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Synthorian

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-11
16:00


Michi Aurelia Elizabeth Maganza gazed pensively out of the sleek little yacht’s sweeping windows, drinking in the view as they approached. Vekta Prime was an inferno of industry, a once-barren planet slowly being covered in the creeping metal tendrils of industrial blast furnaces, endless factory complexes and sprawling production lines, its face scarred by centuries of strip-mining and quarrying on an almost inconceivable scale. Even its atmosphere – thin and laden with exotic industrial pollutants from the never-ceasing foundries – bore human incursion; the spires of hypercorporation towers standing proudly above the clouds, the din, the noise and the hive-like drudgery of the lower levels.

The planetary orbits, too, were as cluttered and busy as the rest. There were satellites strung like pearls across a hundred different altitudes, networks of microgravity foundries and laboratories with a constant shuttle of small craft dancing between them, orbital warehouses and – the crucible of it all – the shipyards themselves, dominating the planetary view.

Stretching for miles, sprawling spiderwebs of gleaming metal burning in the light of the twin suns of Vekta-2 and Vekta-4, they were the pinnacle of industry in the system, where raw material from the asteroid smelters and the planetside factories was forged into everything from in-system cutters to the latest Union battleship.

UNSF Tevura had come from here, as in fact had her own runabout, the little indulgence she was currently using for her trip to Vekta Orbital, but whilst she was grateful to the system, and impressed by the industrial colossus, it wasn’t somewhere she’d ever wanted to live. Too much of a rat-race, drearily industrialized until that was the be-all and end-all.

“Coming in to dock, captain,” came the pilot’s soft, lilting voice, shaking her out of her reverie. Sure enough, the vast bulk of Vekta Orbital turned serenely close by, studded with a million points of light that grew and grew as they drew ever nearer.

Very good, pilot,” Michi replied, her voice calm and unruffled. She ignored the stupendous sight in front of them with a spacer’s long ease, and focused on the task in hand. First impressions were important, after all, and the gravity of what lay ahead could scarcely be overstated. For that reason, she was in immaculate mess-dress, her skin just a shade or two lighter than the space-black of the perfectly-tailored uniform. Gold braid gleamed brightly against it, the three rings at her cuffs marking each of her commands, and her constellation of medals – the actual medals themselves, gleaming clusters of gems and precious metal rather than the more usual ribbons – shone like miniature suns in the night.

Docking was always a tricky manoeuvre, even with the most modern software and AI ship-handling routines, made even more so by the frenetic activity of Vekta Orbital, but Michi’s pilot was one of UNSF Tevura’s best, and he handled her sleek yacht with consummate skill, slotting them into the endless streams of traffic with barely a ripple and setting them down in their allocated bay – one of thousands, easily – without so much as a hum of protest from the gravitics.

Nicely done, Mr. Quartermain,” she complimented as the doors hissed open and she disembarked, taking a breath of station air laden with grease and the tang of hot metal. “Enjoy your shore leave.” Everywhere there were people – teams of mechanics racing from one job to the next, counter-grav forklifts humming to and fro with pallet upon pallet of cargo, customs officials and the dock police looking busy and officious – and Michi let herself be swept away into the tide.

That was the trick – you didn’t fight it. Swim with it, ride it to your destination, move through the currents of people, always being in just the right place at the right time, as natural as a sunrise. Other people found it difficult or downright impossible – Michi had never understood why. Half of it was just patterns, seeing the greater whole in the lesser pattern, and the other half was knowing where you were. She had always known that, and the Captain slipped into the teeming mass of humanity that was Vekta Orbital easily.

Her credentials meant she skipped the Gordian knot of customs and immigration – there were perks to being in the military, after all – and she soon found herself at her destination. A quick once-over – uniform still perfect, dress shoes still glossy and bright, not a single braid of silvery hair out of place – and then in, striding forward with measured confidence, bracing to her white-gloved salute with the ease of long service.

Captain Maganza, reporting for the selection process,” she stated smartly, offering a brief but courteous smile.

A young blonde receptionist smiled at her with a somewhat tired face, having most likely spent most of the day here without much of a break, directing the applicants to their designated interview rooms. “I bid you Welcome to Vekta Prime Orbital, Captain. I assume you are here because of you Section 1-24-C Application?” The question was purely rhetorical, since the Captain’s formal attire was a dead give away.

“May I please see your Citizen PassCard for confirmation?”

