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Pilot Program

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 7

The alarm rang, shrill and demanding. Tarrant yanked his pillow down over his head, trying to recapture his dream. Its programmed ten second scream performed, the alarm ended, but it had served its function. Tarrant was wide awake, in no danger of falling back to sleep. Reluctantly, he got out of bed, giving up on the dream to prepare himself for the real world.

"It doesn't matter. Let it go," he muttered to the image in his mirror as he combed his curly locks free of tangles. Showered, shaved, and scented with his favorite cologne, he felt his spirits rise to their usual high level. "That's better," he told his reflection, "you can't afford to give people doubts about you. Not now, not with Vindicator's crew selection still up in the air. Of course, I am the best pilot they have, but ..." Even to himself, Tarrant refused to acknowledge his worries about his mental health. The doctors said he was perfectly stable and well-adjusted, but they didn't have to live with amnesia.

Since joining the program, he'd had no problems, but he couldn't help wondering what he'd been up to during the two years prior. Except for his dreams filled with tantalizing hints of people and places that were not in his official file, those two years did not exist. He had other gaps in his memory, but none bothered him so much as that two year span of nothingness.

Tarrant shook his head, and with a deliberate act of will, dispelled the last of the dream-induced melancholy. Today an expert was coming in to consult on Vindicator's weapons, which were displaying the usual teething problems of experimental technology. He wanted to make a good impression on the highly regarded weapons designer.

He checked the line of his uniform, brushing at an imaginary fleck of lint. Fortunately, the designer was female, so he foresaw no difficulty into sweet-talking her into incorporating his ideas into the system. "After all, when you've got it, why not use it?"

Anticipating his victory, he grinned as he left his quarters, bestowing a flippant salute on the ubiquitous security cameras in the hall. He resented them, but privacy came second to security.

"Ah, Tarrant, there you are at last. This is Dayna Mellanby, the weapons expert." Tarrant's immediate superior treated the pilot like a wayward child at times. As now, frowning at him as though he were late, instead of a good half hour early for the meeting.

Tarrant refrained from pointing this out. Instead he turned to the woman standing beside Tarrant's unreasonable section leader, half eclipsed by the man's bulk. "Have I kept you waiting? I do apologize." He smiled, but the smile faded. Belatedly realizing his own ill-manners, the section leader had stepped aside, allowing Tarrant a clear view of the woman. From the crown of her cropped, curly-haired head to the soles of her slender, booted feet, she was absolutely beautiful, perfect in Tarrant's judgement.

"No," the young woman replied. "It's all my fault, I arrived early, thinking to go over the specs quietly, without interruption." She gave Tarrant's superior an exasperated glance. No doubt the man had been trying to impress her with his importance and general value to the world. Frankly, Tarrant thought the world could have managed without him quite well.

"Would you like me to leave?" Tarrant offered, although it was the last thing he wanted to do. Still, he could show that oaf how an officer and a gentleman behaved.

"Not you," she said, shortly.

The section leader cleared his throat, and said, "Well, I have other duties. I'll leave you two to get acquainted before the general meeting. You will be working closely together on the project in future." He made a dignified exit which neither Tarrant nor Dayna noticed.

"I've brought my notes." Dayna offered a computer data cube to Tarrant.

Tarrant fed the cube into the data input set in the conference room table. While waiting for the information to be digested and sorted he said, in a judiciously off-hand tone, "You know, you are terribly familiar to me, but I don't recall meeting you before. I do have a bad memory for names, but I'm certain I would have remembered yours."

Dayna frowned. "I hate to say it, but I have the same problem. Could we have worked together on another project?" The eagerness in her voice surprised Tarrant. He'd half-expected her to say `What? That old line.' Only it wasn't a line, she really did seem familiar, yet he knew she wasn't in his official files. He'd studied those until he could recite entire pages with his eyes shut.

"I don't think so." At his disclaimer, Dayna looked so downcast that Tarrant admitted the truth to her. "It is possible, but I really don't know. I have a touch of amnesia," he said lightly, as if it were a joke.

"Oh." Dayna reached out to Tarrant and patted his arm softly. "I understand. So do I."

"You do?" Tarrant raised his eyebrows, startled.

Dayna sat down at the conference table. "Sometime when we're not on-duty, we could discuss it." She had her back to the security camera, her sideways glance telling Tarrant plainer than words that she shared his reluctance to talk about personal matters in front of witnesses.

"After the meeting, then. We could have our own conference in my quarters." Tarrant gave Dayna his best, brightest smile. "It's private, and very clean. I make certain there aren't any bugs in my suite."

