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Starting by breaking my own rules

Hi everyone, this is my first post and just like the title says I’m going to start by breaking my own rules. Well its less a rule and more a statement I put in the About section of this site, but that’s just splitting hairs. So I said everything I write is and will be creative, but I’m going to start by talking (briefly I promise) about my influences when I write, anything really. So here we go.

My influences come from a lot of different places but are really no different, I’d guess, than where anyone else would get inspiration, namely books, films, TV (what little I watch), music, games (my favourite medium) and just everyday life in general.

Now that probably sounds like a wide range of places to take inspiration from, and it is, but still the genres I tend to gravitate most toward are fantasy and sci-fi related (I’m not writing science-fiction each time, sorry). That doesn’t mean I don’t consume anything outside those genres, it just means that is what resonates most with me and inspires me to write. Some examples would be Mass Effect, Star Wars, Elder Scrolls, Dune, Witcher (books and games), Destiny and Halo.

But I think that little introduction is enough for this first post, and I swear that from now on the posts will not be focused on me (and my ramblings). In fact a lot will likely be poem type posts. I won’t give any exposition to such posts. I’ll just post them and you can interpret their meaning in a way that resonates with you.

Your Punishment

The only things you value are whats in your hands
Pity that you stole it to get what you can

With a life of villany
You scream up to me
How you wish to be free
But you’re the jailor of everybody

The only things you value are what you can see
Shame you burned all that could be

Cause you’re a selfish fool
One that is always cruel
Still faking being good
You’re not at all misunderstood

The only love you have is for what you adore
What is left you wish to kick out the door

For you are disater
Trying to be the master
Manipulating all the land
We’re so sick of your brand

The only love you feel is just for you
When will you realise we hate you

My guess is you never will
Too busy torturing the kill
Crowding out the beautiful
Just so you can claim it all

Now all that remains is a wasteland we abhor
That is why you have been cast from shore

Deprecation

I carved across the every sea
Hoping to discover if I’m still me
A fractured skin lined with scars
Will I ever make it past these bars?
It seems to me the answers no
That’s why I choose not to stay but go

Deprecation
I’m in pobation
If only I knew what I’d done

Stewing in the festering halls
They are a place to which I’m pulled
Wading through this end to be
What is right, wrong or heresy?
A response to this I cannot give
Too busy worming in this space called live

Deprecation
I’m in probation
If only I knew what I’d done

Then come the screams from a void beyond
Bow in hand I aimed at the sun
Violence in the heart and mind
I loose the bolt with an eye unkind
Shocking to hear: there is the fall
The moment at which I lost my call
It’s why I now sit and rot in pain
What does remain is not the same

Deprecation
I’m in probation
If only I knew what I’d done

Deprecation
I’m in probation
If only I knew what I’d done

Monster’s In Play

Hi! Story day has come round again and this week I have a story that changed quite a bit from initial idea to final piece. Originally it was going to have another section to it. However, I decided I didn’t like or see the need for that section, so I did away with it and just wrote the first part. As a result it is a single continuous piece (roughly 11,100 words long) but has no breaks in it and revolves entirely around one event. Not really much else I have to say, other than I hope you enjoy Monster’s In Play.

Admiral Stefan Aurelius strides confidently down the corridor. He is accompanied by a pair of near identical naval security officers who follow close behind. Both are dressed in a set of the navy’s dark blue, almost black, fatigues and their uniforms are perfect in every way. Yet, somehow they seem out of place with the ceremonial robes being twinned with the black metal bodies of carbine weapons which both are carrying in their arms. Neither of the pair have hold of the weapons in a manner that suggests they intend to make use of the weapons at any moment, though they can very swiftly change so that they can.

Admiral Aurelius pays neither of the men attention though. He is more interested in getting to the bridge of the dreadnought starship known as Path of Tomorrow. Not that while walking down the main corridor of the vessel you would be able to mark which ship of the Unity Governments Navy he is on. All the corridors are identical regardless of class of vessel or duration they have been in service.

In some ways Stefan is pleased that so little about the navy he has served for almost thirty years has refused, in the face of threats to retool and reanalyse the division’s suitability to its roll, to bow and bend to the whims of political short-sightedness. The day that happens is the day he hands in his bars and drifts off into retirement. If it happens now it wouldn’t be so bad, as Stefan has already been starting to consider such a future in the last several weeks. Not because of advancing age, after all he is only forty seven, or ill health. In fact, he is probably in the best health of his life. No, he is just sick of dealing with the ever changing wants and demands of the political classes, which as an Admiral is a part of his roll. It’s not a part he has ever enjoyed or felt comfortable with. Others at his rank have and do, but the pandering is just not in his nature. He makes that known, like he does all his feelings. If not for his strategically brilliant mind he most certainly would have been sidelined or forcibly discharged several presidents ago over some trifling and fabricated health concern or another. But he never has been which is why he is able to be here now, striding confidently down this very corridor. The faces of the crew as he passes them by are of equal parts disbelief as they are admiration. If only that were the case everywhere I go, he thinks without pulling his forward held gaze away to meet the looks of the men and women around him.

The ‘floor’ beneath his feet, which to be more accurate should be termed decking, is covered with a thin, hard wearing grey carpet. He isn’t sure when warships became this accommodating and welcoming but he can’t say he approves. A warship, like the Path of Tomorrow has a role, a purpose, and is not meant to be comfortable. It is supposed to be hard, difficult, utilitarian, functional, not soft and cuddly. At least those are his opinions and yet he cannot say that the carpet is entirely out of place either. Especially when he doesn’t have to listen to the incessant clip-clopping of boots upon a metallic surface, a sound which has throughout his career been grating to him. Perhaps, he should permit this softening because it adds more than it removes. Yes, he thinks he might, just this once. He won’t tell anyone that though. To admit such a thing might cost him positioning he is not willing to relent yet. A reputation changed can be both beneficial as well as detrimental after all.

The walls of the corridor are two toned. The bottom half of the outward angled panels of the hexagonal corridor are grey. Near in colour to that of the carpet under his feet which for its limited thickness is surprisingly cushioning to the pounding of his brisk steps. The upper half of the walls that are inwardly angled toward the metal grates of the ceiling are white and help to further illuminate the windowless space that runs down the centre of the ship like a spine. The lights, strips of white luminescence are fixed into recesses at both the connection points between where the white wall sections meet the ceiling grates and the grey lower grey wall sections. It seems like overkill to keep the three metre wide and high space illuminated, but that specification is a throwback from long before his time and not one he has ever been willing to challenge. Others have, he has been present for it, and each time it has fallen on deaf ears. Some good points, from both sides, had been put forward. However, it was never going to be a change that would seriously be considered. For what reason he was never discovered but perhaps that is because he doesn’t care enough to pursue further.

Suddenly, Stefan is knocked out of his internal contemplations. None of which have anything to do with why he is here on the Path of Tomorrow. A junior Lieutenant dressed in grey fatigues with too friendly green eyes and an almost shaved head of closely cropped brown hair comes rushing toward him. The Lieutenant is calling out to the Admiral but Stefan makes no attempt to slow or come to a halt. He can imagine why this Lieutenant is here. He’s a pawn for the Captain, meant to dissuade an Admiral from getting involved. But if the Captain of the Path thinks a single Lieutenant asking and pleading to him will change anything then he seriously underestimates who he is dealing with.

“Admiral, we were not aware you were coming aboard.” The Lieutenant with the too friendly green eyes says as Stefan strides past him forcing the junior officer to then fall in step alongside seconds after.

Before he does he casts wary glances at the two man security detail with Admiral Aurelius and gulps. Stefan has to suppress a smirk threatening to split across his face because of the Lieutenants’ reaction, which he never gets sick of as he wonders, and not for the first time, if the other Admirals get the same kick out of the nervous glances and gulps lower ranks subconsciously perform when setting eyes on their security detail. Somehow he doubts they do seeing as so many of his former colleagues have retired, leaving him with politicians in uniforms. That is one change that does disgust Stefan as the Lieutenant beside him continues to blather on.

“…the Captain would like to extend his welcome but apologises for not being able to meet you in person upon your boarding…” The Lieutenant continues to mutter in a voice barely loud enough for Admiral Aurelius to hear, even though he’s only a little more than two feet from the Lieutenant who he can feel the nervous energy coming off of.

“Save it Lieutenant. I’m not interested in what your Captain does or does not wish he could have done. This is not a courtesy call. Or a planned visit. I’m here for a reason so you can either fill me in on my walk to the bridge or you can scurry away to do whatever it is that is part of your normal day. The choice is yours but make it quick. I’m not a patient man and with the Independent Navy of the Free Colonies, or whatever it is that they dain to call themselves now, near our border pursuing one of our smaller starships as it limps back in hopes of reaching safety, I couldn’t rightly care. The lives of some…two hundred sailors are my concern. They should also be the concern of your Captain but it looks like he’s more interested in placating and delaying me than making sure he does the job well.”

