By Daniel Sosa
Hear me out!
I’ve played the administrative game far too long. Chief of Interspace State Department, Sector 1032, right next to that oily looking nebula. It’s a chair with a star map—a paint by numbers desk job. They give me titles, speeches to recite, a spin doctor worth three million dollars, a wall to staple my doctorates, a sexy uniform. They promised me, and I quote, "You, my man, you’re a genius, too. You’re much too valuable to be risking your life. Buckley, you’re an intellectual, an academic. What are you doing in a tin can pushing buttons? You'd be much happier with a whole sector at your fingertips."
I know how to conduct life; I can control people, I’m human after all. A shitty hunk of rock? Terraform it. A supernova? Wear shades. Gorgeous doctor? She has a younger sister. Damn asteroid in your way? Blow it up! Assailed by an insectoid alien? Crank up Flight of the Bumblebee—confuse it!—then blow it up! There’s nowhere else my behavior is acceptable except in deep space!
I’m not some fat tub of lard. I hate sitting down. I like to sweat, Argi, I told him. I don’t care who you have to kill. Get me out of this Starbase! I knew he wouldn’t comply without manipulation. I wrote up a dubious report, the longest memo I’ve ever had the pleasure of writing: How to End Life on Earth. What a great title, fit for our new alien allies from the planet Xocom. General Argi got the hint.
I had choice of any ship in the League. Who would I captain? Better yet, who deserved me as
captain? Perhaps the Galileo? No, not enough class. The Da Vinci?
Too many families, no place to lay pipe.
The Pythagoras? Now that’s a tin
can with reputation. A crew not too hard
on the eyes, more legends than
At last, the Theodorus. An acceptable service record. A notable first in command. Lots of towels. Who else could tame her? Better yet, what choice did I have?
It was about four in the morning when I embarked on my quest as second-in-command. I decided to wear the uniform before washing it once for the effect. I stepped from the hum of the green-lit lift onto the wide-open bridge that smelled faintly like wintergreen—the Captain's choice no less. There was carpeting around the entrance last time I visited. Perhaps it was all for show. There were a few guards, a slightly built Chinese man on the helm and a female science officer talking on the communicator, the purple square on the wall. I didn't expect to see the full-time Captain there, being the night shift, but there he was.
Why were they all skipping away from their consoles? I wondered. I was the youngest person with the Legacy Heart. I earned it the same way a man earns a woman. I stole it. They were all too awestruck by my presence, I assumed.
Guards in their gray jumpsuits crept from beside the lift to introduce themselves kindly. One of them whispered to the other to which I announced, "I'm sorry, you were addressing me, now?" They parted before me without much else to say.
Captain Russell McCloud was one of those "long-term" space guys. Most people don't last more than a decade in deep space, which is quite understandable considering how phony so many of these cadets are. I read most thoroughly the Army's statistics. Captains either wind up dying, going insane, or retiring before their fortieth where they then become professional celebrities all the way up to the conspiracy theory stage.
But I saw him sitting there with his short strands of gray hair and that double chin. This freak was sixty years old.
The Captain went up to greet me, one chicken leg at a time. I smiled at everyone, despite the fact I didn't see any of their faces.
The night watch lighting made the old man's face look demonic and craggy. He was about six-two but even as we saw eye to eye he seemed to still look up at me.
"I didn't think you had the balls to come here," he said. "This changes everything."
Two Chinese eyes peered from the rear at the star map. "Permission to leave the bridge, Captain?"
"Granted. Get Ramsey down here. Now we have to slow down."
I put a hand on his square shoulders. "I'm afraid I've been misinformed, Captain. Weren't we headed to a rescue mission on Alpha Centuri?" He keyed in a course on his palm controller. I don't know what he's doing, I thought, but now I have the Captain's code.
I strutted a few steps towards the star map, my hands at my waist. "But let me introduce myself, I'm your new second—"
“Rumor has it Commander Buckley, that HQ was blackmailed,” McCloud said behind me.
“So I’ve heard. The Liberal Democrats are trying to paint the Army as lacking oversight. It's an awful rumor I have to carry around. There’s no reason for it is there?”
“You know what I mean, Buckley."
He closed the keypad. The lights increased sharply and they should only do that if visitors are on board.
"I don’t know who you are or why you're on my ship—or how you have twelve years of interplanetary service!"
"Permission to speak freely?" said a voice I thought so sweet despite the way it barked in my general direction.
"My father had a Congressional Medal," the officer with long dark hair said, "The kind you wear, not just a paper note.”
"Excuse me, Captain, but I'm not used to this kind of behavior from my inferiors. For you information, you foolish twit, I was born—“
“Don’t give her that born on spaceship story," the
Captain shouted. "You don’t even
have a Martian accent. You sound like
I had overheard enough whispering by now to accept the general attitude of my fellow officers. I walked over to the far right console certain that, if no one else, would at least register my command.
