. "There's enough of me to go around. I…hope."
Beep. Beep. Beep. They looked at each other, and then around the room, searching for the source of the sound.
Jenna scowled and reached into her trouser pocket, pulling out a small rectangular device with a screen that was blinking red. "It's Avon. I have to go. We'll continue this later."
After the door slid closed, Kirsten asked curiously, "Do you think she suspects you're playing her?"
Sester reached from behind and put his arms around her, pressing their bodies together. "We're both playing her."
"That was fun."
Sester chuckled. "You're quite good. And to answer your question, she does suspect, but as I said before, if you know how to play it correctly, she won't be able to help herself." He rubbed his stinging cheeks. "Though I don't think you need to slap me quite so convincingly."
"You deserved it."
His eyes were drawn to the nape of her neck. Kirsten's hair had parted and tantalizing glimpses of her soft white skin peaked through invitingly. It was one of the most sensitive areas of a woman's body. He bent down, breathing in her sweet scent and blew gently on the exposed flesh.
"Ahhh." A shudder of pleasure passed through Kirsten's body and she arched back. Her eyes closed as he ran light fingers up and down her spine. "What else can you teach me?" she asked.
Sester smiled affectionately and teased, "I do love a woman who only wants me for my mind."
"And who would that be?"
"You're unique, intelligent, beautiful…" He drew her hand into his and gently raised it to his lips, the tip of his tongue just grazing the back of her hand, sending delicious thrills down her spine.
"And flattery will get you nowhere."
"…not to mention frustrating." He turned her hand in his and kissed the centre of her palm, sending more currents of desire coursing through her body.
Reluctantly, Kirsten extricated herself from his embrace and stepped back.
Sester gave an agonized, groaning sigh. His pants were bulging uncomfortably. Kirsten would have to be blind and completely without feeling on the lower part of her body if she hadn't felt his stiff attention pressing up against her. Despite the kisses they had shared, Jenna never had this effect on him. He asked with a resigned voice, "Not today?"
"You know why not."
"Actually, other than your desire to inflict undeserved pain and suffering on me…I haven't a clue."
She suddenly kissed him. A slow, sensual, passionate kiss that made his heart hammer in his chest. Hesitantly, his fingers reached down to the buttons of her blouse and…found they were already undone, inviting his touch.
"Oh…" A low guttural, moan escaped his lips. "Kirsten…how…"
"The usual way," she whispered tantalizingly into his ear as he slipped trembling fingers inside her blouse and touched the smooth mound that teased him with its curved…
The announcing chime sounded again.
He growled in naked frustration. "No!"
Kirsten sighed and stepped back, her fingers automatically redoing the buttons.
The aching need in his groin caused Sester's voice to rise in a plea, "Kirsten…"
"You'd better get the door."
Sester groaned in frustrated complaint, "I don't think I can do that." He quickly took a step to hide himself, or at least the lower portion, behind a chair.
He thought it was highly unsympathetic of her to have such a clearly amused look on her face as she pressed the door panel.
Reya stood in the doorway.