“Understood sir. I…I…”

“Spit it out man. I don’t have all day. Or have you forgotten I’m not a patient man already sailor?” Stefan barks in a low voice so only he, the Lieutenant and maybe his protection detail can hear. They won’t pass comment. They never do. They know their place, their role and they perform it excellently. Stefan has never had issue with them or any of their predecessors. Not that he ever expected he would, seeing as they are all former Naval Special Intelligence.

“Sorry sir…” The Lieutenant utters after a quick clearing of his throat and then a short, by the looks of things, rehearsed but not artificially so routine that must be part of this sailor’s rhetoric to get himself into a better place and hopefully say something of actual use. At least that is what Stefan would like to believe he is doing.

“The situation is that the Guangzhou has suffered significant damage to her engines. As a result she is barely able to do more than use impulse to drift back toward our border.” The Lieutenant advises filling in a couple details Stefan didn’t already know. It isn’t surprising in many ways because Stefan had only learnt about the situation due to a newsfeed he’d caught while on route to his actual destination for today, a shuttle that was scheduled to take him to a navy ship. He can’t recall the name of it. Nothing impressive he knows that much. And that vessel was to be his transport to the academy on the colony world of Arebo where he is supposed to be delivering a series of talks over the next few days as part of the graduation ceremony for the latest round of recruits. It’s another part of the job as Admiral, but one that rotates amongst all that hold that rank. A sort of pay your dues, so to speak.

Stefan has had the honour once before. Yet it was a tradition that did not take place when he graduated. Or should he say, it was not performed, when he graduated. The tradition still existed but when he graduated from the academy on Venus humanity had been at war. As a result all the Admirals were needed at the front and as soon as graduation was over he too was shipped out on his first assignment. He remembers it like it was yesterday, the smell of blood as he stepped off the shuttle onto the landing bay of the Urus, which had been turned into an extended field hospital in space because of the sheer number of injuries sustained during combat and as a result of the Anarchist Ruin vessel that they so lovingly titled President Burns.

“And what do we know about the ships in pursuit?” Stefan queries without a blink as he notes the previous bustle in the corridor is gone, leaving him to advance without the stares and whispered chatter of the crew.

“Three Independent Navy frigates and a destroyer, all with light damage but otherwise fully operational, sir.”

“And our backup Lieutenant, how far out is it?” Stefan queries without congratulating the Lieutenant on his competently brief and to the point summary of what information he possesses.

“Back up sir?” The Lieutenant with the too friendly eyes says looking directly at the face of Admiral Aurelius, who makes no effort to turn his own head and meet those green eyes.

The Lieutenant takes his time to study the wrinkles at the corner of the Admiral’s eyes, which are a lighter blue than he thinks he has ever seen, while the edges of his short black hair are just barely visible below the Admiral’s hat that is sat atop his head.

It’s ceremonial dress, pointless and needless when on a vessel partaking in active duties. Even more so when it’s being worn by Admiral Stefan Aurelius, who is probably the most infamously famous officer in the entire Navy.

“As I suspected.” Stefan mutters to himself.

“Pardon sir?” The Lieutenant says catching none of the content of the words that have passed Stefan’s lips and just knowing that the Admiral has said something.

“How far is the bridge from here?” Stefan asks ignoring the junior officers’ query which he is in no way obliged to answer because of his far superior rank. Though, his true reasoning for skating past the query is that he doesn’t want to get into how he isn’t surprised there is no backup. If he did it might start him on a rant about how the navy are being stretched too thin by an enemy that the political elite refuse to take as seriously as they need to. It’s in the briefings, all of them. Plus the Admirals, him included, have petitioned for the seriousness of the intelligence gleaned to be properly sifted through. Thus far, each and every request has been denied or met with little more than movement of a few ships to make sure all borders are covered.

More than seven thousand star systems are part of the Unity Governments and the navy possesses barely that many warships, not that politicians, the President included, have listened to such statements.

Apparently, they think all naval ships are warships but they aren’t. A resupply and support vessel is not a warship. It cannot hold a spatial border marked out by ancient scientific buoys once used as data gathering for background radiation and universe expansion observation, but that have since been repurposed to function as boundary markers.

“It’s roughly two hundred metres directly ahead, Admiral.” The Lieutenant replies providing redundant information alongside what he was after. He doesn’t blame the Lieutenant. It’s what’s been drummed into him over however long he’s been in service and yet still Stefan wishes sailors like this Lieutenant would use a little more initiative. The graduates from his day had, or at least he thinks they did. It was a long time ago. Much of those early days are muddy, except for the battles that is. He remembers them with crystal clarity. As if he is still living in them, which in some ways he is, seeing as he often has dreams about things that were and were not done in a way that would have changed, both positively and negatively, the outcomes of battles. He wouldn’t call them nightmares. They aren’t frightening or harrowing. They are what they are, replays built from memories of his days at war but with variations. And there had been plenty of war in the first decade and a half of his naval service.

Suddenly the Lieutenant begins to pull ahead. Stefan allows a brief smile to creep across his thin pink lips for a few seconds before he suppresses it and then orders, “No need to go ahead Lieutenant. You can announce my arrival as I make it.”

“Y-yes sir.” The Lieutenant replies sounding as unsure and confused as Stefan had hoped his peculiar order would. But he has reason for issuing it.

By the sound of things if the Path’s Captain learns who is about to step out on his bridge then it seems he may be inclined to initiate a lockdown to prevent such an appearance. After all, the presence of an Admiral on the bridge would automatically mean the instantaneous transfer of power from this Captain, who likely wants to make a name for himself, to Stefan. Glory is of no interest to Admiral Aurelius. All he cares about are the safe return of whoever is still alive on the Guangzhou. He swears it better be most of the crew or he’ll take a battle group into Free Colonies space and obliterate as many of their warships as he can find.

Finally, Admiral Stefan Aurelius reaches the twin doors beyond which lies the bridge. Unlike any other doors on this or any other naval vessel they do not part automatically. Rather, they need an input, which Stefan waits for. The Lieutenant next to him fumbles for a second apparently unaware that Admiral Aurelius has no intention of opening the door for himself when he has a junior officer and member of the crew present.

The twin security detail behind Stefan exchange glances and rolls of their eyes to silently communicate their disbelief at the naivety of this Lieutenant. Both wonder how he’s managed to get as far as he has. The likely answer is that daddy, or mommy, are in the service, and not in the right way either. Before the last decade military service in families was because of a wish to serve their country, or in this age their world. But among officers that has all but died out in favour of military service to further oneself and reach positions that they on their own would never have been able to attain.

Greg and Philippe, the two NSI officers who both hold the rank of Captain, are pleased they were assigned to protect Admiral Aurelius. He is a proper sailor, like them. He joined up to serve. Never expected anything handed to him and worked his ass off to reach the rank he’s at now.

As members of the Admiral’s security detail they see more than most sailors ever will, bar Admirals that is, and along every step of the way they have been impressed by Aurelius. While other Admirals have bowed or sought favour from politicians, Aurelius has always been a constant individual who has spoken his mind irrespective of how well it might be perceived by his equals and superiors. Not that Greg or Philippe think politicians should ever be called superiors.

With the doors now open, Stefan strides onto the bridge first before quickly being followed by Lieutenant Francis, the sailor with the too friendly eyes as deemed by Admiral Aurelius.

“Admiral on the bridge!” Lieutenant Francis barks as loud as he can manage.

To be honest he wasn’t sure anything was going to come out when he tried to speak for no other reason than because of a nervous catch he has lodged at the back of his throat. It’s why his expression is that of surprise, but it doesn’t last long as he swiftly fixes his expression before anyone can turn and see it. Though, the only person that does turn is the grey haired, brown eyed Captain of the Path of Tomorrow, Vincent Stapp.

Vincent suppresses a snarl as his eyes first glare angrily at Lieutenant Francis, who he swears he will make an example of for this failure to delay and divert Admiral Aurelius, before then finally turning his gaze to the man himself.

Vincent has to admit that Admiral Aurelius is exactly as he imagined, but he isn’t a fan. In his opinion Aurelius is a dinosaur from an era of violence and bloodshed. Not a man required in these more civilised times. Or at least they will be civilised once the Free Colonies are placated via diplomacy, which is due to begin in the coming weeks. Admiral Aurelius could be a threat to that, which is why Vincent did not want him anywhere near the bridge and yet here the man is, in the flesh, standing taller than Vincent’s own five foot eleven inches.