“Is this the commanding officer’s official opinion?” I asked respectfully.
“Self-importance. If only I could make it my official opinion. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find lots of official opinions aboard Hypatia.”
"What do you mean Hypatia? I was assigned to this 2381-FA8 Cruiser Class." The console gave me a hideous blue-screen-of-death, which is an old Medieval term for an automated error message.
"You're system is obviously faulty. General Argi cleared me two weeks ago. I have the scar on my sclera, see?"
"And I updated Admiral Herring on the matter and informed him of a more desperate vacancy, one a little farther away from Earth."
I filed through the holographic screen, trying to take in
every last character of information.
"What is this Hypatia nonsense….no…no!"
"Ask yourself, Buckley, do you really want to be on assignment for the Administration?"
I knew I had seen the crew manifest of Hypatia displayed on the hologram. But somehow it all seemed to vanish. I suddenly pictured myself calling my shuttle, speeding down the I-80 wormhole to sunny New California, partying with tanned, top-less patricians and spending the rest of my life wearing a bucket over my head, hoping I never see the stars again.
"Don't you have something better to do than risk the lives of thousands of enlisted men and women?" moaned the science officer. "You're completely unskilled."
I noticed the lines of her body. I knew she looked fulfilling even in the dark yellowish backlighting, but now I saw the curvatures usually dormant in a thick uniform. For a moment I was divested of that hideous data on the screen. I thrust my chest up, crossing my arms in protest. "Unskilled, you say? How dare you. I know more about space than this computer. I could take this FA8 apart and put her back together again with one arm and a tweezer, Ensign."
"And what are you doing out of uniform," I demanded. "What kind of ship are you running here, Captain?"
"She's off-duty, you idiot."
"I don't know what kind of perverse office culture this is, but these mind games will be documented. To think you can just throw me on Hypatia, the only vessel in the whole Administration with an alien is beyond belief."
"We know you're racist against the aliens, Commander. You can gauge a lot about people who won't shut up."
“I don't hate them because of their race: I hate them because they’re insects! Do you hear me, insects. You don’t talk to these things, you spray ‘em, preferably squish them.”
“Sir, do you have any idea how ugly we must appear to them?” the science officer wasting her youth said while she walked away to the communications port.
"Buckley, don't make this anymore embarrassing for you as it already is." He handed me a PDA containing what I could only assume was complete bullshit. "I made a good case to the Public Authority that Hypatia needed a night watch Captain to support Captain Jax's team."
I held the automatically generated map to my new destination. It would be quite a detour from just outside Alpha Centuri. I wasn't about to leave here with nothing. I knew I had something to gain. I always do.
I backed off, crossing the offensive, off-duty crewman. I stretched my uniform neck.
"If I must go, protocol requires an attendant for official transfers."
Captain McCloud hunched over to one of the unmanned holograms and with his shaking hand manually opened the lift behind me.
"Well, who cares, Commander?"
"I think Officer Williams will."
"Who me? You got to be kidding."
"You have no jurisdiction here, this is my ship," he said, "ask one of the monkeys in the Engine Room."
"I think you're forgetting something crucial. I was officially registered as second in command before this maneuver of yours. But you updated my CO on this computer before the subspace radio will reach Hypatia to register me on the Hypatia."
"Get off my ship!"
"Look, officially you're breaking Section 23C and 88B. You're working unscheduled overtime and you're using the attitude control as a coaster."
"Are you threatening me, Sir?" He walked over to me, exposing his gray-haired forearms
"Do you really want me to bring it up to the Public Authority? You'd be surprised how seriously the Public takes to contradictions."
"I don't have time for this, just go Ensign."
"Sir?" she said, pulling her hair back hard in
"Just get this man off my ship, now!"
* * *
"God, I hate life," I remember science officer Williams saying as I turned the black operations helm to her direction. Between the airless cubes of personal cargo and the garage sized hull it would be a mighty tight ride.
She continued to check the emergency gear.
"Look, Ensign, you've had a pretty unreasonable attitude towards me since the beginning. Do you really think I'd extort the biggest overseeing body in the known universe just to get a free ticket into space? What kind of man do you think I am?"
Waving her finger around, she said, "Don't speak to me unless we're heading into a black hole, maybe."
She indexed the sleeping injections. Too bad I tampered with them. She leaned over her seat and talked to the computer with a commanding, boiling over attitude. But it would be hard for her, as it is for any woman. The travel would take two weeks.
* * *
She was a disappointing fuck. But on the bright side she wasn't very lazy and returned to ship operations without much consoling, which sat pretty comfortable with me.
The fortnight had already passed over us and we were within neutral space.
"Permission to speak freely?"
"You're such an asshole."
Don't worry that's just womenspeak for I love you. I knew not to get overly upset. The separation once we make our separate would be tough on this one.
