It took her a week to work up the courage, but Princess had finally done it. The moment Mark headed off for his weekly briefing with the Chief, she knew she had at least an hour to get ready, and didn't want to waste a moment!
Of course, she'd prepared ahead of time. Excusing herself from the antics of the ready room, Princess ran to her on-base quarters, and grabbed the bag she'd stashed under her bed. After that, it took her less than a minute to break into Mark's room, which left her most of the hour to get changed and set the mood.
Using his shower gave her a naughty thrill. She'd brought her blow dryer and brush, some perfume that perfectly accented her own biochemistry, and a lingerie set that would make it impossible for him to see her as an innocent little swan. Some candles and some romantic music acted as finishing touches.
Then all she could do was wait. Princess settled onto Mark's bed, drinking in his masculine scent, and struck up what she hoped was a sultry pose. Enough with flirting in Zark's monitor room. The Eagle was hers. She wanted him now. All of him.
Her heart fluttered when she heard the door's locks click open. Mark was reading something as he stepped into the room, face buried in a report, which ruined the effect of the candlelight flickering in the dark room. A moment later, he shut the door, and turned the lights on.
Oblivious as usual. Princess held back a sigh, but told herself the moment didn't have to be perfect. As long as she had her Eagle, it was enough.
"Hello, handsome," she purred in a sultry tone she'd practiced all week.
Papers shot into the air as Mark jumped, big blue eyes going wide. "Princess?"
His voice actually squeaked. She giggled. "It better be me. Any other pretty girls showing up in your bed?"
Mark plastered himself back against the door, pale. "W-what are you doing?"
This wasn't quite the reaction she'd been hoping for. Still, she reminded herself that he was shy, and she was being rather brazen. "Taking things to the next level."
"Things?" He looked around the room, appearing to notice the candles for the first time. With one of his hands, he had the door handle in a white-knuckled grip. "What things?"
Princess pursed her lips. Definitely not the reaction she was looking for. "You know, all the innuendo and flirting whenever we visit Zark."
Rather than appearing enlightened, Mark's brows knotted in confusion. "Visit … Zark? When have we visited Zark?"
Was he mocking her? Or was he just so unsure of what to do that he was panicking? Princess sat up, trying to remain patient. "Oh, come off it, Commander. You know, we go visit Zark, you tell him how grateful you are for his help, I kiss him on the head, we try to tell each other how we feel without being so obvious he'll notice and report it to the Chief."
"But …" Mark frowned, "I've never been to Zark's monitor room. Only the maintenance technicians go there."
Princess surged to her feet, clenching her newly manicured hands into fists. "This isn't funny! Were you just playing with me, Commander?"
He held up his hands in a placating gesture, still pale as porcelain. "Princess, you're sixteen. I'm eighteen. I lay a hand on you and that's statutory rape. The Chief would make me a permanent member of the Vienna Boys' Choir!"
She put her hands on her hips. "I'm a soldier who puts her life on the line for the defence of the galaxy! We could die any day! I'm not waiting two more years!"
Princess advanced, and Mark grabbed the door handle. He twisted it and stumbled backwards into the hall. Undeterred, Princess tackled him, knocking him onto his back. "You let me handle the Chief, Commander. You're mine."
"Don't I get a say in this?" His voice was getting comically high, his eyes wide as saucers.
Princess giggled as she knelt over him, straddling him. The commander of the Galaxy's top line of defence, and he looked absolutely terrified of his amorous third.
"Woah, go Skipper!" Jason had stepped around the corner, a huge grin plastered on his face as he surveyed the scene.
"Help!" Mark tried to scuttle backwards.
"Oh no you don't!" Princess grabbed his belt. "Time to put your money where your mouth is, Eagle."
"But I have no idea what you're talking about!" He shot a panicked look at Jason, who pushed away from the wall, where he'd leaned to watch the action.
"I've heard about playing hard to get," she grumbled, "but this is ridiculous."
"Jason! Stop laughing and help me!" Mark tried to escape again, but Princess kept a solid grip on his belt.
The Condor chuckled. "Then stop being so funny."
Still, Jason came closer. Princess glared. "Back off. This is between him and me."
"I'm telling you," said Mark, staring up at her a moment, blushing, then staring anywhere else, "I've never been to Zark's monitor room!"
Jason shuddered. "Man, why would you want to go there? Princess, let him up. The Chief hears about this and we're gonna be following a gelding into battle."
"The Chief doesn't get to dictate my love life!" Princess pulled at Mark's shirt, which made him buck, trying to get away from her. The next thing she knew, Jason was hauling her off of him.