"Suite?" Dayna leaned forward, almost touching Tarrant. "I do like the sound of that. I'm a very private person."

"So am I," replied Tarrant, meeting her lips with his own.

After a mutually pleasant interval, Dayna squirmed free. "Later, Tarrant. We have work to do."

"You know what they say about all work and no play."

"There'll be time for play."

Tarrant waited impatiently in his quarters. He was sure Dayna had gotten his message, as sure as he was that he had understood her. If they wanted to speak privately, they needed to give the snoops an acceptable reason for it. The watchers would think nothing of a besotted couple's clandestine rendezvous.

The door announcer buzzed, followed by Dayna's voice, "Tarrant, quick, let me in, before that awful bore catches up to me again." She was laughing and playful, playing her role for the monitors.

Tarrant opened the door and pulled her inside the room, leaving the door wide open while he gathered Dayna into his arms for a thorough kiss. She was stiff for only an instant, then melted into his caresses with an enthusiasm that had him distracted from the fact that they were only pretending.

"Tarrant, the door," Dayna purred.

"Oh, yes, the door." Tarrant freed one arm from around Dayna's slender waist to close the door.

Once they were safely hidden from the hall scanners, Dayna said, "Let's not be precipitous, shall we?" She held up her hand, putting a finger to Tarrant's lips. "Just let me get comfortable." She dug out a small device from her gadget-packed shoulder bag and explored the entire suite, concentrating on the steady green light on top of the device. "Now we can talk." She returned to Tarrant and stowed the security detector away.

"You are a cautious soul, aren't you?" Tarrant removed his jacket and hung it carelessly over a chair. "Just for the sake of realism," he said to reassure the young woman of his motives.

"Good thinking." Dayna tugged off her boots and removed the gold belt that held her jumpsuit snug to her waist. "This is as far as I intend to go, though."

"Really?"

"Play your cards right and we'll see. First, I want to know exactly what you meant by amnesia."

Up to now, Tarrant had been eager to talk to her. Now he wondered if he wasn't making a mistake. "Ladies first."

"You're a cautious soul, aren't you?" Dayna teased. "All right, I've been working on project Vindicator for two years. I can't remember a thing about the two years before the project. Farther back, it's patchy. I haven't forgotten academics, but personal memories... I know I had a father and mother, I've seen pictures of them, but I... feel I had a sister, too, and she isn't in the records at all, not even her name." Dayna blinked rapidly and stopped to collect herself.

"Let me guess- all your friends and family are gone, leaving you with no one t o ask about your past or how you developed amnesia."

"Exactly." Dayna shrugged. "The doctors told me that it was an accident while I was undergoing the standard security probing before being assigned to the project."

"How ...very...odd," Tarrant said slowly. "That's, word for word, the same story I got when I asked why two years of my life was a blank."

Dayna stared at Tarrant. "As coincidences go, that's a bit much, isn't it?"

"A bit more than I can swallow." He offered, "It isn't quite all gone, though. I do dream, sometimes..."

"But then you wake up..."

"And then its gone," Tarrant finished.

"Yes. It's so frustrating. - Maybe," Dayna said, meeting Tarrant's clear blue eyes with her own troubled dark brown eyes, "it's meant to be frustrating, Tarrant."

"You think it was done to us deliberately?" Tarrant didn't know why he was so shocked. He had few illusions about the Federation. Although he had been treated well, given rank and pay commensurate with his skills, he wasn't blind. He'd seen the inequities of life for the lower grades and the misuse of power by Alphas on a small scale in the project itself. It didn't take much imagination to enlarge that view to encompass the entire Federation. He had made no complaint, though. Protesters had a habit of either disappearing entirely or else returning to work fanatically loyal and generally quite a few I.Q. points lower.

"You suspected it all along, or you wouldn't have been so careful luring me here to your den - I mean, really, Tarrant, it was like something out of an old dramacast."

Tarrant laughed. "Oh, that. It was expected of me. For some reason, people tend to think of pilots as dashing, debonair, and absolutely irresistible to the opposite sex."

"And in reality, pilots are ..."

"Dashing, debonair, and irresistible to the opposite sex," Tarrant told her solemnly, with only a twitch of his lips betraying himself.

"Hmm." Dayna cocked her head to better study Tarrant. "For the sake of realism, I am committed to spending the night here. Perhaps I could carry out some research to test that theory."

"Research is always useful," Tarrant agreed, moving toward Dayna.


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