Stefan is appalled by the state of the man before him who must be the Captain. He’s dishevelled, unshaven and clearly testy from the look in his eyes. Yet, what Stefan has gleamed is that the Lieutenant was indeed sent to delay and prevent his arrival on the bridge. A man like this Captain will likely want retribution of some kind for that failure. Admiral Aurelius will see about that, but only once the Guangzhou is safe. Something he doubts this ‘Captain’ can ensure.

Stefan takes in the bridge crew, all twelve of them bar the Captain. They, by comparison are befitting of their positions as bridge crew serving on a Unity Governments Navy warship. That’s irrespective of their ranks, which he also has noted all seem to be either Lieutenant or Ensign. Stefan wonders if that is normal on warships now. It sure as hell wasn’t when he’d served as part of a bridge crew. It’s another change. Let it go. The voice in his head, his subconscious, fires in response clearly hoping to placate thoughts that are at this time not important.

“Captain! Incoming comms.” One of the bridge crew off to Stefan’s left calls to break Vincent and his slow blinking stare.

“Put them through.” Captain Stapp orders through tightly gritted teeth as he keeps his eyes locked with Stefan’s.

The Admiral isn’t interested in some kind of antiquated display of dominance. There is a chain of command here and Stefan is at the top of it, whether this Captain likes it or not is his own problem and not Stefan’s.

“Belay that.” Stefan orders right after but with a decidedly warm glance, which he casts over to the woman who first alerted them to the presence of an incoming communications. It’s more than likely going to be from one of the pursuing Independent Navy starships, Stefan surmises and so that means it can wait, for a minute or two.

“Admiral, with all due respect I am the Captain of this starship. The Path of Tomorrow is mine. This is my call…” Vincent begins but never finishes as Stefan cuts him off to remind, “And I am an Admiral of the Unity Governments Navy. I hold higher rank so I am the one who makes the calls here now that I am on the bridge. Is that clear Captain?”

Stefan’s eyes burn with a fierce intensity as he locks his eyes with Captain Stapp’s. It’s a challenge, a silent one. Stefan wants to see just what this Captain has and has not got.

“Captain Stapp…” Lieutenant Francis begins.

“Silence Lieutenant. Ensign, put the comms through. That is an order.” Captain Stapp demands and with that demand confirms Stefan’s assumption that this Captain is a man that plays at being a part of the chain of command. However, it is clear that when given an order he refuses to follow it if he so wishes.

“But Captain?” The female sailor exclaims in shock that sees her jaw drop so that her mouth is agape while her brown eyes blink rapidly over and over.

The woman is lost. She is torn between the orders of an Admiral, the highest rank in the room, and her Captain who is ordering her to ignore an Admiral’s orders. It’s not a position a sailor should ever be put in. However, following her dismayed outburst the room becomes silent. Captain Stapp and Admiral Aurelius stand staring at one another until Phillippe says with a whisper only loud enough for Greg and Admiral Aurelius to hear, “Initiate protocol ninety-three sir?”

Stefan barely moves his head to nod but it is all Greg and Philippe need as confirmation.

In the blink of an eye, both men shift their carbine weapons from lying across their arms and into their hands. Following that they bring their weapons to bear on Captain Stapp.

At first Vincent does not react. His brain too slow to comprehend the blur of motion, and then it dawns on him like a punch delivered to his jaw. Still, he does a double take but gets no time to protest as Greg orders, “Hands high Captain, you are under arrest as part of protocol ninety-three!”

“What? You can’t be serious! This must be some kind of…” Vincent begins in protest.

“HANDS!” Philippe bellows at the top of his lungs cutting Captain Stapp off. His roar is meant to illustrate that this is not a joke but instead a very serious matter.

Vincent complies but snarls as he does so. It’s the only protest he feels capable of performing for fear that any other might result in his execution.

“Captain…Stapp was it?” Stefan begins, his demeanour having softened as a quick shake of his head is administered for good effect.

“It is.” Vincent snarls through gritted teeth as he glares at Admiral Aurelius.

“…I hereby enact protocol ninety-three. Before you say that there is no such protocol, or that you have never heard of it I will recite it to you, from memory.” Stefan takes breath and then continues, “Protocol ninety-three is the removal of a ranked officer from his position due to a dereliction of duty when given an order. Or when in the presence of a superior officer who they refuse to hand seniority over to for reasons as defined and written in the Unity Governments Naval code.” Stefan takes no pride in doing this but sees little other option than to resort to military arrest. It’s not the first time Stefan will have enacted such a protocol, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys it, even if this man is a disgrace to his uniform.

“Lies! There is no such…” Vincent again begins to protest.

“Captain…he’s right, protocol ninety-three. Admiral Aurelius repeated it verbatim. I have it right here in front of me.” A decidedly tall woman with a shaved head and piercing green eyes says from a terminal off to the front right side of the bridge.

A brief smirk appears on Stefan’s face. It lasts barely a second, though Vincent catches it. If not for these two armed sailors he’d throw himself at the Admiral, but he resists the urge to, as he does to saying what immediately comes to mind; smug bastard.

“Greg, Philippe…secure Captain Stapp.” Stefan orders coolly.

“Do you want us to escort him to the brig Admiral?” Philippe queries.

“No Philippe. He can remain. He might learn something.” Stefan remarks as he edges deeper into the rhombus shaped space that is the bridge of the Path of Tomorrow.

Stefan won’t take the Captain’s chair. It isn’t his style. After all, he isn’t assuming permanent command of this vessel. That is why Stefan gestures, now that Captain Stapp is restrained, for him to be put in his own Captains’ chair.

Stefan able to feel the burning hate filled eyes of this poor excuse for a Captain burrowing into his back soon after Captain Stapp is shoved in place.

The Admiral ignores the sensation that barely even rates on his radar. If this man believes his angry stare will do anything then he really does not understand how little Admiral Aurelius is concerned with disdain from a man who himself cannot maintain a reasonable level of professionalism.

“Who is it that is sending comms?” Stefan questions as he stands a little further forward than dead centre, seeing as dead centre of the rhombus shaped room with its continued grey carpet but now flat dark grey walls would be the Captains’ chair that the restrained Captain Stapp is in.

Greg and Philippe flank either side of the restrained man to make sure he doesn’t attempt anything stupid that he might regret. After all, when this is over Stefan might just let him keep his ship. Probably not his crew though. He’ll probably be issued with a new crew. This one is clearly too professional, the Lieutenant with the too friendly eyes included, to have to suffer under the stupidity and inadequacy of a man like Captain Stapp.

It wouldn’t be the first time Admiral Aurelius has done something like that if that is indeed what he ultimately decides.

“The Guangzhou, Admiral.” Is the response he gets from the woman off to his left. The same woman who had originally advised that there was an incoming transmission, and who had looked dismayed when Captain Stapp had tried to order her to disobey an Admiral’s orders.

“Has there been any comms from the four mixed class Independent Navy vessels that are in pursuit?” Stefan queries only for Vincent to turn his head and glare at Lieutenant Francis. It’s the only place the Admiral could have gleaned such information and cements in his mind that the Lieutenant will not be serving at his current rank for much longer.

Lieutenant Francis quickly averting his gaze and then tries, more than he perhaps should have to, to ignore his glaring superior who can scarcely believe how easily his crew bowed to a man they don’t know. Sure, he’s Admiral Aurelius, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing. He isn’t supposed to be on this ship and sure as hell wasn’t sent here by Naval Command. That is another reason as to why Vincent was not willing to simply pass command off to the Admiral. It seems his crew didn’t, and still don’t, understand that. They will. He’ll make sure of that once this is over as he has no doubt he’ll still hold the same position as Captain as this vessel. The Admiral might not want that but the navy need experienced officers in command of their vessels and Vincent is definitely experienced, plus Admiral Aurelius own infractions will count in Vincent’s favour.

“No Admiral they have not, but have been decidedly quiet, which is quite unusual in my opinion.” The comms officer, Ensign Carmen Steele, says with confidence.

“Does Captain Stapp usually have you include your opinions?” Stefan queries with genuine curiosity.

“Uh…well…” Carmen begins before Stefan cuts in to reassure, “You are not in trouble Ensign. I can assure you of that.”

“No sir. The Captain does not usually permit us to include personal opinions in our responses and I apologise for doing so Admiral.” Carmen responds sounding as professional as Stefan would want any sailor in the navy to sound, especially Captain Stapp.

“Do not apologise Ensign. There are no rules and procedures that preclude the exemption of personal additions when giving a response to a question from a senior officer. In fact, it is encouraged. After all, we are not machines. We are people. We have feelings born from experience that machines cannot replicate. Any officer unwilling to hear those additions from his crew is a poor commander indeed.” Stefan explains with a professorial voice.

