Universe 1, above Dargoona Castle located on a privately owned island…
“Yes,” Sheena answered, lifting her gaze from the useless staring she’d been doing at her hands to look at her pilot. “I greatly appreciate you coming to pick me up here. Please remember to remove the island’s exact location from your flight log. It’s a level 1 priority to protect the residence of the AAS Matchmakers.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. “My orders from central said as much.”
Sheena sighed internally. She’d left several of her older, reprogrammed droids behind with Carleton and Elsa. She hoped they would be enough.
“Are you sure you want to do this? People who visit the Alien Abduction Services airship tend not to return. There are few exceptions.”
The conscientious airship captain was used to flying her all kinds of questionable places, but he’d been reluctant to make this particular flight with her. She completely understood his worry, shared some of it even, but worry would not change her decision or lessen the burden of what she had to do to help Brianna.
“Don’t worry about me, Captain. As a precaution, I’m taking a few of my special boys with me,” Sheena replied, wishing she felt as confident as she sounded. It wasn’t getting back off the airship she feared. She’d been to the ship many times and left when she wanted—or at least she had a hundred years ago when she’d been married to its current admiral.
The rumors most believed about the airship—the ones about the danger were all true—tended to keep the airship safe from hostile takeovers. She accepted that her nervousness merely validated what might be the most propagated political ruse on New Earth. The real reason for her apprehension, which was having to deal with her ex-husband again, only made Sheena angry at herself. Such a personal issue wasn’t something she’d be sharing with her worried pilot though.
“How will you recharge the SDDs on the floating airship? It’s not really equipped for the kind of power they require, is it?”
Sheena was glad their discussion was moving to more comfortable ground. She could talk about her self-directed droids all day. “The boys are self-charging now. Their batteries are good for fifty years so long as they can shut down for a few hours a day to rest their processors. I intend to rotate them on guard duty to make sure that happens. That’s why I brought all four. I’m well prepared for whatever happens.”
Sheena smiled when her pilot’s interested gaze went to the four walking weapons sitting behind her. All four were staring off into space, but instantly turned to smile at the pilot. She was still very proud about teaching them to know when someone stared their way. And to think, it was nothing more than a simple face recognition program. In every case where they had tested self-directed droids interacting with humans, the responses of hers were so human-like no one knew the difference until an arm suddenly transformed into one of several dangerous weapons.
“No offense, Dr. McNamara, but I’d feel much better if General Montgomery was accompanying you like he usually does. At the risk of sounding as sexist as my wife accuses me of being at times, I wish you had some friendly human company for your trip.”
Sheena sighed again internally, fighting hard not to let it out. She’d inherited the sighing tendency from her mother who was also her biological egg donor. She’d inherited her quick temper from her father, the man contributing the sperm that had no doubt eagerly invaded that donated egg. The woman scientist who’d actually carried her in her womb had contributed nothing genetic that managed to stick… or at least nothing Sheena had ever been able to identify. What she had gotten from the woman though was an insatiable curiosity about her beginnings that had led her to her current life’s work.
“General Montgomery was too busy to come on this trip. Also, he has no involvement with its purpose or outcome. Unfortunately, this is more of a personal quest than an official mission,” Sheena said stiffly, her gaze dropping to her hands again. “If successful, we’ll be adding a person to our return trip, Captain. I’ll keep you posted about that. The identity of the passenger needs to be kept secret until I’ve secured her agreement to return with me.”
“As you wish, Doctor. Sorry if I’m overstepping with my questions.”
“It’s okay, Captain. I’m sure General Montgomery would appreciate your concern for my welfare. I know I do. It’s nice to have someone like you covering my back.”
Another truth she couldn’t share with her pilot was that General Scott Montgomery, her latest intimate relationship, had been too busy to be involved in her life for several months now. She well knew the woman keeping him occupied had every right to do so. Though he had an legally open marriage, Scott was still bound to his wife. They had children together and he had to spend time with them as well. There was nothing she could say about Scott putting the welfare of his marriage before her. It was his both his moral duty and his obligation.
Their intimate side relationship was just a matter of convenience for Scott, and for her as well, when Sheena felt like being super honest with herself. Most of her relationships with men were just that kind—on the side and only a convenience. In fact, she’d been careful not to date anyone who didn’t have a legal commitment to someone else.
What was most inconvenient about this particular trip was being forced to visit a one hundred year old ex-husband she’d never quite gotten over. Her brat of a sister was the only idiot she loved enough to endure the torture just so she rescue her rebellious ass. She’d refused to visit her insane matchmaking parents while they had worked on that damn airship Nate has chosen to honor instead of their exclusive vows.
