The morning was bright and sunny, and the young woman smiled to herself as she awoke, her brown eyes twinkling as she looked at the young man lying next to her in the bed.
Luc was still sleeping, and Kristin hoped he would stay that way for a while. He had been working on too many assignments for Mattieu, of late, and was utterly exhausted. He deserved a little pampering.
Silently, she slipped out of the bed, tiptoed into the kitchen, and quietly shut the door behind her. Once she was alone, she began pulling things out of the cupboards: flour, sugar, cinnamon, a mixing bowl and spoon. From the cooling unit she took out butter and some blueberries she had purchased at the market yesterday.
Kristin hummed softly to herself as she mixed up a batch of batter. Luc loved her blueberry muffins, and it was the least she could do for him, today. While they were baking, she prepared two cups of café au lait, and sliced a fresh nectarine.
Once the breakfast had been prepared, she put everything on a tray, padding back to the bedroom on bare feet and opening the door as quietly as she could.
Luc was still asleep.
How handsome he looked, with his delicate features and wavy auburn hair. Her eyes lingered on his bare, muscular chest, and her thoughts wandered to the rest of him, hidden beneath the thin cotton sheet. They had begun sharing a bed three months ago, but every time they had engaged in physical intimacy was like the first: fascinating, intense, and overwhelmingly pleasurable.
Kristin blushed at these thoughts, as she carefully set down the tray. She crept back to the bed, leaning down to give him a kiss when suddenly, his strong arms shot up, grabbing her and pulling her down to the cool sheets. In one quick movement, Luc was atop of her, his blue eyes staring intently into hers.
“I caught you.” he grinned.
“I noticed.” she giggled. “And now that you have, whatever will you do with me?”
“I know what I’d like to do with you.” Luc smiled, leaning down to kiss her. Kristin sighed happily, running her palms over the powerful muscles on his back before sliding her hands beneath the sheets to his hips. Luc’s fingers brushed across her flat stomach, exploring upward under the nightshirt she wore, until they tickled and teased at her breasts. His other hand was tangled in her red hair, caressing the silken strands.
“You’re very tempting.” he gasped, rolling back onto his side and pulling her with him. “But something smells even more tempting.”
“I baked blueberry muffins for you.” Kristin smiled at the pleased expression on Luc’s face. “I figured it was the least I could do. I know they’re your favorite.”
“Thank you.” he said gratefully, leaning across her to grab one of the soft muffins and taking a bite before he had even returned to his previous position. “I haven’t eaten much in the last two days, and this is exactly what I needed.”
“I thought that might be the case.” Kristin replied, pulling herself up to a sitting position and picking up the tray. She placed it gently between them on the bed, so they could both partake of the simple meal. “Mattieu plans these operations, but he never thinks about the basics.”
“We could have used you on this one.” Luc said, even as he finished off his first muffin and reached for another. “Henri is good, but he came across a new sort of encryption code. I think the Snakeheads are actually attempting to block our attempts to hack into their systems.”
“Imagine that.” smirked Kristin.
“Amazing, I know,” smiled Luc, “but it shows that they’re onto us. We need to be more careful.” He sighed, looking Kristin straight in the eye.
“I think you should be the one to accompany us, next time.” Luc told her. “Damn Mattieu and his desire to train new agents. We need the best, if we’re going to continue to come home.”
“Home…” Kristin whispered. Luc was right. This place was home. And if they wanted to continue calling it home, they had to protect it… and protect each other.
It had been five months since they had arrived in Corsica. Kristin recalled the first moment she had stepped foot here, nervously clutching Luc’s arm as Andre, the boat captain who had transported them from the mainland, had led them into the town of Calvi. Dawn had been breaking, and the soft orange-pink light had given the houses a delicate halo, and she had found her breath catching at the beauty of it all. Until that moment, she had been afraid: afraid that Andre was an informant, afraid that they were being led into a trap, afraid that she and Luc hadn’t truly escaped from the Snakeheads. But as she had gazed upon the picturesque town, her fears had vanished, and she had known that she had at last found the peaceful place she had been seeking for nearly half a year.
Calvi was different from Paris, in so many ways, not the least of which was in its Mayor: Mattieu Canton. Andre had introduced Kristin and Luc to Mattieu, and the Mayor had greeted them warmly, without hesitation. But when the boat captain had told Mattieu about the Snakehead uniforms they carried, the Mayor’s face had taken on an expression of barely concealed excitement. Luc and Kristin were needed here, in Calvi. Mattieu had been searching for people such as they.