“Thank you sir, I will remember that.” Carmen says making sure to keep her expression even and not let her feelings get the better of her even though Admiral Aurelius has just confirmed what she and many others on the Path had been saying to one another behind closed doors and out of earshot of Captain Stapp. If she were not a sailor she’d be showing how smug she feels, but she is and so will not as such things are not befitting of her station.

“Be sure you do. Now, if you would be so kind as to put that comms through Ensign. I think I’ve made them wait long enough.” Stefan remarks with a smirk on his face as he turns toward the viewport wall that is the shortest edge of the rhombus. Normally it gives a view of the emptiness of space speckled with the lights of distant stars, but right now that light has been filtered out to provide a sheer black canvas, similar to a screen.

An instant later the black canvas morphs into a view of the interior of the Guangzhou’s bridge, a near identical copy to the Path’s own except smaller, and the crew manning it. However, the crew are not as they should be. Stefan isn’t surprised. In fact, he expected something like this from the Free Colonies at some point. Though, he did not expect that he would be the one bearing witness to it firsthand. Well firsthand as in he be the one on the other end of the communication issued to the responding starship that is.

The group occupying the bridge of the Guangzhou are by contrast a ragtag lot dressed in whatever garments they call their own. There is no uniformity or consistency between what each of the nine bodies is wearing. Plus the number on the bridge is excessive. The Guangzhou only has a need for five crew, and that’s including the Captain.

To Stefan that denotes an attempt at showing strength. That these pirates think such things will hold them in better stead, or perhaps incline him and the Path to operate in a manner that would not be the norm for a Unity Governments Navy ship. Under Captain Stapp that might have been likely, but Admiral Aurelius is in command here and he does not negotiate with pirates. First, however he must ascertain a few details.

“Seeing as you do not seem inclined to introduce yourselves I’ll begin. I am Admiral Stefan Aurelius of the Unity Governments Navy dreadnought Path of Tomorrow and I don’t believe you have the right to be aboard one of our vessels, let alone in command of it.” Stefan says with sarcastic tone and a straight back. His hands are clasped loosely behind his torso while his arrow focused eyes blink slowly every so often to further convey how unimpressive he finds the sight of the pirates before him.

“Admiral, you think you’re funny. I’m unsurprised. But truth is we captured this vessel. It wasn’t hard. It put up barely a fight to make note of. But still you wish to belittle our achievement. Still, you wish to act as though you are the victor and have suffered no defeat. Yet, this is your defeat. This ship is a failure of your precious navy, confined and constricted by its inadequacies and its arrogance.” A woman with a short green Mohawk flattened so that it is covering much of one side of her head says from behind amber coloured eyes that burn with a fiery hatred.

Her look is one Stefan has seen a thousand times before in his life. Many of his adversaries had worn the exact same expression and yet they are not stood here, he is. If these pirates knew anything about him they might not be so confident in the face of the man who stands before them. Rather, they might be inclined to speak on civil terms and in hopes of settling this peacefully. Stefan already knows that this woman, whoever she is he hasn’t a clue, and her crew have no intention of that. If the crew still live it likely won’t be for long. Perhaps they will be executed in front of him as part of a desperate display they hope will get him to fold to their demands, it won’t. Or maybe they intend to squirrel the Guangzhou away along with its crew, study it and them, discern it’s secrets through torture of both vessel and crew, all so they can build more advanced starships of their own to stand against the Unity Governments Navy at some point in the future. He doesn’t know and doesn’t rightly care what their intentions are, but they won’t transpire. That he does know because one way or another that ship will be returned to the navy, his navy, the only true navy humanity has. It will not remain in the hands of this assorted band of extremists hoping to break the order refined over millennia just so they can install their own.

“Where are the crew?” Stefan demands without further introductions. He tried the diplomatic route and to be gracious. It was thrown back in his face, so he will be direct and to the point now.

“They are safe. I can assure you of that.” The woman with the amber eyes utters in reply before a smug smirk creeps across her face.

Stefan will concede that she is smarter than most examples he has heard of in the Independent Navy. If further proof of that were needed than you would have to look no further than her ability to orchestrate the storming of a naval starship. Though what it was doing outside Unity Governments space Stefan cannot fathom, other than to say that it must have been either something very delicate or highly seditious. Probability is that Admiral Aurelius will never learn which, though he will try to even if his suspicions currently lean toward seditious for no other reason than the presence of this woman so bar her look does not fit in with the other pirates around her, but in a way Stefan cannot put his finger on.

“And to whom do I speak, seeing as you know my name but have not issued a reciprocal introduction?” Stefan questions sure he knows what the response will be.

“Why do you wish to know my name? Is it you wish to partake in some Unity Governments game or…” The woman replies more defensively than she should in response to such a banal question.

“So I know who I am meant to be taking the word of that the crew are safe.” Stefan fires back before she can continue. He knows his interjection will grate, but has no intention of releasing the reigns over dominance of this conversation.

“Natalia Vanderburg is my name Admiral, if you must know.” The woman utters in reply after a period of careful consideration and hesitation that suggests she might be lying. He won’t treat her as though she is however.

“Natalia, well seeing as you have been so gracious as to introduce yourself at last I will say this…to return your graciousness. I want a rundown of crew numbers and their status. Then, and only then, we can continue this chat.” Stefan issues his demand and then turns to Ensign Carmen Steele to issue a swift cutting motion across his throat with the index finger of his right hand.

Carmen reads the gesture as it is intended and kills the connection to the Guangzhou only for the restrained Captain Stapp to exclaim, “Are you mad? We need to negotiate! They are our people. You’re consigning them to their fates!”

“Silence Captain!” Stefan orders in frustration before adding, “We don’t negotiate with pirates, terrorists or whatever this lot may or may not wish to term themselves.”

“So you intend to leave them to their fates, you monster!” Vincent roars in disgust. He hoping his crew will mutiny and overthrow Admiral Aurelius for this. If they do so he would be reinstalled and released from these restraints on his wrists, which are biting horribly.

“No, I do not Captain. And do not have to explain myself to you. However, seeing as your obvious hope is that my actions will insight a mutiny against myself so you can be free once more, I’ll explain what I’m doing.” Stefan replies having called out exactly what Vincent had been intending, much to the surprise and horror of the restrained naval officer who blinks rapidly several times before then attempting to issue a rebuttal. However, he never gets the chance as Stefan cuts him off before he gets the chance to begin.

“I suspect Natalia Vanderburg is a traitor having turned from the navy to the Free Colonies cause and with it the Guangzhou was overrun by pirates she likely helped smuggle aboard. Perhaps she had the aid of some seditious crew members, perhaps not. It matters little to be frank with you.”

“I fail to see what this has to do with anything.” Vincent questions with a shrug.

“Of course you do and I’m starting to wonder whether you might be a part of this Captain. Now stay quiet, listen and you might, if not a traitor, actually come out of this with a modicum of intelligence that might save your cowardly flesh at some time in the future.” Stefan barks like only a long serving military soul can.

“How dare you!” Vincent thunders with angry defiance at the accusation.

“Oh I dare Captain because it’s written on your face. You want a victory without loss, without the hardship, but that is not how the universe works. I wish it was but it isn’t and to expect as much is to set yourself up for failure, which leads to the only reason as to why you might not be in on this. You aren’t brave enough.” Vincent gulps knowing but not wanting to admit that the words issued to him by Admiral Aurelius are correct, even though they are spot on the money. After all, Vincent only joined the Unity Governments Navy because his mother had been a Captain and had written into her Will that for him to get her substantial estate he would have to prove that he has the ability to dedicate himself to a cause greater than his own. He still hates her for that.

“Will the scanners be able to get an accurate read on life signs aboard the Guangzhou?” Stefan queries, his demeanour calm as he looks around the bridge unsure as to who might be responsible for such a role on this starship.

At one time he would have been well versed on the responsibilities held by bridge crew depending on their position on the bridge, but those days are over because politicians insist on keep moving things about. It’s exhausting busy work meant to fool everyone, but succeeding in doing no such thing, into believing they are making progress with real issues facing the people that have voted them into their respective offices. That alone is but one of the reasons as to why voting across the spectrum of human worlds averages out at about thirty seven percent of the eligible voting population. People don’t believe their political elite because that is exactly what they are, elite. They show no ability to understand and relate to the masses. Instead, they hide in their ivory towers having lived sheltered lives surrounded by all the amenities that ever be possibly available to them.

“Yes Admiral, the Path can do that.” A voice from behind him assures in the moments before Stefan does an about turn on the spot and then sets his eyes on a young man with an overly stiff posture as he stands at attention.

The sailors blue eyes are averted and remain facing forward while their black hair is combed flat against their scalp in a way that does not suit them at all.