The buzz and blue light on the dashboard triggered us to eye our surroundings. The asteroids around Xocom provide a natural landmark to the buggy world. Full of thick remains of some old moon, orbiting around the red-blue sphere, destined to be used for mass scale mining and base operations Earth could only dream off.
"Sir, the ship requests visual confirmation."
"I know it pains you, but I must put my uniform back on."
"Hypatia, come in. This is pod 60-23," she said.
The holographic display ignited the bust of my new CO, Captain Jax. The Captain was a brave-looking African, something like Frederick Douglass with a memory chip attached to the side of his head. He was short on words, which is always good for me.
"What are you twenty-five?" the monitor speakerphone synthesized.
I checked the collar of my uniform to ensure it was flush. "I believe the official name is Second Captain Buck Buckley," I trumpeted.
"For what it's worth Second Captain, the security on Hypatia is still legally bound to protect you. You will need it." He signed off. The shuttle doors opened up to a sea of bright docking lights.
“You’ll also need this,” Williams said, lacing something looking like a harmonica on a diet under my chin. I pulled on it. It was hard to take off.
“Don’t break it.” She frowned at my disconcerted plucking of the cords around the chin piece. “The insurance will only finance one replacement. We had to fight for it too.”
“So this is how I talk to the insects.”
“Yes, the insects.”
The Roul’s natural communication is olfactory. Glands on, what might be called elbows, produce over 150 distinct odors when combined into phonemic and grammatic structure yielding a language more complex than ours, so they say. The fact we can’t smell their language is matched by their inability to hear the frequency of our voice.
History tells us of a first contact that was a near disaster. The captain of the Hercules Armada, the last of the “European” space ships, to her err wore a vanilla laced conditioner. When Ulna, the Roul Admiral whiffed the arrival, the fragrance, combined with human odors, led him to believe the Captain wished to consume his 304th sister, stuff her innards in a refrigerator and sell it to short people. An interstellar situation was unknowingly averted when one of the security officers accidentally released a single molecule of hydrogen sulfide gas into the air.
In order to avoid future miscommunications, in the company of aliens it is compulsory to wear the two-way communicator, no matter how stupid it makes you look.
My escort turned her back to me as I was led deep into the octagonal port. I felt sorry for her.
* * *
I usually get treated well by the civilians on Earth. I'd like to think it’s not just because I'm
wealthy, attractive, and a stem cell donor, but what do I know? People just give things away to me. Last month, I walked into a dealership and
the guy just gives me a jet, for free.
Women and their best friends follow me from
Before I had the honor of meeting Captain Jax, I had been spat on twice, locked in and out of the lavatory four times, and disregarded at the mini-pub and spat on again. I only managed to get into one fight. Army protocol allows for about four or five fist fights per ship per year before the automated system dispatches. And being bogged down with post-war statistics, the Public Authority usually doesn't see conduct reports until the crew is very dead.
I knew what my first complaints were going to be. But I was too impressed by the senior
officer's choice of décor. The planning
room was austere. All the walls were set
to the bridge monitors. And there were
no holograms except for this antique globe of planet Earth drawn up long before
intercontinental tubes and climate management.
"It doesn't matter what I say, but the crew will believe everything bad is your fault from now on," Jax said, his flabby lower lips doing most of the work.
"Oh, yes, and I'm sure you try hard not to give the crew any wrong impressions about me. They do know I'm actually a commissioned officer? I am their Captain."
I took a couple breaths as I saw his eyes glaze over some report, probably prewriting my discharge papers for all I know. Fuck him. I hope he dies. Don't worry, that's just me being polite.
"I'm no cry baby, but section eight double D, sir?" I asked. "That part of the ship is only meters from the Graviton modulator. Do you know how hard it is to sleep when your lungs weigh twelve kilos?"
He sort of looked into the corner of the room, as if that was the signal to jettison me into space.
"I'm sorry you don't find eight double D to your
liking. This isn't a pleasure
cruise. Hypatia has space issues, no pun
"Captain, I've heard that phrase ‘pleasure cruise’ about fifty times in the past twenty-four hours. I'm not a cadet. I'm a veteran. The people back home treat me like a war hero."
"Yes, and I suppose we should too…"
"Sir, with all do respect, the attitude on this ship has been unprofessional."
The purple communicator on the wall gave the familiar chord. On the meter-long rectangle off Jax's right shoulder was the bust of some security officer I hadn't met.
Her name was Lieutenant Red and she wasn't too bad. I didn't need a calculator to give her an eight of ten on a linear scale. I memorized the call letters superimposed on the display: 45836482376262-F. I took the last character as an omen.
"Captain, the Roul diplomats from Satellite Four have boarded," she said to Jax. She was very formal, not letting go of a rigid posture. By the computer image she had short hair and looked French, unless she was just an Italian who got hit in the mouth too many times.
