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  • Merging Traffic IV

    1

    Merging Traffic IV: InterchangeAhead

    By Robotech_Master

    With JonBuck

  • Merging Traffic IV

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    September 20, 158 ALJump minus 30 minutesThe Great Western

    Chet Mackenzie lay back in his acceleration couch on the flight deck of theMaxima shuttle, peering up into the unobstructed view of the dome of stars thatsurrounded him. Of course, it was actually a very high-resolution hardlight displaylarge viewports, even of transparent aluminum, would be a structural weakness in aship meant for combat. Still, it looked real, and was a lot better view than hed had fromthe DiCaprio.

    He and Nils could have been in the King of Hearts with the others, waiting forthe jump transition on the bridge, but it just didnt feel right to Chet. The place to bewhen you jumped was on board your shuttle. After doing it that way for years, it was justtoo ingrained of a habit to break.

    Chet was alone right nowNils was plugged into one of the maintenance accessports in the back of the ship, running some last-minute diagnosticsand that was finewith him. He preferred to be alone with his thoughts at the moment.

    Everything was at once so normal and so strange. He was sitting in a shuttleawaiting jumpthat wasnt so unusual. The stars were just about the same as theydalways been, even though he could see a lot more of them now. But this luxury sportsship was so far beyond the wallowing workhorse DiCaprio that it wasnt even in thesame league. Their destination was not Wednesday or Earth, but a war-torn wildcatcolony in the middle of nowhere. And instead of an impersonal cruise line, his bosswashis boss was

    Wow, his boss. He sighed, thinking about her. Swirly girl. She was a lot less of acipher to him now. He knew her, and he liked her. And he thought she liked him, too.Half a dozen times over the last few months, hed been on the verge of asking her out todinner, and then maybe more. Buthow could he even face that, when the memories ofwhat they had done were still so fresh? What would she even think of him if he asked?And she hadnt exactly asked him, eitherso maybe she didnt feel that way about him?It was all so awkward.

    A soft chime sounded, indicating the shuttles ventral hatch was opening. Chettilted his head back and glanced, upside down, back through the open bridge hatch tosee Rochelle slowly rising out of the floor. She was using the docking tubes hardlightelevator platform, which pilots derisively called the push pop. (Not that this preventedthem from using it themselves instead of the ladder rungs on the side when they didntthink anyone was looking, of course.)

    Rochelle was wearing a light blue dress that set off her fluffy white snow leopardtags, and had her grey and white hair draped over one arm and held close to her chest toavoid getting caught on anything. As she stepped off the elevator, she released it andtossed her head, and it swirled back into place behind her. Oh, there you are.

    Chet reached down with his left hand to the couch controls, raising the back up toa sitting position. Hey, boss.

    Oh, you dont have to get up on my account. Rochelle smiled at him as she slidinto the seat next to his, pulling her hair forward over her shoulder so she wouldnt siton it. She turned the chair to face him. Thought I might find you here.

    Chet shrugged. It just felt like the right place to be. I can almost pretend

  • Merging Traffic IV

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    Chet shrugged. It just felt like the right place to be. I can almost pretendeverythings normal, and Im getting ready for another milk run back to Earth on theGoose. He chuckled. Of course, that illusion will fade pretty quickly once I dont gointo cryo. Going to be a new experience actually staying awake all the way through ajump.

    You could sleep if you wanted to, you know. The Maxima does have cryocapsules built in.

    Eh, therell be too much to do on the trip as it is. Chet grinned. Cant havepeople thinking Im some kind of lazy bum.

    I thought that was what cruise shuttle pilots were.Well, yeah, but I cant have people thinking it. Chet shrugged. So what brings

    you out here? Id think youd be wanting to watch the countdown from the bridge withall the other, uh

    Stuffed shirts? Rochelle grinned. There are enough of those around that theydont need me taking up more space. And I figured Id get a better view from here. Uhif you dont mind, that is.

    Why should I mind? Its your ship.Its our ship. Yours, mine, and the cats. You earned that much the day we first

    flight-tested it.Chet shrugged. Just doing my job.Rochelles grin faded into a smile. I kind of hope this is more than just a job to

    you.Chet blinked. Uhwhat do you mean?See? There you go, closing up Rochelle shook her head. What I mean is, Id

    like to talk about us. You plus me. In the relationship sort of way.Relationship? Butwe dont have a relationship.Exactly. Rochelle smiled. What we have, or had, was lots and lots of crazy

    monkey sex, without even knowing each other. And thats kind ofgotten in the way ofthings since then.