Stefan remembers those days of being overly procedure heavy and in a desperate search for the look that best suits the rest of your features but also evokes the character you are trying to portray as your own until it becomes your own.

“What’s your name sailor?” Stefan asks with a warm half-smile meant to ease the trembling young sailors’ nerves.

“E-Ensign Hideo Cotillard, sir.” The young man answers with a stutter after having gulped hard barely a second before.

The gulp made no difference to the sailors’ nerves, which had still gotten the better of him, and how could they not? He is in the presence of one of the most famous living sailors in the Unity Governments Navy, Admiral Stefan Aurelius. Hideo can remember all the texts and manoeuvres he’d had to comb through, learn by heart and regurgitate. And all of them had been performed by the Admiral before he’d reached the lofty rank he now possesses.

“Ensign Cotillard, how long will that take, with a realistic timeframe son? I don’t want an over or under promise.” Stefan’s voice is authoritative and he stands with the index finger of his left hand outstretched to help illustrate the importance of the Ensign understanding the words that have just passed Stefan’s lips.

“Uh…T-ten minutes sir?” Hideo replies unsure and in a manner as if he is asking if ten minutes is appropriate to the Admiral and not answering the question himself.

“Is that a question sailor as to whether I’m willing to give you ten minutes, or…” Stefan says purposely trailing off as a smirk sits on his face. His expression, he hopes, will make it clear that he is fully aware of his reputation and is in no way angry with the stumbling of this young man. Hell, Stefan can remember when he had done much the same in the presence of his Captain when he’d first gotten onto a bridge crew. Her name had been Margaret Shen. Or, far worse, when he’d first met an Admiral, two in fact simultaneously, Leticia Wright and Theodore Schiepatti.

“Sorry sir, ten minutes sir.” Hideo then confirms after a quick silence during which he berated and then rapidly gathered himself to issue his reply.

“Ten minutes it is Ensign and not a second more.” Stefan confirms with agreement and a short sharp single nod of his head that is meant to convey and punctuate his approval. Then smile is gone and he is back to officer-in-command mode as he turns around and surveys the rest of the bridge crew, bar Captain Stapp. There is no need for Stefan to give that poor excuse of an officer any more attention than he has already been afforded in his life.

“Ensign Steel any further comms attempts from the Guangzhou?” Stefan asks mildly curious.

“No Admiral, all is quiet. And there has been no comms between the Guangzhou and the Independent Navy vessels either.” Carmen answers succinctly and with extra detail that results in a brief smile of thanks from Stefan in the moments prior to him turning and questioning, “Are guns loaded and ready?”

“They are sir.” A man, in what Stefan would guess is his early thirties, utters as he cranes his neck over his half turned shoulder to answer.

“And you are sailor?” Stefan queries wanting to know the names of everyone but feeling it unnecessary to just ask they shout them out as part of some slapdash version of a formal introduction. After all, this is neither the time nor the place for such things. Especially, as this is a chance meeting that had no prearrangement or planning behind it. Though, in some ways Stefan is glad this transpired. Not the boarding of the Guangzhou specifically, but his coming here, to this bridge, to meet this crew. If it hadn’t and he’d kept to his itinerary then he would never have known about the failures of the Path of Tomorrow’s Captain and that would have been tragic. This crew deserves a lot better than what they have been given and he aims to see that such a tragedy is fixed.

“Lieutenant Antonio Duplantier, Admiral. I’m weapons and defences alongside Lieutenant Sharon Balsonaro here.” Antonio, a man with thick black hair, healthy tan and bright brown eyes, says as he gestures to the woman sat next to him in the adjacent seat. Their positions are separated by a narrow walkway that leaves them with their own respective working spaces which comprises of a terminal that wraps around two sides of them.

“Lieutenants, can one of you tell me what we’re working with armaments wise here on the Path?” Stefan asks while his gaze flicks between the pair of faces before him who are now both craning their necks up, but not over their shoulders, to gaze at the man who is their temporary commanding officer.

Neither will admit it but it was past time that Captain Stapp got what was coming to him. Both have served the navy for more than a decade and have never been assigned to more spineless commanding officer who wants glory without any of the hard work associated with gaining it.

In fact, the Path rarely even completes its defined security route. The one that is meant to help ensure Free Colonies ships don’t breach the borders of Unity Governments space. Over that alone Ant and Shaz have put in countless reports, along with other crew members, attempting to draw attention to the breaches and yet they have, for seven months, gone unanswered. It’s like someone at naval command wants the Free Colonies to breach the borders and run amok doing whatever it is that they please whenever they feel like doing it.

“The Path is armed with thirty four forward facing battery cannons as well as three octopods of Hephaestus anti-armour rockets and twin barium rail-launchers, sir.” Lieutenant Sharon Balsonaro says as the ends of her brown cheek long hair slap against her pale skin, while her grey eyes look up at Admiral Aurelius with steely admiration.

Too Sharon, Admiral Aurelius is a man who perfectly represents all the greatest military leaders of the last three centuries of the Unity Governments third age of history. Men and women who helped guide humanity out of the darkness of the permanently war-torn worlds and into a period of relative peace, which for humanity is a miracle.

“Plus we have twelve rear cannons and oscillating mesh shields in both hull and bubble form for maximum protection, Admiral.” Antonio adds rounding out the quick rundown of what Admiral Aurelius has to work with while aboard and in command of the Path of Tomorrow.

Stefan whistles clearly impressed and then utters a few moments later, “Quite the arsenal I must say Lieutenants. I can see why you both look so proud to be among the bridge crew on this fine vessel and serving in the capacities that you both are.”

“Yes sir, we are sir. It is an honour sir.” Sharon cannot resist the urge to admit but in doing so she opens herself up to Antonio who gives her a look that jokingly conveys how much of a kiss ass she is.

“Will the Guangzhou be aware we are locked and loaded?” Stefan then questions unaware of the hybrid class vessels capabilities.

“The crew will be, if they are aware we are here sir. The pirates on the other hand I cannot say.” Antonio answers honestly. It’s refreshing because Captain Stapp wouldn’t have even asked; he would have just barked some order or another that likely wouldn’t have even made sense.

“I mean in terms of scans Lieutenant.” Stefan says sounding apologetic for not making the content of his question clear because he has already fallen back into an old habit from when he’d been the head of a vessel issuing orders to a crew well-versed in his peculiarities and tendencies.

“Oh. No sir. They won’t be aware that everything is loaded to fire from scans. They’ll only know that if we target Admiral.” Antonio confirms as Sharon joking rolls her eyes at Antonio to mock him for his mistake. It’s harmless payback for the earlier kiss ass look he gave her.

Because of it both have to resist the urge to smile at one another while in close proximity to Admiral Aurelius. After all, they are in his good books and wish to stay there, so there is no telling how he would take their back and forth joking jabs and antagonism if he became aware of it.

“Good. Stay alert though, as anything could happen in this potential combat situation.” Stefan then reminds more out of habit than anything else and without realising it until he is met with replies from the two Lieutenants of, “Yes sir.”

“Combat! We’re not in combat!” Vincent roars digging himself into a further hole because he knows it will not impact him in any negative way no matter what Admiral Aurelius might think or wish to try when this is all over.

“If all you are going to do is take snipes following periods of half paying attention then you can stop right now, Captain.” Stefan says calmly. Though, his emphasis on Captain suggests Stefan doesn’t believe the man warrants the rank he possesses, and if he were asked he’d answer straight and say he doesn’t believe this Stapp deserves it or any other rank ever.

If Stefan had his way he’d have the Captain ejected from the service right here and now, but that would be childish, short-sighted and nowhere near as damaging as what will happen, which is the loss of his crew, and maybe the Path too. Though, the loss of the starship depends entirely on where it ranks among the hierarchy of capabilities among all naval starships. If it is toward the lower end he can keep it. But, if the Path of Tomorrow happens to be toward the more capable end, as he is pretty sure it is, he won’t be. It’ll get a new, much better and well suited Captain, chosen by Stefan.

Vincent grumbles but says nothing else in the minutes that follow. In fact, very little is said by anyone following Stefan having completed introductions with the remainder of the bridge crew, during which he gets everyone’s name, rank and role on the Path of Tomorrow.

“Admiral, I have the results of the scan.” Hideo declares with ten minutes having just about elapsed.

Stefan is impressed by not only the punctuality but also the dedication that the young Ensign has shown in making sure that he completed a task when he indicated that he would.

“What do you have for me Ensign?” Stefan asks wanting a quick summary.

“There are, in addition to those on the bridge, sixty others spread throughout the ship at what look like strategic points plus fifty more signatures in the mess hall sir.” Hideo explains in as fewer words as he can achieve.

“What should the crew of the Guangzhou be?” Stefan asks unfamiliar with the starship but remembering a number of two hundred though not sure where that figure originally came from.