Jax picked himself up and locked down his computers. "Captain Buckley, let's continue this conversation at a later time. These new treaties require some old-fashioned arm twisting."
The communicator shut itself off.
I was dismissed. I would never hear his voice again.
He ducked his head into the hologram file while I spoke. I waited for him. I didn't take in the urgency of his evasion.
"Sir, if I can, I don't think space is really an issue. You have thirty-five vacancies."
Then my CO was vaporized into a hot, stinking plasma.
I just love surprises. While no one really believes my official file, I know the most important parts are true. I've blown up a lot of aliens during the Trade Wars before my administrative duties. Granted, I wasn't officially part of "the army." Hey, it was my ship. I built it with my own money: I could do what I want. Seeing things blow up became an expected part of the day.
I pictured a whole brood of those brownish icky things that smell like rotten fruit pointing, each pointing about seven high-powered energy cannons, perhaps AT models at me. But to my disappointment I turned back only to witness a single alien fronted by six fellow Homo sapiens sapiens marching through the jagged open they had carved around the narrow door behind me. I was right about the cannons, though.
"Roger?" I said, as elated as one can be considering the events. "Maxi? Long time no see, huh?"
Roger and Maxi, last time I saw them they were about to be married, or kill each other, shuffled their two black guns and rounded their eyes.
"Fuck me." Roger said with his deep cavernous bass. "It's all about timing, huh?"
"What happened to the massage business?" I asked.
Maxi blew strands of multi-colored hair off her mouth. "You'll believe anything the first time, Buck. That's you're first problem. You're second problem," she said, her cannon recharging with a whine, "is us."
Maxi's boots made a distinct thud as she ran over to check Jax's station. "We're commandeering Hypatia," she said.
"I think I've got that sorted out. Thing I'm having trouble with is how a Sorbonne graduate and her bodybuilding fiancée made such an interesting career choice."
"We ain't here for chump change," Roger said, his cheeks flush with muscle and tendons. "I'm no pirate."
"We represent the future," his ostensible wife rasped. "Earth doesn't deserve to interact with a superior species." She tapped her alien friend on its sharp-edged skull.
I stepped away from the heat of the diffusing plasma, putting a finger to my chin. "Political extremism? That's not like you. At least it's not like Roger. Too many syllables."
Roger punched me hard in face in three rapid successions. Sometimes before I sleep, I look back and think about all the times someone's husband has punched me in the face. I liked those better. Most of them didn't involve spiked rings.
"Wait, don't kill him now," Maxi shouted from the console.
"Yes, I'm quite fond of that idea," I scoffed and said as I coughed through a deposit of my own blood.
"See his regalia. He's a captain. He knows the Earth spy network on Xocom."
I stepped forward, biting my lip. "Yes, of course I do. I can even jam the Elephant."
Maxi let one of her arm-long cannons swing down to her hip as she sidestepped to the wall. "Elephant?"
"Oh, right you don't know. That's Star Defense code for the underground Roul operation. But I guess I'm talking too much at this point."
"Holy shit baby, lucky we ran into asshole here."
Maxi slapped him, her palm hitting his face like a fish bashing against stone.
"Can't you see he's pulling a cold fusion on us."
One of the henchmen interrupted. "He can't be a Captain. He's too young."
"God damn it with you people. I am Captain as much as the two-shift captain you ruthlessly sent to that big armed defense corporation in the sky. The only difference is that I can play music on the bridge and he can't."
"Shut up!" Roger howled.
A volley of gaseous energy beams screamed out of his cannon, vaporizing the computers and the holographic globe.
"Let's assume for a minute that you really are this stupid," Maxi said, "what do you know about Elephant?"
"The only thing I can tell you about Elephant is that I'm the only one on the ship with access to it. So vaporizing any of my major internal organs would seriously jeopardize any chance you have of undermining Earth security and sending humans back to the Middle Ages so you crazy self-identified insectoids can live in your crazy insectoid paradise."
"Spill it, asshole," Roger said, "We got better bitches to fuck with."
"I can prove it. I got the schematics right here." I ran an automated link-up into the room's holographic generators and had it play a sample of a vague attack pattern intersecting planet Xocom. Attack of the Earth People is a very popular video game back on Xocom.
Maxi's eyes fluttered. "Give us those coordinates—now!"
"I said I had a contact with Elephant, I didn't say I had access to it." I knew I had to buttress myself with something. I was ready for it. Selecting anybody on this ship as an agent would likely get him or her very hot until they blew up into a trillion particles. So, if it had to be someone, it had to be Alfred.
* * *
I walked gingerly through the dimly lit corridor, escorted by my new friends. I had gotten used to the ding of red alert years ago.
Maxi twisted me around and talked into my face. "You said he's your link to the Elephant and the intelligence telemetry. If you're wasting our time…!"
"If I was wasting your time I think I'd do a better job than sending you on a quick walk to kidnap my second officer during his lunch hour."