Amazingly, there were no Snakeheads in Calvi, nor in all of Corsica, as Mattieu liked to boast. Of course, after the Invasion, the Spectrans had sent troops to ‘maintain order’, but the island was small, and had fewer than 300,000 Terrans living on it, so there hadn’t been that many soldiers. Throughout its history, Corsica had always been a haven for fighters and revolutionaries, and it had been to the Snakeheads’ detriment that they had discovered this far too late. The Corsicans had dispatched them swiftly, and silently, while at the same time making good use of their communications equipment. A rotating group of volunteers manned the Snakehead ‘base’ on Monte Cinto, the island’s highest peak, regularly communicating with Spectran authorities to assure them that everything was ‘fine’. From time to time, they even requested supply drops, keeping the Terran rebels well supplied with enemy weapons.
Of course, such covert actions were dangerous, but due to the ‘unimportant’ nature of the island, the alien planetary occupying force so far remained unaware of the true state of government on Corsica.
It was this aspect of the French region that made it so suitable for rebel activities. The major Terran rebel strongholds in this part of the world were all located on Mediterranean islands: Corsica, Sicily, Crete… to some extent, these groups coordinated together, but often they simply acted on their own, doing whatever they could to thwart the Snakehead forces. The mission Luc had just returned from had involved commandeering a shipment of uranium that had been enroute to the spaceport in Milan, for transfer to Spectra. Rather than allow the aliens to usurp Earth’s resources, the loose alliance of Terran rebels had decided that the uranium should be diverted for their own use. Each group took turns absconding with the various shipments, and this time it had been Corsica’s turn. The ore Luc’s team had returned with would provide power to the entire island for years.
“The Snakeheads are clearly frustrated that we are constantly making off with their shipments.” Luc revealed. “They had changed their route, as well as their communications protocols. Henri was unable to crack the codes until the very last second, and we nearly walked into an ambush.” Kristin could hear the controlled anger in Luc’s voice. Normally he was calm, and kept his head about him, so this kind of emotional spillover was significant.
“We nearly all died, Kristin!” Luc said angrily, pounding his fist into the pillow. “And for what? A few truckloads of uranium! If I hadn’t been able to regroup and change our strategy…”
“But you did.” Kristin replied soothingly, setting down her cup of café au lait and placing her hands on Luc’s arm. She gently massaged his shoulders, working out the tense knots, desperately trying to ignore the fear that had surged up inside of her at the thought that Luc could have been killed.
“Why am I risking my life for this?” Luc countered. “I would sacrifice anything to drive the Snakeheads away, but for this? It’s not worth it, particularly if I can’t even pick my own team and know whom I can rely on!”
The anger in Luc’s voice frightened Kristin, but deep down, she agreed with him. Their activities hurt the Snakeheads and bettered their own lives, but in the grand scheme of things, they were only as irritating to the occupying force as a gnat, and nothing they had done would truly cause the Spectrans to ever consider abandoning the planet.
Life on Corsica was close to ideal: people smiled, laughed, and enjoyed life. They looked up and said hello to each other when they walked down the street. Children played in the parks. The townspeople met for social gatherings at the beach, or hiked in the nearby mountains. They were self-sufficient, growing their own food, providing their own power, schooling their own children, and taking care of their elderly. But had they been selfish?
The lives of the Corsicans were peaceful, but at whose expense? Luc and Kristin had both gone on numerous missions against the Snakeheads, but those tasks had all been to keep the Spectrans away from Corsica, or to procure resources for the benefit of the Corsicans. Luc and Kristin had been welcomed into the town of Calvi, and Kristin felt an attachment to its people.
But she had lost sight of their goal.
She and Luc had come to Corsica to join the men and women fighting for freedom. Yet the freedom for which they fought was their own, and not that of the entire planet. Certainly she was doing more to fight the Snakeheads than she had when working with Father Richlieu, but she wanted to do more still.
Kristin saw that same desire burning within Luc. He wasn’t looking at the small, immediate problems; he was looking at the ultimate goal.
Luc wanted to drive the Snakeheads away from the Earth, sending them back to the Crab Nebula, never to return. That was what she wanted as well, yet often she had difficulty seeing the big picture, when confronted with these more pressing tasks that presented themselves from day to day.