Mark scrambled free, still staring anywhere but at her. "Get dressed, Princess. I'll prove it to you. I've never been to his monitor room."
When she opened her mouth to protest, Jason gave her a light shove toward Mark's room.
"Let's get this cleared up." Jason crossed his arms, standing between them, as Mark straightened his clothes.
"Fine." Princess stomped into Mark's room, changed, blew out the candles, and then stomped back out to join them. If these two were playing some kind of game, they were going to pay.
Mark brought them to his office. He entered his security codes, fingers flying over the keys, and then stepped up and away from the computer. "Access logs for Zark's monitor room, and access to the security feeds inside. Find one time when I was in there, let alone the two of us together."
Grumbling under her breath, Princess got to work. She found it difficult to remember exact dates, so she started by searching for their individual access codes, then added a search on facial recognition and their uniform signatures. Mark and Jason huddled in a corner, talking quietly and occasionally glancing at her, but she ignored them. No way was she letting them pull something over on her.
Except … there was nothing. No matter how hard she looked, she found no evidence that she or Mark had ever entered Zark's control room. In fact, none of the team had. Even the Chief hadn't.
Her hands shook as she kept looking. Oh god, had she just made a complete fool of herself? Had she dreamed it and taken wishful thinking to a humiliating level?
She didn't realize tears were coursing down her cheeks until Jason squeezed her shoulder. "But it felt so real."
"Why don't we take a trip to medical?" Jason's tone was gentle, not the mocking she expected.
Princess almost said no. Then she glanced to Mark, who was still looking pretty shell-shocked in the corner, but he also looked terribly worried. If he could put concern for her over the fact that she just committed borderline sexual assault on him, she owed it to him to figure out how things went so wrong.
"Okay," she said quietly, defeated.
"C'mon." Jason helped her up, keeping a hand gently on her arm as they left the office.
She heard Mark speaking into his wristband as he followed, but didn't focus her cerebonics to hear what he was saying. At least the rest of the team didn't come running to witness her humiliation. No one did. They quietly reached medical with no fanfare, just the team doctor waiting with a soft, reassuring smile.
He started with a standard medical exam, along with blood tests and scans, including her cerebonics. The tests looked far longer than she'd expected. In a way, though, they were reassuring. It meant the others didn't think she was just some idiot girl with a crush that went out of control.
Was something really wrong?
She was exhausted by the time all of the tests were completed. The team doctor sat her down, giving her some juice and an apple. "Now, I want you to tell me everything you remember about these visits to the control room."
"Am I crazy?" Her voice shook.
"We all are, in our own ways. Have to be in this line of work." He smiled. "But I think I know what's happening, and I don't think it's your fault. I need to know everything you remember."
Not her fault? Relief flooded her. Princess started recounting every detail she could think of, no matter how small. The harder she worked to picture the experience, the more she realized that something really was wrong.
She remembered the conversations in perfect detail. Her memory of Zark himself being there was fine, down to visual details, and she could describe the monitor room perfectly. But her memory of herself and Mark was … fuzzy. Trying to picture him standing there, he looked off. Frankly, he looked fake, like he'd been badly drawn, to the point of his posture being weird, stiff, and wrong.
Princess explained this to the doctor. "What does it mean?"
He nodded, not looking at all surprised. "I found mild tampering with your cerebonics."
She gasped, a chill running through her.
"Mild," he repeated. "Very mild, enough that it didn't really register with our regular checks and scans. The last time you were captured, the Spectrans must have figured out how to use the cerebonics to implant something similar to hypnotic suggestions. I need to get the others in here and scan them as well. Who knows what else you all might be carrying around in your heads?"
Princess shuddered, wiping at her eyes. How could she face the rest of the team?
The doctor squeezed her shoulder. "I know you must be embarrassed, but the boys are worried about you. And this coming out now might have prevented something far, far worse. Even if the others aren't compromised, we'll know to watch them in the future, and can work on countermeasures."
She bit her lip and nodded, looking back toward the door. "Can I have a moment alone?"
"Sure thing." He smiled, patting her shoulder. "Why don't you lie down in one of the exam rooms. I'll explain what happened to the boys, and read in the Chief. I'll make sure they consult you before deciding if anyone else has to know."
Princess managed a weak smile. "Thanks."
"It's not your fault." With another squeeze, he opened the door, and she made a beeline for the farthest exam room. Things would be awkward for a while, but the doctor was right, her embarrassment might have just saved one or all of their lives.
A small price to pay. Especially if she could convince them to keep it under wraps. If Keyop ever found out, she'd never hear the end of it.