“There would be thirty main crew sir.” Sharon advises putting her substantial starship knowledge to good use.

“Is that all?” Stefan queries surprised as he finally recalls the figure of two hundred was something mentioned on the newsfeed.

“Escape pods have been jettisoned.” Hideo adds after having sifted through the rest of the data afforded to him by the scan.

“Not as bright as you thought, Admiral.” Vincent says with a mocking tone and a grin on his face.

“If you have something to say Captain, either get on with it or keep that mouth of yours shut. It’s your choice. I care little either way.”

“The Guangzhou abandoned ship. Only vital crew stayed behind.” Vincent informs being helpful for the first time since Stefan’s arrival.

“Why did it abandon?” Stefan queries out loud and to himself before returning to the moment to question, “What about the rest of the crew? Where are they?”

“Onboard a couple naval transport ships that picked them up as they drifted aimlessly a quadrant over. Also the last position the Guangzhou pinged before all this began.” Vincent admits seeing no reason to keep the information from the Admiral before him. After all, this isn’t about his disdain for the man, this is about fellow sailors and no one should be left on the hook regarding the fates of their own. Even if the man is a dinosaur determined to bathe his hands in blood and keep the navy in the past where it needs to move away from, in Vincent’s opinion.

“What was it doing there?” Stefan feels a need to know but suspecting that such information, if Captain Stapp knows it, may not be forthcoming.

“How should I know?” Vincent says with a shrug.

It’s a lie and a thinly veiled one at that because he does know and could tell Admiral Aurelius. Not that it’s some big secret as after all it was on a routine security check when communication was lost. But Vincent doesn’t feel like sharing any more than he already has. That is beyond what he has deemed necessary. It’s exactly what Stefan would have expected, though he would be amiss if he did not admit to himself that he had held out a small spark of hope that Captain Stapp might do the right thing. It’s clear he won’t and that was to be expected. They don’t have a working relationship, or any other kind for that matter. They are opposite sides of the same coin and as such will never be able to meet. Stefan has been forced to deal with many similar people throughout his career and yet he finds it no less exhausting, so has already settled to put it aside and move on.

“Open comms with the Guangzhou.” Admiral Aurelius orders with a confident nod of his head.

Without a word, Carmen makes the comms request which is automatically accepted. Then she offers a nod of her own, in silence, to signal to Admiral Aurelius that the channel is open. Seconds later the viewport wall leaps to life. The scene hasn’t changed and still shows Natalia and her pirate crew in the same positions they were before when he’d spoken to them.

“Admiral you’re back, and here I was about to start executing crew until on an open frequency until you were willing to acknowledge my presence.” Natalia’s voice is cruel and she makes no attempt to keep her threats veiled. Her eyes glare at the screen in a manner she obviously hopes will unnerve the Admiral.

“If you are trying to elicit some sort of apology or outburst then I’m afraid you are speaking to the wrong man. I care little for threats, so how about you dispose with your rhetoric and get to whatever point it is you wish to make.” Stefan demands.

“And you think making demands of me is wise? When I have the Guangzhou’s crew and there are nearly two dozen of my men, armed, keeping guard over them ready to fire if I give the order.” Natalia’s voice is steady but perhaps not quite as sure as it was before. Stefan’s orders have rattled her. She just hopes he doesn’t know that.

“So they aren’t on the bridge with you then, the crew I mean?” Stefan asks skating past her confrontational words and knowing full well they are not, but wanting to clarify nonetheless.

“No, they aren’t on the bridge Admiral. They aren’t useful here. They’re useful where I have them captive under armed guard out of the way. Now stop with the delaying tactics and open your ears. I suspect even you, an Admiral of the Unity Governments Navy, is capable of listening from time to time. Am I right?” Natalia says sounding sure again.

Stefan isn’t paying attention and quickly gestures for Carmen to mute the connection so they are incapable of hearing what he is about to say.

“Lieutenants Balsonaro and Duplantier target the bridge and wait for my mark.” Stefan orders without hesitation.

“What? Are you mad? That is a navy ship. You can’t…” Vincent begins to scream but is quickly silenced when Philippe slams the butt of his carbine into the side of the restrained man’s head and just as Stefan finished turning toward the Captain.

“Sorry sir.” Philippe remarks with a shrug in the seconds before Stefan’s expression breaks from severe and forms into a smirk.

“As you were Captain.” Stefan remarks swiftly in the moments prior to him gesturing for the mute to be ended, which he does so as he turns back to face forward once more.

“Those are all good terms Natalia, however…” Stefan says taking a pause for breath that he knows will irritate her.

“…we, I, don’t negotiate with pirates, or whatever you wish to call yourselves.” Stefan continues.

“We are members of the Independent Navy…” Natalia explodes angrily in response, outraged by Admiral Aurelius’ statements, except she is cut off, for what is now the second time, by Stefan as he picks up from where he left off.

“Yes, well, semantics. You call yourselves members of an independent navy and yet you have stolen one of our vessels. By logical definition you are pirates, so I will issue you with a single chance, which I urge you to consider before making any possibly rash decisions or remarks.” Stefan’s voice is strong, commanding and gives nothing about his intentions away, much like a wall of stone would not.

“Typical…” Natalia snarls and then continues, “…still think you’re in command here. I should have just blasted the crew out the airlocks and been done with it.”

“Perhaps you should have. But you did not and so here we are.” Natalia can scarcely believe the words that have just passed the Admiral’s lips when all of a sudden one of her bridge crew signals her.

Stefan can imagine what they feel compelled to tell her so he remarks, “Feel free to put me on mute while you address whatever it is that your colleague is trying to bring to your attention Natalia. I’ll wait.” Stefan issues a sickly sweet smile right after his words.

Natalia feels the expression is uncharacteristic of the man before her, that she does not like, and who was not supposed to be present.

From her Intel she was supposed to be speaking with a man named Vincent Stapp. But he doesn’t seem to be anywhere. She isn’t worried though. This is just a setback in the plan. Like the ejection of the escape pods was and all because her mole, Arthur James, couldn’t manage to stay sober long enough to disable a few key systems that made the boarding of the Guangzhou a breeze compared to what it should have been.

Still, Natalia says nothing in response. She has no quick-witted remark. So she simply snarls and then stabs the mute button from her end of the comms broadcast. A button which is on the armrest of the Captains seat she has claimed as her own. Then she turns her attention to Suresh and barks, “What is it that you feel is so important to inform me of but which makes me look like a fool in the middle of this negotiation?” The veins on her neck pop as she fights the urge to resort to physical violence, the only language her Free Colonies crewmates understand.

Spittle flies from her bared white teeth, while her brow is furrowed with deep angry lines and a more severe burning anger than had already occupied her eyes is present for all to see.

Suresh at first debates whether he should actually speak. After all, Natalia is known as having a violent temper.

The last person she focused on with such contempt at a time she deigned inopportune got ejected out an airlock without a suit, or clothes for that matter, and then just before he died had a length of hollow steel tube fired through his gut so that he could be towed behind the ship as a reminder.

 Finally, he decides that not saying anything will likely turn out worse for him than speaking and so he stutters, “T-they have a lock on us mistress.”

“You interrupted me to inform that a UGN vessel has a lock on us. Of course they have a fucking lock on us you dense primate! It’s standard operating procedure!” Natalia screams angrily. Her arms gesticulate to further convey her outrage as Suresh shrinks back into his seat, his tanned face now decidedly more pale.

Suresh can barely believe the words that are about to come out of his mouth and yet he knows he has to speak them, “No mistress…you misunderstand…”

Natalia’s face twists somehow further and manages to grow darker than it already had been, but she intends to hold her tongue, for the moment. Truthfully, she has already decided Suresh’s fate and swears that it’ll include a lot of screaming.

“…their weapons aren’t locked on the Guangzhou, their locked on us, the bridge mistress.”

“WHAT?!?” Natalia booms at the top of her lungs a second before she removes the mute and demands, “You have your weapons trained on us. I will begin executing the crew; mark my words Admiral I am not bluffing here. Test me and you will lose. This is a negotiation and as part of negotiation there is a back and forth. A discussion! Yet, so far it has been remarkably one-sided, from me! Now, what do you have to say?”

“I reject all your conditions. I reject…everything about you. You hold no power here. You are not going to execute any of the Guangzhou’s crew and the ship will be returned to us, post haste.” Stefan declares without once raising his voice, stuttering or pausing after the short silent prior to his reply.

“And what makes you think I’m going to do all that?” Natalia questions defiantly.

“You don’t need to. At no point did I say I was doing a deal. Or that you would be involved.” Stefan stops speaking to Natalia in that instant and orders, “Fire.”