“If you feel this strongly about it, you should speak to Mattieu.” she suggested. “Perhaps even the Corsican council. I will support you.” Whatever he had done in the military, Kristin knew that Luc had deserved his Commander’s rank. He was a natural leader, and someone the others immediately looked up to, and even deferred to, despite his youth.
Luc smiled at her, relaxing somewhat.
“Whatever would I do without you, Kristin?” he asked. “You always help me see more clearly; help me find the solutions to my problems.”
“You are the one who sees the problems.” Kristin pointed out. “Without you to lead us, Calvi would have lost many more men, in the past few months.”
“I couldn’t have done it without your help.” Luc smiled. “I don’t ever want to be apart from you, Kristin. I love you.”
“I love you too, Luc.” she replied happily, winding her arms around his neck and kissing him lightly.
“I wish I could promise you forever.” he said regretfully. “With our fight…”
“Shhhh…” Kristin laid a finger on his lips. “I know. But we have as long as we have, and we’re going to enjoy whatever that is.”
“If I were to die tomorrow,” he said seriously, “I would want my last memories to be of you, with me, like this.”
“Then, let’s make those memories.” she suggested flirtatiously, and he grinned playfully at her, capturing her mouth with his own.
His hands moved over her body, and before long, her nightshirt was discarded with the remains of their breakfast, as the two of them found pleasure in each other.
It was mid-morning before Luc and Kristin left the house, smiling shyly at each other and holding hands as they walked the short distance to the Mayor’s home. Mattieu Canton lived in a home no bigger or grander than anyone else’s. He was a man of the town, and he worked to better the lives of its citizens.
Luc knocked politely on the door, which was answered almost immediately by Susi, Mattieu’s wife.
“Luc, Kristin! Come on in!” she greeted them. “How nice to see you! Are you here for that marriage license, then?”
Kristin blushed to the roots of her red hair. Susi often teased her about this particular matter, but it was much more embarrassing when she did so in front of Luc.
“Perhaps, soon.” Luc smiled back at the Mayor’s wife, and Kristin felt a thrill run down her spine. She had never heard Luc respond in that way, before. “But today, we need to speak with Mattieu.”
“I understand.” Susi nodded, gesturing for them to come inside. “Please go upstairs. He is in his office.”
“Thank you.” Luc replied, taking the familiar path up the steps.
The Mayor’s office bore little resemblance to the ‘official’ work chamber in the City Hall that Calvi Mayors had used for centuries. Instead, this room was more like a command post, with various computer terminals and monitoring equipment scattered about in a seemingly haphazard fashion. Mattieu was frowning at a display readout as they entered. He looked up to see them standing in the doorway.
“Luc, Kristin, I wasn’t expecting you.” he said. “Is everything all right?”
“Not exactly.” Luc said, sitting in an empty chair while Kristin did the same. “I wanted to speak with you about yesterday’s operation.”
“Yes, well, I am very pleased!” Mattieu said happily. He leaned back in his chair, stretching out his ample frame. “You recovered even more uranium than we had hoped. And there were no major injuries.”
“There could have been.” Luc said seriously. “If Henri had been a few seconds slower…”
“But he wasn’t.” Mattieu interrupted sharply. “I know he wasn’t your first choice for the team,” the Mayor’s eyes darted toward Kristin, “but everyone needs experience to improve, and I think he will make an excellent operative some day.”
“They nearly killed us all, Mattieu.” Luc’s voice was quiet, but there was something in it that set the hair on Kristin’s head prickling. She could tell that Mattieu felt it as well, because the older man immediately sat up, his jovial demeanor disappearing.
“I realize that.” the Mayor responded. “But I need more than one team. I need backup personnel, in case we lose someone…”
“I understand.” Luc nodded. “But there needs to be a better balance on these teams, so that a more experienced person can compensate for someone newer.”
“You are right.” Mattieu sighed. “I would appreciate your input when planning the next mission, Luc.”
“I am always happy to help.” Luc replied.
Kristin sat silently in her chair, watching Luc work magic with his words. It amazed her how he always knew what to say, to get directly to the heart of matters, and he never let anyone prevent him from doing what he thought was right.