Michi nodded sharply. “Of course. A moment, if you please.” Quickly sliding her hand into her pocket, she tugged out the slim piece of elaborately-hologrammed and watermarked plastic, encoded with the very best in Union security and all her personal data besides - DNA, fingerprints and much else besides, every physical parameter and particular faithfully recorded. “Here you go, miss.” It gleamed brightly in the receptionist’s hands, and Michi kept an eye on it, more out of habit than anything, maintaining her perfect poise.

“Thank you.” The young woman took the card, and effortlessly passed it over the scanner that was behind the desk. A hologram appeared in between Michi and the receptionist, detailing the relevant identification information about the mess-dressed woman before her.

Satisfied, she handed the Captain’s PassCard back with the same smile as she greeted her with. “Here you are.” She said as she turned back to the hologram at large, the interface changing with the keystrokes of her slender fingers, checking a database of thousands upon thousand of appointments for the day, all of them, just to be on the Dreadnought.

“You are the 185th selected applicant for the Captain’s role, ma’am.” She glanced back at the Captain to read her expression at the note more than anything else. “Mr. Casvak will see you in Room 28 - 3rd Floor.” With a polite nod, she added. “Good Luck, Ma’am.”

Much obliged.” Michi’s own smile was bright and white, there and gone in a flash. This would be the plum command in the entire Fleet; everyone wanted it. Hardly surprising that every captain - and probably every admiral worth their salt who wasn’t hopelessly superannuated - had thrown their cap into the ring. Such an opportunity came along once in most people’s lifetime, and even with life-extension it was a rare thing. Still, a hundred and eighty-four candidates before her, and heavens knew how many after...

Not the time to dwell on it. “And good luck to yourself, too, given that list.” She nodded towards the still-scrolling hologram and then wheeled smartly towards the stairs, her boots clicking at a measured pace on the polished floor. Three floors - definitely no need for a lift.

The third floor stretched off into anonymity when she arrived, a network of hallways and doors and discreet signage. Very bureaucratic. Third floor, room twenty-eight. Mr. Casvak. As often happened, the directions squirrelcaged around in her forebrain, even as her optical overlay helpfully drew a route on her vision, a gleaming turquoise line in midair.

Remember, Michi, you are good enough to be here. Jimmy Beaufort and Rear Admiral Akriti wouldn’t have supported you if they didn’t think so.’ There! Room Twenty-Eight, an anonymous rectangle of metal with a discreet number 28 lasered into its surface. She pressed her hand to the controls, waiting for its acknowledgement, and when it chirped cheerfully in acknowledgement she stepped forwards smartly.

Her eyes drank in the room revealed, gaze sweeping every detail even as her mouth murmured the expected courtesies. “Captain Maganza reporting. Mr. Casvak, I presume?

“Ah…” The man stood from his seat. The place looked like an interrogation room, two chairs across from each other, and a simple table in between. It seemed like the room, as well as perhaps many of the others, were simply, and hastily assembled, solely for the purpose of these interviews.

The man himself was middle-aged, around the same age as Maganza, with the odd grey hair complimenting his sleek business haircut. He extended his hand in greeting for a shake. “The very same. Please, take a seat Captain.”

She shook his hand, briefly but firmly, trying to get a measure of the man. “Thank you, Mr. Casvak.” It was almost a certainty that there were others listening in; in this day and age it was laughably easy to observe and interact from afar. There were far too many power sources and cables humming with energy threaded through the fabric of the office for even Michi’s enhanced sight to identify any such devices, but she resolved to keep it in mind as best she could. Mr. Casvak was important, no doubt about that, but there were almost certainly others watching and listening in the shadows.

Obediently sat opposite the business-suited gentleman - not obviously military, maybe Intelligence, or possibly even a government official - she regarded him closely, looking for the flaws, the clues, the angles. People gave a lot away, often without meaning to, in the tone of their voice, the shift of their body, the shift and change of expressions across their face, and Michi’s neural lace helped her catalogue and identify each and every one.

“Right…” The man took his seat, and while the Captain had not noticed before, there was a folder on the table, a Paper folder, of all things. Paper was rarely used these days, if at all. The only thing that came to mind would be traditional art.

He opened the folder slowly, being careful with it as he was presented with the very first page of Captain Maganza’s entire life, on print. “With the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get started.” He gave her a long scanning gaze before he continued. “I assume you fully understand the seriousness of this application. Being the Captain of a Dreadnought is not by any means an easy task.”