Sharon complies and four seconds later a single double shot from one of the Path of Tomorrow’s forward battery cannons lances out of the barrel on its journey across a section of the empty void of space.

In the precious seconds before Admiral Stefan Aurelius orders the comms link severed, the pirate bridge crew begin to scramble as part of some vein attempts to escape their inevitable fates, except for Natalia. She attempts no such thing. Rather, she roars defiantly in the face of certain death. Though, Stefan picks out the change in her eyes. Where there had been rage before he glimpses fear now. Then the connection is severed and just as it is the twin rounds slam into the bridge of the Guangzhou.

In less than a second the bridge of the captured starship is ripped to shreds, the pirate crew atomised in the explosion along with much of the metal and composite materials that had formed its contents. The few pieces that are not atomised begin to drift off across the inky black of space slower than you might imagine they would as they whirl end over end. These tiny rotations of the fragments perform a much higher number of revolutions compared to their own forward momentum from their point of origin.

Stefan and the bridge crew of the Path stare at the sight through the viewport wall in silence as they watch.

“Mobilise all infiltration units. I want the Guangzhou retaken and the crew safely rescued and secured.” Admiral Stefan Aurelius says without a hint of remorse for the lives he has just ended.

It might not be the conclusion that anyone else in the Unity Governments Navy would have brought this too, but it is how he has decided to conclude it, without the loss of sailors and with minimal damage to one of their starships. The four Independent Navy starships already turning tale to run back to wherever it is they came from within Free Colonies space.

Fragmented System Memory

Stop reminiscing
About what is missing
Its dead and gone
Lets move on

Change is a factor that must be felt
No point in demanding that it can’t be dealt
Cause what goes up must come down
Doesn’t matter if its life, love or a frown
As everything fades in the end
Just don’t let it drive you around the bend

Stop reminiscing
About what is missing
Its dead and gone
Lets move on

Picture the perfect scene for two
Not a reality that will come for you
There are factors that will keep coming back
They all pile up until they become a stack
Then just when you think it is done
It’ll come tumbling down on someone

Stop reminiscing
About what is missing
Its dead and gone
Lets move on

Dysfunction assumption is the junction
A road down which we have no induction
Its just a path that we hoped to avoid
But the problem is we became the droid
Just parts within the organic machine
Hence how we became dark in the dream

Stop reminiscing
About what is missing
Its dead and gone
Lets move on

Poison

Poison in my veins
There go my brains
My time is now short
Before I go kaput

So live as I please
Ignore stupidity
My life may soon be over
But it won’t go quietly

I’ll spit and I’ll scream
Happen like a dream
You may wish me ill
As you write with your quill

Now just remember here
How you grinned from ear to ear
What a sick face to see
Knew it was you killing me

Pity you’ve been tricked
I didn’t consume it
And now you’re guilt is free
Say goodbye to everybody

Face Of Your Destruction

Lie through disaster of yester year
Or maybe just grab another beer
Leave the dregs with pure fear
Another shot that got us here

So with the putrid state of decay
Watch the world as it spins away
Gargle glass for another hope
Or will you continue to mope?

Weave in the ash of fallen trees
A time to come where there are no bees
What remains is only decay
As you cry hip hip hurray

Polarise the magnetic cost
Then sell life until you’re lost
The cryptic clue that blinds you still
That is why we’ve reached the end of thrill

Possessed by ghost of hours past
Members of a forgotten caste
What a crime that was to commit
Hence why we now live in this pit

Wrap the coils around the frost
Return of the endless dross
While chains keep us here
Recall that nothing will end the universe sneer

X Number Times Ten

Whats the difference between sixteen and six?
Both are close enough to mix
The latest excuse in a long line
Next you’ll be saying that a computer committed crime
Sounds so dumb and its why you can’t explain
Just stop with the lies cause they’re lame
All you’re doing is just digging a grave
At no point is what you’re doing an ounce of brave
Ignoring all that you don’t want to hear
Screaming aloud about how they should adhere
Kinda funny when you refuse to admit
That you are the problem with all of it
A mouth without a single cell
Feels like swimming through thick gel
Maybe its what’s left of your brain
Wouldn’t surprise me cause you have no shame
Keep repeating all the latest lies
Hoping no one can see you’re not wise
Problem is its the most obvious thing
You ain’t fooling anyone about being clear by spring
So I beg of you just open your eyes
If you don’t then numbers will continue to rise

Sole Remnants

Alright. This week it’s another Sci-Fi story. Again, I’ve managed to keep this one on the shorter end (roughly 10,500 words). This one is a little different as there is no violence. It’s definitely more about the journey. Even had an idea for a follow up. Not going to say anymore as I don’t want to give anything away. So without further delay here is Sole Remnants.

A small, fast, angular anthracite coloured starship named Journeyman drops out of a slipstream space tunnel above an unnamed planet. There the starship lingers and floats amongst the emptiness of space. From the outside there is nothing to say that the Journeyman has any issues. Meanwhile inside, Engineer Vanessa Hall is lying on her back under a console mumbling and grumbling to herself as she tries to work out and fix whatever it is that has just short-circuited.

The five foot nine inch tall woman with the left side of her head shaved and the right side coloured red and a little past her shoulder has a wrench in hand. It’s a primitive tool for such an advanced starship but has proved a useful option more often than it has not.

Suddenly sparks fly from the interior of the console as wires that should not cross touch. Vanessa curses angrily and then in frustration bangs the wrench in her hand against something on the inside of the narrow crowded space she is trying to work in. The strikes are frantic but do the trick as the sparking stops just in time to prevent it from growing enough to risk burning any of the skin on her otherwise sweat covered tanned face. Not that the other two members of the Journeyman’s crew can see her face or exactly what Vanessa has to deal with and suffer through.

Jeff and Sam, the other two members of the starship crew, are both stood less than a metre away from the console, near Vanessa’s feet as she works at efficiently as she is able given the limitations presented to her. Neither of them knows what to say so they keep quiet. Both have made the mistake previously of offering suggestions only to find their heads bitten off and a query as to whether they want to fix the latest in a string of failures all on their own.

However, after a couple additional minutes of grunting, sighing, cursing and grumbling Vanessa withdraws from the too tight space for her to effectively work in. As she stands she turns to cast her bright green eyes across the faces of her fellow travellers.

“Well, what’s the prognosis Van?” Sam asks with a quiet voice as they stand there with both arms folded across their chest.

“Do you want the direct answer or the technical one?” Vanessa replies with a snort and a quick roll of her neck. She hopes the roll of her neck will get rid of the stiffness she now feels in it as a result of having been under the console and held herself at a less than comfortable angle for as long as she did.

Sam says nothing as they instead contemplate what might be the best choice of the two, especially seeing as the look on Vanessa’s face is one of irritation. Whether the look is a result of the question issued to the engineer or the fault she had moments ago been trying to fix Sam cannot say.

“Direct.” Jeff declares without wanting to delay and wait for Sam to make a decision that may or may not be over thought. It’s not surprising given that Sam is the Journeyman’s pilot and navigations officer. They’re competent enough. That might be underselling the blue eyed crew member with curly brown hair down to the chin but it’s the best Jeff is willing to give until he knows Sam can land this bullet shaped vessel without snapping a landing gear or causing more failures than this hunk of metal seems to suffer from without warning.

Jeff has never in all his eighteen years of space travelling known a ship, especially a brand new one like this, suffer from as many faults, failures and glitches as it has. Still, it was the best he could charter in the time he had available to him. Though, had he been able to get a crew before the ship then he might have had a clue as to what to and to not charter for this voyage on behalf of the Coalition of Planetary Governments, more commonly referred to as the CPG.

“It’s fucked.” Is Vanessa’s direct reply that comes less than a second later.

Sam is taken aback by the outburst. They aren’t used to the direct and often colourful language used by Meridians like Vanessa. Jeff on the other hand as a native of the neighbouring Centauri is well versed in the sort of language that is common place amongst Meridians. In truth, if Sam thinks this is bad then they should hear a Meridian once they get going. When such a thing does occur, more words are curses than not. That in itself makes it difficult to fathom as to what exactly it is that has put them in such a foul mood to begin with. Thankfully, Vanessa is more communicative than most of her fellow systemers.

“Can it be fixed?” Jeff asks feeling a need to keep the conversation moving forward.

Vanessa offers no more than a shrug in response. It isn’t the answer Jeff would like but it’s more than he could have got which should have been a string of angry expletives spat right in his face. For that reason alone he’ll take it. He knows Vanessa is more than a decent engineer. If she wasn’t they’ll still be floating within the asteroid belt of Numa near their launch point on Cartouche.

That was when the first system failure occurred aboard the Journeyman. It had been a simple fix, according to Vanessa. He agreed in retrospect, not because of any knowledge of starships but because only one curse left her lips during the diagnostic and repair session that followed. Had it been difficult or troublesome there would have been many more than that.