So Scott spending time with his legal wife? That was absolutely not a problem for her. More men should be that committed to the woman in their life. She had learned long ago that there were many, many ways a New Earth born man could manage to be unfaithful.
“They were not far from the castle. We’ll be docking in three minutes, Doctor.”
Her gaze lifted so she could nod because Captain Jordy would not dock without knowing she was ready to debark. “Set our transport down whenever you’re ready, Captain. I’m anxious to get this over with. I’ll contact you when I need a ride home.”
“Yes, ma’am, Dr. McNamara. Docking now.”
A hundred years had passed since Nate had seen Sheena in person, but the lapse still surprised him every time he thought about how much time had gone by. He’d maintained near daily contact with her matchmaking parents during that time period, yet both the MacNamara’s legal born daughters had somehow managed to keep their distance from him.
Well, they had until now.
It was unfortunate he and Sheena hadn’t been able to remain friends after their divorce. Sheena McNamara had been his first in nearly everything concerning his love life and he’d not forgotten a single moment. His four other marriages hadn’t left any serious dents when they ended, but mostly that was because his time with all of them had never matched his time with Sheena.
His body tightened when four men as big as most aliens on the ship walked down the ramp. Though not openly carrying weapons, he knew the infamous Dr. McNamara never traveled without serious protection. He doubted the men were human even though the airship’s sensors reported they were. He for damn sure knew they weren’t aliens. Sheena despised aliens on principle.
Nate knew Sheena’s work had progressed beyond what he used to know about her skills. His mother had taken on the task of keeping him apprised of the now infamous Dr. McNamara’s many accomplishments. As he’d always suspected she would, Sheena had made quite the scientific name for herself. Words like genius and innovator were most typically attached to her profile.
His body tightened more when the pilot captain of her shuttle stopped her at the door with a possessive hand on her arm. He saw Sheena pat the attractive male on his ample chest, obviously reassuring him about something. The captain tipped his hat to her as she exited and lost no time in pulling the ramp back in once Sheena had reached the bottom.
Time fell away as Sheena, looking as good as she had at twenty, walked across the transport bay and back into his life. As he walked out to greet her, Nate found himself wishing it wasn’t only because she was here to see Brianna. He knew it was foolish to indulge such thoughts—knew it as sure as the ship would continue to float on its spinning electromagnetic crystals. But he was only human, a fact he’d grudgingly come to terms with about fifty years ago.
Sheena glared when she finally spotted him and that look blasted his sentimental and wishful thinking all to hell. The similarity to the glares he often got from the U6 Erin struck him hard. It was all he could do not to laugh at the irony. Now he’d have two strong willed women chewing his ass at every opportunity.
“Dr. McNamara,” Nate said softly, letting her title fall from his tongue for the first time in a century.
“Admiral Tiberius,” Sheena replied. “You’re looking very well. I see the effects of the rejuvenation serum have lasted. Another fifty years and I can probably make it available to the masses.”
Nate snorted softly and tried to hide his distaste of her hello. “I see it’s lasted on you as well. There are no visible signs that you’ve aged a day, much less a hundred years.”
Sheena nodded. “That’s a good way to phrase it, but trust me, there have been changes. If you’d like, I’d be happy to send you my reports.”
Nate felt an eyebrow raise. “Well, I do have the clearance now, but why…” He paused, not sure how to ask what he wanted to know.
“Why am I being so friendly to a man I still detest?” Sheena asked, finishing the question.
Nate nodded, a little afraid to speak. She detested him? After all this time? “Yes. Detesting does not go well with that friendliness you were touting moments ago.”
Sheena smirked. “It matches my honesty though, which is one of those changes I mentioned. You should know I came because I can fix Brianna’s tracker problem. As for the other—her being in danger—my organization can protect her once she comes to work for us.”
“Ah yes… the infamous organization.”
Sheena lifted her chin. “I intend to take Bri with me when I leave, Nate. You can fight me if you want, but it will be a waste of energy—I promise you. The Guardians owe me several favors. I won’t hesitate to use one of them to remove her from this floating black hole of alien death.”
Nate whistled. “Wow… black hole of alien death. As a scientist, I thought you’d be a little more original in your insults. Black holes were proven to be myth about fifty years ago.”
Sheena waved a hand. “That’s shit and we both know it. It’s a convenient lie so we don’t have to explain wormholes and portal travel to the masses. You’re not going to distract me by changing the subject. Now where’s Brianna? I need to see her and get this whole farce over with.”