A lot of my crewmen seem to be dead, which bothered me even though some of them in a way deserved it.
Maxi kept a cannon to my third cervical vertebra. Her ostensible husband opposed us, walking backwards, destroying communication arrays and sirens with a few hand-held magnetic bombs. His platoon of well-fed traitors was ahead reinforcing him as the few surviving security details blocked our pathways.
I had never known one that I hadn't killed before. Seeing this alien accompanying us to the mini-bar irked me to the bones. Right then in there I knew this whole cultural exchange program was a bad idea. Maxi kept whispering into one of his elbows. What does anyone have to say to a Roul?
I didn't just hate the insects. I hated anything they touched, anything they walked on. I had to fight that fantasy in my mind of seeing him vaporized like my dispassionate Captain.
I walked into the mini-bar, cannon first. The metal doors parted. I had hoped my comrades had already sealed off the main traffic areas, but as I saw all the men and women strewn along the bar, stiff, silent, awaiting orders, I knew this was all too much for them.
Maxi strolled me along like a puppy dog. I passed several customers. Everyone looked like they were still eating. Perhaps they were all desperately thinking of ways to evade the abduction of their dear Hypatia, but I knew they were getting a slight thrill seeing me stuck in this position.
I saw Red, that shorthaired security officer, standing in her cyan, her shiny locks covering her profile.
A large figure stalked behind me. "The louder you talk the sooner you'll die," blasted Roger.
Every day since I disembarked on this junk heap I always made one thing clear: I wasn't about to die today. Perhaps this day would be different. There were a few families in the central circling of chrome tables. I tried to move to step a few inches away to put my captors attention towards me.
"Where do you think you're going?" attacked Maxi.
"By all means," I said, bowing to her as she walked across my path guiding me towards the fifth seat at the bar.
I never sat at the fifth seat. Alfred always sat there, maybe because it's closest to the light.
Roger pulled Alfred the Roul up from the seat with one arm. The crowd around gasped. Roger fired a warning shot to reassert himself or possibly cover up his incredible body odor, I don' t know.
"Wait you moron," I assisted. "We're not after him."
"Sir?" it said. The insect alien looked at me with those two oval eyes in dark contrast to its slimy turtle-green skin. I wouldn't make any eye contact. Except for the bandit, the last time I saw an alien he wound up all over my shirt.
I removed Roger's offensive arm and tried to push him a good
pace from me. "This requires a
trained hand." People from all the
way in the back started gawking. The
alien waited with steaming anticipation.
Except for the guns and red alarm, suddenly I felt like I was doing
magic tricks. Unfortunately for all of
us, the hole I was about to pull this rabbit out off was not very pretty.
Maxi swung her cannon around her shoulder. "I knew this was an act."
"Let's fuck 'em Maxi. Human blood is unclean," Maxi's better, broader half grunted.
I sniffed the air. No body stopped gawking. My uniform was feeling lose from all the running around, which makes me look plain unfuckable. Anybody who lives after being shot at, bombed at, and basically owned like a fur coat will look not unlike me. I'll tell you one thing: I'm never going to let this ship near neutral space again until I get a new, perhaps sleeveless, uniform.
My eyes dotted left and right. I could tell my two captors were trigger happy, not just because they were smiling and holding awfully big guns but also because I knew the way Roger and Maxi seemed before they win a game of squash.
"Do you know why I'm on this ship," I said straight to Roger. "It's not because I'm a trained Martian pilot. Just ask any of these fools. They know my history is as apocryphal as the ingredients list on the bar poster."
I heard of few people affirm with vitriolic name-calling. I hope they like this little theatre I got going. They'll be fixing my new office for weeks.
Roger grinned, showing all his molars. "Let's blast 'em. Fuck 'em all."
"Shut up, he's too useful. Let him talk then we'll kill him."
"What are you doing?" said Alfred's translator. He had changed it to a male voice, which was somewhat of an improvement, I must say.
"You, you pathetic little alien," I said, twisting Alfred's collar. "You betray your own homeworld to be around us unevolved anthropoids?!"
"Sir, I don't understand the social exchange taking place. Is there gift-giving, yelling, or drinking necessary?"
"Now, you have hidden the coordinates of the Elephant, phase one. This is your last chance to hand them over."
I was pretty tired of holding this sticky communicator in my finger, and the timing seemed right so I uppercut him in the stomach in front of Maxi and Roger. I hate punching Roul's in the stomach because the stomach always throws itself up on you through every orifice.
They never prepare you for this stuff back on the Mars station. They don't tell you Roul's shed their heads every three months like hair, or just how plain repugnant a twenty-two shot organ expulsion is. It spewed over the bar and on crewmen's now cold heroes. But his translator fell off three of his elbows, which was the main objective.
