Ellie and Todd in love

Todd had long since progressed from touching Ellie’s hair and she was perfectly okay with that. In fact, every caress, every touch of his lips made her hunger for more. And when his hands strayed from the small of her back to the hem of her miniskirt, Oh, Keptar!

“What does that even mean, anyway?” he asked as he nibbled her ear?

“Hm?” Then her brain caught up to what she’d said. She broke away laughing. “Oh, no! Please, never, never tell anyone I say that!”

“Okay,” he said amiably enough, but there was a question in his tone.

Grinning with embarrassment, she explained about the captain’s new religion of Keptarianism, and how the squeezing of the buttcheeks was a blessing. “If he ever finds out I say that, I don’t know if he’d think I’m a blasphemer or a convert.”

“You guys encounter the weirdest stuff.” Todd leaned back against the couch, shaking his head.

He was so cute with that bemused grin and his hair all rumpled. She did so love how silky his hair felt. He was so much mor than cute, though. He was kind and insightful and wikadas intelligent and… and…

…and she loved him.

His brows knit. “What’s wrong? You look like your brain’s being hijacked. Are you hearing Janbot?”

“What? No! No, I…” Her mind scrambled to come up with a reasonable cover. “I just realized what time it is. I need to change if we’re going dancing. I’ll be right back.”

He frowned, not quite believing. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I promise. The only one on my brain is you.” She stood, then kissed him gently on the lips. They were so soft and perfect. She pushed away quickly. If she stayed, she’d confess her feelings. She shut the door to her room, tossed off her uniform, then went to the sink and splashed cold water on her face. Oh, Keptar!

They’d only met three days ago. They couldn’t possibly know each other well enough. She always took the slow road in relationships. This wasn’t like her.

And yet, it was.

She braced her arms on the sink and leaned in toward her reflection. “Get it together, Doall. Loreli is still out there, and we need to find her, and Enigo will break Tod’s beautiful face if I let him distract me. There’s time enough to figure out later if this is infatuation or…”

She looked away and stifled a giggle. Who was she kidding? She was so in love!

Time for that later. We have a job to do. Besides, who knows if he feels the same.

It may interest the reader to know that, while he replicated snacks and drinks, Todd was having nearly the same conversation with himself.

Thus, when Ellie emerged dressed in conservative tunic and tights, both were individually aware that the other was The One but resolved to stay professional and not let the other know.

They stood apart, suddenly shy.

“Um, so I was thinking,” he started.

She gave a little start. “Oh?”

“About Janbot, I mean.”

“Oh. Okay. So…?”

“So, I don’t really know much about starship operations. Does Auxiliary Control get used a lot?”

Despite her lecture to herself, it was taking her a minute to focus on the mission. “No. We only use it if there’s a problem with the bridge, or if we split the ship. Or drills. Quarterly, occasionally more often.”

“Janbot’s maintenance schedule had it in there once a week., and about the time the ship turned into a musical, it was in there every day.”

“That is odd.”

“We didn’t find any records of outgoing messages,” he said. “Whatever Janbot was sending was just too quick, and encrypted, most likely.”

“Then we have to surmise what it might have sent.”

She went to her desk. Todd followed. He pulled one of the chairs beside her.