Nate snorted. “Why? Did you leave a bunch of mutant superheroes cooking back at the lab?”
“Are you going to take me to Brianna, or should I have my guards find her? I can’t promise what will happen to your aliens while they look.”
Sighing, Nate motioned with a hand. “Come with me, Dr. Bad Ass. Let me escort you to see your family.”
“Don’t patronize me, Nathaniel. My parents are dead. Those impostors, whatever vat they were cooked in, are not my family,” Sheena said tightly. She looked sideways and gave him a hard stare. “I came only for Brianna. I don’t want to see the Frankenstein monsters your gene hacking created out of fallible McNamara DNA.”
“Sheena, stop it,” Nate ordered, physically halting their forward motion which forced her to stop beside him. He met her glare. “The rejuvenated matchmakers not monsters and I didn’t create them. They’re merely another version of your parents—one I’m unable to explain at the moment—but I swear this particular Angus and Erin are as individually unique as any other human on this planet. If you want to see their DNA profiles, I’ll share them so you can see they’re not clones… at least not in the typical sense. And if we find Brianna, chances are you’re going to have to deal with them. Your sister practically lives in their quarters.”
“Using her grieving to support your agenda is just another good reason for me to be angry with you,” Sheena declared. “Brianna was devastated when our parents both died… and yes, we both know they really did die. Now take me to her.”
Nodding, Nate turned and started walking. He chastised himself for the knot of anguish in his gut. What had he expected? Their disagreements were a century old and yet not even a tiny bit lessened in intensity. All that passion once had a much healthier expression between them. He’d ended her willingness to compromise when he’d accepted the admiral position on the airship. Or at least it had been the beginning of the end.
Lots of marriages ended over work. Lots of spouses regretted it afterwards. He had deeply been sorry that Sheena had disapproved of his acceptance of the position, but he’d had to do what he felt was necessary. When she’d left, he’d let her go without a terrible battle. There had been no other choice.
Until he’d seen her again, Nate had realized how much he’d hoped the passage of time and some additional maturity would have put their animosity to rest. Instead, it seemed like it might take another century or two before Sheena could even speak to him civilly. Thanks to her genetic discoveries, it ironically appeared that their lives would probably last that long.
They stopped in front of Brianna’s door. He made himself look at her again. The urge to hug her and reassure her things would work out for the best was so strong he could barely fight the urge. He locked his arms at his sides to keep from reaching out.
“Brianna went with Erin to the matchmaking office in the women’s common area. You can wait here in her quarters. I’ll send Darcone to escort her back. Angus and Erin’s quarters are next door. You’re going to want to remain here in Brianna’s if you truly plan to avoid them.”
“Darcone?” Sheena asked, ignoring what she didn’t want to discuss. “He’s still around?”
Nate nodded. “Yes. I think he’s given up anyone choosing him, but he’s stayed anyway. You don’t know what optimism is until you see how many of the aliens choose to remain in the program despite no one choosing to mate them.”
“After all this time, I’m surprised you didn’t just force some poor female to go with Darcone.”
Nate’s sigh was long and loud. “We don’t do that, Sheena. Your parents wouldn’t allow it. That was only done in the beginning which was over four damn centuries ago.”
Sheena pushed open the door. “I know about the five year deadline. Don’t lie to me, Nate. This whole situation is just as fucked up as it was when it started. You, your mother, and the Guardians see these poor women who come to you for help as commodities. I’m sure telling yourself you’re helping them lets you sleep at night, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re buying planetary peace at the expense of bartering human females.”
“The mating alliances keep New Earth safe,” Nate argued.
Sheena shook her head. “There are a lot of us who think the price is too high. One day, you and people like you, are going to have to deal with us.”
She pointed to the room and all four of her guards went inside. Sheena looked back at the man who had broken her heart. Nothing about him… absolutely nothing… had changed. Nate was just as handsome and just as hard-hearted as the day she’d left.
“We never did agree on this subject and we never will. Further argument will not gain either of us any ground. Thanks for letting me come here to help my sister. After I talk to Brianna, I’ll let you know what I work out.”
Nate sighed as the door closed behind the most frustrating woman he’d ever known. Knowing he still desired Sheena after all this time, and after all the hateful things she’d said to him, made him doubt his sanity. Giving in to McNamara Madness could too easily lead to him doubting every decision he’d ever made.
Starting with the one where he let Sheena MacNamara walk out of his life a hundred years ago.