The still operating frequencies of the transmitter scratched into all our ears, overcoming the red alarm and the framework of death and dying emanating from the surrounding decks. My Commander, Alfred, was still breathing. I'm sure not smelling anything but human body odor and the smell of hops didn't do much but confuse him like a gorilla in a jet plane.
"Now!" I yelled to my inferiors. The older ones caught on quick. It took a minute of visual confirmation for the younger ones to figure that I had disabled the offending firearms.
We easily outnumbered them but Maxi and the alien escaped. I tried to tackle Roger. I don't know why, but I did. Three other men pounced on his bowling ball shoulders as he tried to follow Maxi through the open mouth of the gate.
As some other guy and I were being hurled to a table, I managed to see a queue form in front of Alfred. From the floor I attracted a circle of senior officers.
"How did you know the interference from the translator
would be augmented by the nano-alloys in the kitchenware?" asked
Lieutenant Derrick, one of those blonde thirty-something farmer boys from
"Do you believe me now when I say I was born on spaceship?" I said to my team.
Red had emerged from behind a table. She squinted at me. "Whatever. The back of Hypatia's manual will tell you that," she smirked.
"The security tried to fire. They didn't do anything," Derrick said.
"But how did they get on the ship," I demanded.
"They used some sort of Roul technology to break through the shields, Sir."
"Listen, you'll want to let the door lock good after I set up a team to head out. The reason why we're having such difficulty is because their wearing field dampening armor. We can't defend ourselves except for these wide-band ATs. Outside of this corridor these guns will fire again."
"But, but we only got a hold of five of their ATs," chirped an Ensign Morris, this spindly American guy with an invisible mustache.
"I'm not staying here," Red proclaimed as she shifted away towards the entrance with her already confiscated artillery.
Malice, a science specialist, and Derrick quickly followed her.
I pointed to Morris. "You."
"Who me?" he asked. I pushed an AT into his chest.
"But why me? I'm not security. I belong on the bridge."
"Good that's where we're going."
Red yanked the gun from my hand, away from Ensign
Morris. "Sir, I think it's our best
interest to choose
"I think it's in our best interest to have all the technical skill we have available to us. If you have a problem with my orders—"
"There's a nurse here, he'll take care of him," Malice interjected.
"Oh, you mean Alfred. I didn't ask about Alfred." I said.
"There's a major problem with trying to move around at
all," Red interrupted. "If you
haven't noticed the red alarm is up, so you know they're on the bridge and I'm
sure they've locked the crew manifest out of the control keys. How are we supposed to gain access
"That's a not a problem at all. The computer thinks I'm Captain McCloud."
I whipped an AT strap around my shoulder. Going by the heavy load, they were clearly older models.
"But why would the computer think that?" Derrick said, furrowing his blonde brow.
"I found it's better not to be Captain Buckley on this ship."
Derrick stood by, scratching his head. "So that's why I'm the one who woke up in a pile of shit."
We vacated the mini-pub and its mini-trail of death. I waited to hear the door system lock and moved on. The corridor sounded quite enough so I sped on, ahead of my inferiors.
"Captain!" Lieutenant Malice shouted.
I turned right but all I saw was the dissipation of a human
skeleton. I turned to my left to see
Morris holding his AT out as if he was surrendering it.
"I think I shot him, Sir."
"Do I have to I find out?"
"Good work!" I said.
Red stepped up and blocked my path. "We can't just go on a rampage. People are dying."
"Do you have any idea how much I've been thinking about that? Morris, go to the hospital and escort a team back through the high-traffic route to the mini-pub and the central power unit."
"Did you say something, Sir," he said, still waiting for someone to pass the cannon to.
I tried to make sure he was ready to lead the medical team through the lift shafts Red and I disrupted in front of him. It will be easier for him to find the hospital since he's been to the doctor about five times in the past two days. Better yet, it will be easier to blame someone like Morris when this plan goes awry.
"But what if we're outnumbered? What if everybody's dead by the time we get back?"
"Then your job's going to be a hell of lot easier than mine."
If this were the Academy I would have tossed him out of the core and slapped his mother. But here we are. I could offer him little advice, the kind of thing you say to a newcomer to a Brazilian orgy.
"You'll think of something."
* * *
The red glare of the alert patterns dotted our pathway above the increasing soft floor of the decks below the bridge. Red's perfume linked us all together. Derrick was in front, holding two cannons while Red helped Malice walk her injury off. We had already encountered six unpleasant sympathizers. I tightened my wide grip on the AT, hoping the blue charger line was accurate. I was considering shutting off the gravity but the personal-G units were locked down in cargo and on the other side of Hypatia, giving us no clear advantage.
"I just don't get it. We've had this treaty for five years," I complained.
"It's my personal opinion that, Sir, the pro-Xocom terrorists aren't supported by the mother planet," said Derrick.
"If that was true, then how come they're not high-tailing to some clandestine operations center. The ship hasn't moved one centimeter."
"You know the way they fought that war. They don't keep the struggle at an arm's length, do they?"
