It took Lauren a moment, but at last clarity returned to her. Yes, this was really happening. Melissa was really here, taken prisoner. The numbness of the shock was rapidly replaced by dread as the thought of what her friend must have already been through filled her mind. Lauren knew full well what Terra Firma's soldiers were like, especially when it came to SAF prisoners. At least she could take comfort in the fact that Mel didn't look too worse for wear, all things considered, and Zalwara had clearly been taking care of her. Things had calmed now. Melissa was silent, and Zalwara looked at Lauren expectantly, waiting for her, with a bit of a desperate look on his face, she noticed, to clarify the situation. She glanced up at the security camera in the corner of the room. The pit in her stomach got worse.
"Those are wired for sound. Guards might be on their way."
The reminder that they were being recorded got her thoughts racing once more. Anything else she said aloud from now on could spell doom for either herself, or worse, Melissa. She had to do something. Lauren gulped, then did her best to fake a laugh and sound as playful as possible, all the while positioning herself so that her face was invisible to the camera hanging from the corner of the ceiling.
"Hehe, Vice-Admiral Adachi.... I have no idea what she's going on about. There must be a mistake..." That was it. Just play around for long enough. "After all... you should know me well enough by now..." Lauren took a few steps forward, giving Zalwara a wry smile and internally praying with all her might that Melissa would stay quiet long enough for this crazy idea to work. She could hear the faint sounds of footsteps from down the hall. The guards were coming.
"But... in case you don't... I think we should get a little better aquainted." She accentuated this last sentence with extra breath, adopting a tone that, until now, she had kept reserved for those precious few with whom she had been closest. Another couple of steps forward, and her lips were on his, her weight leaning the both of them back against the wall next to the doorway, in full view of anyone who happened to be coming down the hall in their direction.
The footsteps stopped, and as Lauren wrapped her arms around the back of Zalwara's head she heard them moving again in the opposite direction, along with a few muttered words that she could just barely make out.
"No wonder he didn't go after Miss Black."
"Heh, lucky bastard. Lets give the Vice-Admiral a little privacy. Cut the camera feed on your way out. He'll thank us later."
Thank goodness. Not only did it seem to be that no one had heard Melissa's outburst, but Lauren's gamble had also gotten the three of them a crucial window of much needed privacy... at the probable cost of her shipboard reputation. But she could live with that. When she was sure they were gone, she pulled away from Zalwara and wiped her mouth. Her cheeks were flush and the words that came out of her mouth a bit pained.
"Forgive me for that. I... couldn't help myself." She phrased it differently than she would have, just in case the cameras hadn't been turned off yet, but Zalwara probably understood her meaning. Lauren took a deep breath to wait out the last few seconds before she was sure they were no longer being monitored. Then, her composure finally breaking down, she ran over to her friend's cell.
"Mel.... please tell me you're ok. If they've hurt you I.. I..." She didn't know what to say. What she could say.
"So, anything on the schedule for today? Orientation? Training? Briefing?"
"She's an eager one... Lovely." Drayden scowled for just a moment, then forcibly removed the look from his face before Sarah could see, replacing it with his usual sharp-toothed grin. "Liberty, miss Shepherd. Liberty is on the schedule. Shark Squad is off until 0800 tomorrow, as it turns out, probably timed to coincide with your arrival so that you could get settled in. You're free to go exploring, or if you like you can tag along with me. I'm sure we'll bump into your wingman in due time. She's rather... busy today, and couldn't make it down to the flight deck with me. " Drayden started walking. "Well, might as well tell me about yourself."
"Gavin... we need to get Melissa back."
The reminder of TRAP's most recent failure brought a pained look to Gavin's face. He didn't like thinking about it any more than Johan did, and he was sure the rest of the unit was in similar spirits. He sighed. There wasn't much use in hiding his own feelings at this point, and so at last after so many weeks the veneer of the confident commander melted away from Gavin Decker.
"I know." He sat down, leaning himself against the hallway wall and motioning for Johan to join him if he so desired. "Johan I just... I don't know what I can do for you guys. Every time we go out there the odds are stacked way against us, and no matter what I do it just doesn't seem like we can come out on the wining end lately. I know you and your brother must hate me for pulling you out of there the other week. I know if it were me in your shoes I would. And you're allowed to, but... if I hadn't, we'd be grieving over four friends instead of just two. I know that with one hundred percent certainty." He inhaled deeply, then continued. "Look, and I'm saying this not as your superior officer, but as one man to another man. I'm gonna do everything in my power to find her, you have my word. But, to do that I need you and your brother to have my back. You don't have to like me, or even have respect for me or what I've done. But when the time comes, and believe me Johan its going to come one way or another, I need you two to be able to stand there with me, and the Lieutenant Commander, and the Kid, and these new guys, and whoever else, and face what comes at us. We need to be a team, and if we can do that..." he paused, choosing his words carefully. "Well, I'm not going to promise anything, but if I've learned anything from being a pilot its that things have a way of coming together when you're prepared to face them."
Gavin laughed at himself, realizing now that he was rambling. "Sorry, sometimes I don't know when to shut up. I just had to speak my mind, I guess."
"My machine should already be here. Call it the risastór.... anyway, name's Shayne. Don't make yourselves strangers. I only bite 25% of the time."
Evette paused a moment, mulling the unfamiliar word around in her head, then forgetting about it and focussing on the new girl's name instead. "Pleasure to meet you! Evette's the name, but you probably heard that already." She spun around on her bar stool, seeing Owen make his way back to them and sit down as she came around. "Feeling a bit better, Mister Bell?" She asked, giving Owen a wink. Hopefully he learned his lesson, and besides, he didn't seem like a bad guy. Might as well soften up on the poor boy for a little. She finished by addressing the whole lot of them. "Soooo.... how long have you guys been with SAF, anyway? Ever flown before?"