“And speaking of the next mission,” Mattieu brightened, “it seems that another squadron of Snakeheads is due to arrive tomorrow, on the government ferry from Nice to Ajaccio. The Mayor there has requested your assistance in dealing with them.”
“I cannot.” Luc sighed. “This is the other matter I came to speak about, with you.”
“What?” the older man was clearly shocked. “But, you have never turned down a task before!”
“I have taken on many tasks.” Luc admitted. “I have done whatever it was that you required of me, in my desire to fight the Snakeheads. But I need to do more.”
“More?” Mattieu was confused. “What more do you wish to do?”
“Don’t you see it, Mattieu?” Luc asked, leaning forward and staring at the Mayor intently. “We are bogged down, in these petty details, while the citizens of Earth are being subjugated by this alien menace!”
“You may call these ‘petty’ details,” Mattieu huffed, “but I am seeing to the welfare of the citizens in my town. We are all safe, and have everything we need, thanks partly to both of your efforts over these past few months.”
“But what about the people in Paris?” Luc asked. “Or those in other parts of France? Or in the rest of Europe? Or in the Americas?”
“We are a small group of men and women.” the Mayor protested. “What can we do on that grand a scale?”
“G-Force was made up of only five people.” Luc pointed out. “And they held the Spectrans at bay for years.”
“And where are they now, hein?” Mattieu retorted angrily. “They died defending us, they were heroes, but they were all we had! They are gone, and we common folk are left to fend for ourselves!”
“We need to do more.” Kristin said quietly. Both men jumped, clearly having forgotten that she was in the room. “G-Force may be gone, but their ideals need to live on. We must fight, not for the good of Calvi, or Corsica, but for the good of the entire planet.”
A heavy silence blanketed the room, as the two men digested her words.
“God is watching us…” Mattieu muttered slowly, running his hands through his graying hair in a distracted fashion. “I never thought that I would actually consider…” His voice trailed off.
“Consider what, Mattieu?” Luc pressed the Mayor for more.
“Two days ago, I received a request for assistance from Chamonix.” Mattieu revealed. “It was a general distress call, sent out to all of the Islands, using our secure communications systems. I had simply put it aside, assuming that it was for someone else to answer; someone with more resources available to them.”
“What is this request?” Luc asked.
“I will show you.” the Mayor said, calling up the file and displaying it on a large monitor on the wall. “It is from a Professor Tremblay. She claims to have worked with Galaxy Security, before the Occupation.”
Luc’s eyes scanned the contents of the message, while Kristin automatically reached for the control panel.
“May I?” she asked politely, to which the Mayor nodded.
Quickly, Kristin began tracing the message, examining all signs and markers it had left during transmission. As Mattieu had said, it had come through the secure communication system, bearing a pre-Occupation Galaxy Security passcode.
“It seems to be legitimate.” she informed Luc. “If it’s not, then the breach occurred because the person doing the transmitting was attempting to deceive us.”
“That’s always a possibility, of course.” Mattieu acknowledged. “We all know that the Snakeheads have many informants, and spies in various places as well. But I find it unlikely that Professor Tremblay would have been investigated. She has no record in the Snakehead files. I’m not sure they even know she exists.”
“The message states that she used to work at a secret underground Galaxy Security laboratory.” Luc related. “The laboratory was closed up during the Snakehead Invasion, to prevent their discovering it, and the valuable data it contains.”
“So what’s the problem?” Kristin asked.
“The laboratory is located underneath Mont Blanc.” Luc told her. “Apparently, the Snakeheads have discovered large uranium deposits near there, and she is afraid that they will come across the facility through their mining operations.”
“So what does she want us to do?” Kristin asked.
“She requested that we send a team to disrupt the mining operations.” Mattieu said.
“That’s not a long-term solution.” Luc mused. “We would somehow have to convince them not to mine there. Create a reason for them to abandon the mine permanently.”
“You are going to do this, aren’t you?” asked Mattieu sadly.
“I must.” Luc told him. “This is important. Who knows what kind of technology was researched there? But if the work was being performed in a secret underground base, you can bet that it was important to the war effort. If the Snakeheads found it…”
“They would use it against us.” Kristin finished for him. “You’re right, Luc, this is important. I… it feels like this mission is calling to me. Does that make any sense?”
“Perfectly.” Luc grinned. “I feel exactly the same way.”
“I’ll transmit a response.” Mattieu sighed. “When do you want to leave?”