"More than that they would attack in swarms with their hive mind."
Malice pulled on Red to slow down. "Captain, at the risk of sounding off-key," she said between limps. "I think you're being a little unfair at times to the Roul."
"Oh, no that's fine, Lieutenant. Hypatia is being gutted and I'm the one being unfair."
"Captain, how is this taking us to the bridge?" Red whimpered.
"I didn't say we're going to the bridge, I said we're going on top of the bridge. There's a major power artery that can be cleared."
Derrick pointed his right hand AT. "Right, connection 458, Sir! When we shut off this section we cut it off the power from the rest of the ship."
Red didn't breath hard once while she heaved Malice about. "I know but there's nothing to stop them from killing us and taking a day to repair it, is there?"
"I'm prepared for that possibility."
"Well, that's good to know."
"Listen Officer 45836482376262-F, if Maxi and friends can't bring up helm control yet then we probably have lots of time to regroup."
"If we don’t get ourselves killed."
"That's enough, now. I've taken enough jousting from the lot of you," I shouted. I then tickled the new AT sweat off my hands. "Malice, you said communications are totally off the table?"
"You should still be able to access the ones of the bridge. If we could spring a beacon out, the Administration would send a flotilla."
"Sure, in about two weeks. What I'm looking to do is—"
"Weapons down now or you're fried!"
Three armor-clad, AT rigged with a charger pack and wrist guard toting goons spawned from the darkness and on top of us like spiders. We cooperated with the assailants.
* * *
It was nice to be back on the bridge. The psychotic bandits in black were all over Hypatia's controls and from what I could guess were already fabricating automated Administration messages. Their equipment smelled like sulphur. Perhaps they had been miners, or killed miners. I knew my supporters were alive but uneasy. I couldn't see Red but Malice was under me on the floor, kicking her hurt leg. Derrick was being tortured in the corner. As for me, I felt great. For despite the setback and the fact I lied prostrate over the cold metal of the power generator interface, for the first time I was here as the real deal.
"I knew you were lying," Maxi stood over me and announced. Part of her armor had been torn and her knuckles were red from abrasion. By her voice I knew she was fatigued. She was an easy kill would the opportunity come.
"Who said I was lying?" I spat out some blood, choked, then continued. "Look I know a lot about the IOC movement."
"IOP, that's what I said." I nodded my head in justification. "In fact, I think there are some underlying issues that it brings up about human values and terrestrial history. It's all very interesting." I smiled. "I was the Vice President of the Cross Cultural studies club in graduate school."
"You dick, everybody knows the Vice President doesn't do squat."
I swatted the air with both hands, trying to contain a hearty grin. "And that's why I abdicated after my first year."
"Just shut up. Once we get helm up we won't need you anymore," she said before withdrawing to my chair, kicking her feet up.
The alien that I had first saw escorting the six bandits was walking in the fragmented way the Roul walk. He seemed to stare at me with those big eyes, like two mirrors sucking your reflection into a black void. "What do you want?" I asked.
He, she, it, braced a 3-D capture stick painfully into my eye as if he was doing a cerebral probe though my eye socket, but he flashed a shot of my retina instead and pulled it out just as quickly.
He withdrew to the captain's chair next to Maxi, ever watching me. Roger was still having fun, amusing himself as Derrick danced to his cannon fakes.
I could see Red at this point, her head just jutting out in the pathway to the emergency pods, backlit by the emergency flashes. It's as if she was waiting for me to say something. She picked under her left eye in an excessive way.
"Malice," I whispered. "I think Lieutenant Red is giving me the medical emergency signal. Have any clue?"
"If my band isn't damaged," she said, examining the utility wristband on her left hand. "Let me try a bio-scan."
Flipping a prong out, she cautiously rotated her hand, covering the circumference of the bridge until she stopped suddenly when it hit Maxi.
"Captain, I think there's something you ought to see."
I leaned over from the interface to see the scan's results, trying to look like I was just flinching.
"Your friend either has a very unique tumor or else…"
"Ah-huh," I softly uttered, "I knew Maxi would fuck up."
Suddenly I understood the alien's very odd behavior. I stood up from the interface, trying not to fall over Malice.
"You look like you're gaining weight there, Maxi."
Roger stopped firing at Derrick, which I was starting to enjoy. "What did he say?"
"Hey you, Maxi," I heard Red start up, though I cannot say I approved. "He's a xenophobe!" I heard her continue, which I definitely did not approve. Somehow I knew she would get me killed, of course I think that about everyone on this ship.
"What are you doing?!" I whispered across the control center of the bridge.
She looked away, not moved by me or her armored keeper. I wonder how planned out it was. "He's a long-time xenophobe, whoever you are. I thought you should know."
Maxi blew hard on some pink and purple hairs. "You hate the aliens? How could you hate them?"
I saw both of her eyes wet. It was unmistakably ugly.