    Chet felt his face heat up. Eryeah. He wondered if he could make some excuseto leave the flight deck.

    Rochelle raised a hand. No, wait, please, hear me out this once. If this doesntwork outwell, I wont bring it up again.

    Chet shrugged. All right. Not sure what youre trying to say, butwell, say it.The thing is, Id kind of like to try having a relationship. And Uncia and I think

    you would, too. Your body language suggests you do like me, butyou keep holdingyourself back. She chuckled. Not that Im any better. Uncia tells me I do the exactsame thing. Were each just too worried about what the other might think for anythingto happen naturally. So I figured this might be a good time to bring it out in the open.Break the ice.

    Chet snorted. Now, right at the start of an important, possibly dangerousmission to a secret colony world where theres a civil war on.

    Rochelle laughed. I didnt say it was a perfect time. AnywayI guess theproblem is were both too embarrassed about what happened to want to riskI dunno,opening ourselves up and being rejected. So we dont. And, as Uncia keeps telling me,thats just dumb.

    In spite of himself, Chet grinned. So whats the solution?Well, I could just vamp you into my bed. Rochelle winked. Seriously, if I really

  • Merging Traffic IV

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    Well, I could just vamp you into my bed. Rochelle winked. Seriously, if I reallyturned on the charm, I dont think you could resist me.

    Chet swallowed. Ithink you might be right, there. Sowhy havent you?Despite himself, he found he almost wished she would.

    Because I dont just want you in my bed. I want you in my life. Or at least thechance to find out whether wed fit into each others lives. Rochelle waved a handexpansively. And I just know if I seduced you, it would be like the nanites all overagain. Youd never be able to know whether you really wanted me or I just made youwant me. And we dont need any more of that particular poison between us.

    Ithink youre right, there. Chet gave that a moments thought. He had toadmit, he did find her attractive. And by now he was pretty sure it wasnt just because ofthe nanite imprinting. She was gorgeous, to be sure, but who wasnt these days? Themore important thing was her beauty was more than skin deep. She was smart, andclever, and friendly, and generally an all-around nice person. Now that he thought aboutit, Chet realized he kind of did want a relationship with her. He just wasnt sure how tobegin it. So what do we do?

    Wellwhat Im going to do is this. Rochelle leaned back in the seat and closedher eyes. Im going to come meet you, privately, in the place where you feel mostcomfortable, with all my nanites shut down just so there can be no doubt this is just meand not any kind of artificial influence. Im serious.

    Chet eyed her skeptically. All your nanites?Well, okay, I kept the ones that keep my hair from tangling up or getting caught

    on things. Rochelle lifted a lock of hair free from the rest and dropped it. It mergedseamlessly back into place. Theres being serious, and then theres just being silly.

    Chet snorted. All right, then what?Rochelle grinned at him. Then you seduce me.Chet blinked. Wait, what?If its something I do, youll never know for sure if you wanted it. But I dont

    have that problem. I know the only influence you could possibly have over me is yourbig strong manliness. She winked. I can always seduce you back next time, once youremore sure of yourself. We can take turns!

    Chet paused. It wasnt often this happened, but he really was at a loss for words.Uh

    I mean it, Chet, Rochelle said more quietly. You know I wouldnt be here if Ididnt want to be. Im putting myself in your hands. I trust you.

    huh. Chet said. He paused a moment longer, then activated his commimplant. :Hey, buddy, Im going to go private here for a bit. Page me if theres anemergency?:

    Nils sent back a smirking kitty emoticon. :Sure thing. Enjoy yourselves.::Planning on it.: Chet dropped his left hand to the seat controls again.So, anyway, if youyeek! Rochelle let out a little squeal of surprise as both

    acceleration couches abruptly reclined flat, and slid together to make one large queen-bed-sized space.

    Chet gently rolled over on top of her, and grinned down at her. Youre reallysomething else, you know that?

    Rochelle smiled back. So are you.Then lets see what we are together. Chet lowered his face to hers for the kiss.

  • Merging Traffic IV

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    Jump minus zero

    Chet raised his head and blinked. Hey, babe, did the galaxy just move for you,too?

    September 23, 158 AL Trip Day 3

    Hey, Shelley?Yeah, Un-hon?You know how much Ive changed since we first met, right? Grown more, uh

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