“Ok. Will it affect our ability to land in-atmosphere and re-launch?” Jeff then asks feeling a need to know how big of an issue and set back this could be to why they are out here.

“It shouldn’t. Don’t think the sparks fried anything else in that shitbox.” Vanessa says wiping her overall sleeves across her thin face in hopes of removing some of the sweat that is beading and running down it even though she is no longer crammed into the tight under space of the console mounting and its electrical innards.

“Is there any way of checking?” Sam sounds nervous as the words leave their mouth. Perhaps more nervous than they would like, but it’s too late now the question has been spoken.

However, they do seem to have gotten over the curse words that have and likely will continue to leak from Vanessa’s mouth. That surprises Jeff, though he isn’t about to comment on it encase the adjustment is subconscious and Sam is not aware of it.

“Yeah, land.” Vanessa replies before offering a forced smile.

Her smile is in no way reassuring nor humourous, but Jeff doesn’t think that it’s supposed to be either. Sam on the other hand gulps and takes a half way step. It seems they have misread Vanessa’s body language and think that the Meridian engineer might be about to try and throw a fist at them. Vanessa won’t, or at least Jeff doesn’t think she will. He can’t be sure. He knows that. He just doesn’t believe it’s in-keeping with the woman’s character. What little he’s managed to ascertain about her character that is.

They could have done with more time to gel and ensure that they would be able to fit and work as a cohesive team but the CPG weren’t willing to delay. This mission is of the highest priority and needed to be underway before anyone started asking questions as to why the foremost expert on pre-human civilizations has suddenly disappeared off the face of human space. Especially as all his bookings and agreed upon public appearances have been cancelled without warning or comment.

Jeff wonders how the CPG managed it without word getting out. He hasn’t a clue but should that really be something on his mind right now? Perhaps not, but it is and he can still scarcely believe that the CPG came to him, Doctor Jeff Welty, with the offer of being sent beyond human occupied space to a planet believed to have an advanced civilization. It was the chance of a lifetime. And not one he could pass up. Though, that was not to say that he didn’t have reservations given his prior commitments. To those reservations the representative appointed to him by the CPG, as he was not allowed to meet the members in person, paid off all the cancellation fees. Or at least that is the impression he got from the rep from what they intimated and insinuated without clearing saying that such a thing is what they categorically did. That’s the trouble with politics, no one speaks plainly. It’s all veiled and flowery. Because of that it can be taken a number of ways. It just depends on the person it’s delivered to as to how it is interpreted, and done so there is wiggle room. Just enough of it in fact to allow the originator of those words to be able to writhe free if things turn sour and they need a quick out. Jeff hates it.

“Hey daydreamer, want to give us an order seeing as this little excursion is your big show?” Vanessa says with a wave of one of her dirt speckled hands across the middle of Jeff’s vision.

The gesture has the desired effect as Jeff snaps out of his daze that is the retreading of events that have led him to this moment.

Still, he feels the need to clear his throat as he would if about to give one of his talks. Then realises where he is and who his audience are. With that he readjusts his intentions and simply says, instead of projects like he would in an auditorium filled with students or adoring fans, “We run a diag just to be sure no other systems are caput and then, if everything is green, we set down.”

Jeff’s sounds gleeful as the last few words of his reply, which in reality are an order, leave his lips. His smile is wide but his eyes are wider still, and sparkling. He can scarcely believe the words that he has spoken yet he cannot bring himself to deliver a pinch to his flesh to ensure this isn’t part of some elaborate dream he might be about to wake from at any moment.

“It’ll take an hour, you good with that Doc?” Vanessa queries with a raised eyebrow that is perfectly timed with the conclusion of the question.

Jeff says nothing. Instead he nods frantically to convey that he is fine with it, though it looks like he might not be able to contain himself and may explode. Vanessa doesn’t get why Doctor Welty is so excited. They’re just visiting a rock. Humans inhabit thousands of them, but he’s paying and so gets to be as excited or not as he likes, as long as he doesn’t expect her to be as well. That is not in the contract. If he wants it to be he’ll have to pay extra, after a negotiation.

Jeff soon realises the dopey look that must be etched on his face so quickly regains composure. It’s too late to deny that it occurred, so he settles on not explaining. However, he wonders whether he should let Sam and Vanessa in on why they are really out here.  After all, it’s not like they can back out now. They are here, above their destination. The one handed to him by the CPG rep, figuratively. The CPG, even their reps, never hand anything over physically and literally. It is no doubt another part of their bureaucracy and gives them the option for plausible deniability.

Suddenly, Jeff realises he hasn’t surveyed the view. He chastises himself for that failing. Especially as at the end of the day it is part of the reason he is here.

Perhaps he’ll be able to view something of importance from orbit. He would be able to with a human occupied world. But as to whether this civilization is as developed he cannot say. Though he can hope.

That is why you should be analysing while we’re still beyond planetary orbit, you dolt. The voice in his head is bitter about his dallying. So without further ado he quickly ask if there is anything else that needs to be determined or whether everything is clear and the process can begin. Vanessa shrugs. It’s what he would expect seeing as in her mind she is here as an engineer, nothing else. The ship is where her responsibilities begin and end. She won’t be leaving the confines of the Journeyman. She had made that clear. Jeff isn’t sure why but he respects her demands and won’t go back on the agreement they’ve entered into. Though, it strikes him that perhaps she would not be interested in why they are out here. Yet, keeping the truth from her is something that he would consider as not being typical or in-keeping with his character.

He’ll tell Sam first. They’ll understand. They will be venturing outside of the Journeyman with him. Jeff had made sure to check if that would be alright for them and they advised that it would. Doctor Welty had been thankful when he’d heard them confirm that such a thing would be acceptable.

If Sam too had refused, or had been the first of the pair he had talked to, then he would have been forced to hire another crew member and with the starship already chartered that could have lead to issues. The Journeyman after all is a small starship, with space for three members of crew. Well, in truth it could house five but that would require significant others to be aboard and that is something this trio are certainly not likely to be. At least in Jeff’s eyes that is the case.

For him this is a purely professional excursion. He expects it is the same for Sam and Vanessa, though he cannot be one hundred percent sure if he is to be brutally honest and frank with himself. Yet, something tells him that Sam and Vanessa are not each other’s type. If either of them have a type that is. They may not he realises soon after making such assumptions that are markedly out of character for him seeing as he is a man who has made his career on never concluding without sufficient detail.

Is this a conclusion however? He doesn’t know. It could just be a possibility and Doctor Jeff Welty often indulges in possibilities, what’s and ifs. He has to in his line of work seeing as humanity has yet to find an advanced sentient civilization and make contact with them. This could be that day. He knows that and absentmindedly rubs his hands together for a few seconds before becoming aware of the action. When he becomes aware of it he goes stiff as panic fills him and he expects to be met with questions. He isn’t and as he looks around he finds to his relief that he is alone. When Sam and Vanessa returned to their work he does not know. Though, he is thankful for it as if they had still been present then he would have felt more embarrassed than he already does for his actions.

He quickly banishes his embarrassment, spins about and heads for the narrow diamond shaped space that serves as the ‘bridge’ of the Journeyman. To call it that is decidedly inaccurate in his mind but apparently correct terminology.

He would describe it, in his own vernacular, as a cockpit because of its limited size and space.

Prized Phony

I vent it all but it won’t go down
Feel like my head is being crushed by the crown
Thorns so sharp they tear at the flesh
Not in line to believe I’ll get a refresh
Instead I’ll sink into the shadowy abyss
The one from which came all of this
Cause this throne and all my riches
None of it came from graft and stitches
A few shrewd deals helped me get ahead
All while I pretended to be dumber than lead
Amazing how much people can fail to see
Especially when they think you’re dumb and crazy
Not to say that I didn’t have some help
Made a deal with a devil that was sealed with a skelp
Now you know how it all came to be
Forgot to consider what he’d do to me
Its why my head will soon be rended
For this promise the devil must be condemed
So these last words will make the claim
No one will ever legitimately win this game

Universe

Stare out at the void while it passes by
Vacuum of space will never cease to shine
So drink in the sights cause there are no sounds
Light is all that does shine through on this canvas of nighttime

Specks of white on the inky black
You have to admit you won’t go back
Found your place out amongst the stars
That sparkle and gleam like you’re living a dream

Spheres so distinct that they’re never the same
Each one a world worthy of study til insane
But there are so many that you just can’t achieve
And that reality only brings you more joy than you can believe

Gazing through the glass at the universe
Trying to fathom how it’s so diverse
Cause there is beauty in every sight you behold
Just remember to never forget that it’s worth more than gold

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