"They're so beautiful. That's why I'm pregnant with one."
"Huh, Maxi?" said Roger. I could feel the floor almost rattle in his footsteps. "Did you say pregnant?"
"I was going to tell you."
"She's using you," I said to Roger. "Think about it. Why did she spend the whole summer away from you? Remember how you kept e-mailing her and you cried every time she wouldn't respond. She's just going to use your brawn and your black market connections until she and her insect no longer need you."
He roared and descended onto the alien.
I've never seen a human try to eat a Roul. A friend dared me once, a co-pilot on board my ensign fleet.
Somehow Roger managed to carry the whole mass of the alien with just his neck and jaw muscles. I wonder what drugs he was taking. It was startling. But I had to move.
I wrestled Red's guard while she lobbed her wristband into the face of the one pointing a cannon at me. His shot fired but missed and toasted the floor.
Maxi and the rest of the freaks were too busy thrashing Roger when I leaped to engage the intruder flash on the bow-side hologram. I quickly unlocked it with McCloud's code, stunning everyone without a rank and a decent jumpsuit.
* * *
By the afternoon, the bridge was very clean. My office was now much more comfy and spacious. I was settled in my chair, taking in casualty reports and reassignments.
When Red returned from Medical I sought her out immediately. I pulled her aside and asked her "How did you know she was
"You could see if you stopped looking at her chest."
"Say that again, Officer?"
"I said you could see if you stopped and looked at her."
"I applaud your efforts, Lieutenant. But I shouldn't have to tell you to share all information with your superiors. Being part of a team: that's what being in space is all about."
I hissed into her ear. "And if you try to get me killed in the future you'll find your job to be the hardest in the Military."
"Sir? I was only trying to distract the intruders."
"I know I'm just misunderstanding."
I left her to her duties and moved to the concave front of the bridge. My inferiors at once took notice.
I tied my hands behind me and addressed my very bruised, very sober shipmates. “I know we haven't formally met. I know today has not been the most ideal way to get to know each other. I know I would have preferred a nice dinner or perhaps a game of graviton wrestling. During the hours of 10-10:15 all funeral arrangements will be held for Captain Jax who died honorably in service. In that, the Administration has entrusted in me Hypatia and its more than marvelous crew."
I paused to register my audience. They looked defeated. I raised my voice: people always compliment me about my voice.
"But what is a Captain?" I continued. "I ponder this question at my leisure. He is more than a military leader; he is educator, moral anchor, philosopher, peacemaker, chronicler, all around mystic I would say.”
“Sir?” My disgusting insect said. I think right now it’s important to mention how awkward any translator can be. Language is a colorful, stupid thing and no matter how much technology they put into this thing, it will sound wrong somehow. The tone will be off, an emphasis misplaced, or often the vocal reproduction will simply be too fast, too slow. I swung my leg around the titanium footing, waiting that extra quarter second. “If I can speak freely. May we dock now?”
“May we? We must."
I bounced into my seat. I looked to the helm and there was Morris whose spine was probably back on Earth.
“I’ll try, okay?”
“Try?” I asked. “Who said that?”
“I did, Captain," Morris stammered.
I rapped the armrest of my chair. “Ensign Morris, on this ship we do not try. We either—"
"Call for you Mystic Buckley," said Red. "It's General Argi."
“It's priority, isn't it?”
“How did you know?"
"If he wants to say hello, bring him up."
The General for the Administration appeared over several of the bridge monitors. His long face was exaggerated by his washed out, wrinkled military cap.
"Argi!" I said.
"That's General Argi."
"Oh Argi, always the formal type."
"This is sensitive, Captain Buckley. I think this is a message better served in ensign."
"Nonsense, whatever Admin has to say to me it can say to the rest of my crew."
“As you wish. The untimely death of Captain Jax has placed you into full-time status and placed space defense in an awkward position."
"Is this going somewhere, Sir? I have a brig full of assailants I have to take to Lawyer Space Station."
"Have you seen your numbers lately?"
I felt the back of my head and made a passing glace at the floor. "And what are my Public Authority numbers, General Argi?"
"You're at 68%."
"And so you've called to congratulate me, then?" I asked, feeling quite relieved. "That's quite a change coming from you."
"I don't make social calls, Captain," he growled. "Interspace lists your cutoff at 66 %."
"I don't think that's fair. Cutoff for first captains has always been 62%"
He sighed, slapped a hand over his white forehead.
"Someday you'll have to learn that your position here is more than about what's in the books."
He was about to sign off then tilted his head and asked, "Captain Buckley, why is your Commander missing his head?"
"Because it fell off this morning, why else?"
"Oh, right, the alien." The General sighed again. It seemed to detonate other blows and hisses behind my ear. "Well, we'll be watching you, Captain…Buck Buckley?"
I nodded to which he paused for a significant time.
"God help us," he cried.