She returned his gaze levelly, evenly, her own eyes wide and dark and utterly guileless. “Quite so. Nothing worthwhile ever is, in my experience - and a dreadnought is a rare experience indeed! I would like to think that my command experiences-” the constellation of medals at her breast gleamed in the dim light, and acres of densely-printed old-fashioned type detailed chapter and verse of her captaincies, from the fraught running battle that was her action in the Reach, acting as a Q-ship against armed merchant raiders, through to the triumphant Battle of Matapan, where UNSF Tevura had been the hammer-and-anvil against a bloody coup attempt “-will stand me in good stead, but I would be a fool not to admit that command of the Apollyon - should I be granted the honour, of course - will be new territory in many ways.” A brief smile, bright white against her dark skin. “For myself, for the crew, and for the Union.

“Hmph, let’s skip the patriotic song and dance here, Captain. You aren’t here to sell me your loyalty. We already know who is loyal and who is seen as a threat to the project.” The man looked down at the folder in front of him and listed through a couple of pages. “While your list of accolades is quite impressive with your short Captaincy, I’m here to see if your experience will keep the UNSF Apollyon afloat. There are greater dangers than Rebels and a band of traffickers and pirates out there.”

“What I have in front of me is your whole life story. And as you are probably aware, these military documents are third hand reports of your actions by the Admiralty.” He paused as the quickly skimmed a few sections of text. “I’d like to hear from your perspective as to the events that transpired at the Reach, if you would be so kind. How you went about the whole scenario…”

Michi leaned forwards, eyes sharp. “Proving my loyalty wasn’t my intent, Mr. Casvak. We’ve built a dreadnought; that changes things. We’ve been building it for fifty years, but there’s a great deal of difference for our neighbours between a lump of metal in a shipyard and a fully-functional ship. Which will undoubtedly operate far beyond Union borders and Union oversight, and whoever ends up in command will end up, sooner or later, representing the Union. New frontiers - for all of us.” She nodded once, sharply.

The Reach.” A wash of nebulae and stars boiling in their own stellar cradles - the birth-wails of newborn solar furnaces screaming across every frequency, the death throes of ancient titans hurling radiation and stellar ejecta across the entire region. It also happened to lie foursquare across two of the most lucrative trade-routes in the Union, and therefore served as a haven for pirates and malcontents the region over.

Escort duty - it was my first command, the Carillon. Beautiful ship - one of the old Starlight-class. We were - as I’m sure you know - detailed to escort a merchant convoy. Terraformers, medical supplies, industrial polymers - a relief train, for Ajax IV. At the time, we were strapped for ships, so we were the only escort. Six megafreighters, one disguised frigate, and the Reach seething with pirates. My crew weren’t too happy about it - I don’t blame them. Neither was I, and I know the merchantmen weren’t pleased either - but you work with what you’ve got.

Had it been an informal retelling, Michi would have balanced her head in her hands, a classical thinking posture she often adopted whilst her mind was occupied elsewhere, either in memory or with an interesting new problem. But it wasn’t, and so she remained ramrod-straight, eyes boring into Mr. Casvak’s own. “The crew hated me at first; we needed to be in three places at once to cover the convoy, and they saw only the problem instead of trying to find solutions. Oh, we were as green as Albion! It had to be done, though, and I was damned if I was going to let my first command fall to pieces. Orders weren’t working, though; people were stressed already - everyone knew the Reach was full of pirates, it wasn’t so much a case of if you were attacked so much as when, and how much they’d make off with. So I tried the indirect approach; if your full-frontal’s going to be a massacre, you pull away before you get shot to pieces, reassess and sneak in the back. Figured it was at least worth a try.

Some captains think they ought to be above everyone else. Unapproachable - God aboard the ship. Unless there’s an admiral’s flag aboard, of course. As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Casvak, that’s a dangerous attitude to have - people bottle their problems, and it all festers away until something goes bang. Often the ship. So, since the direct approach was likely to get me hung, drawn and quartered by a very new and very stressed crew, I made a point of having drinks in the crew bar. Playing a hand of Perseid-Six for cocktail umbrellas. Talking. And people opened up. I went from having a crew who sat in silence when I asked for options to people volunteering. Suggesting things, improvements, ways to be better. Modified recon drones that burst-transmitted rather than continuous broadcast, so they’d cut through the background interference. Cargo containers modified into missile pods. And so on. By the time we actually hit the Reach itself, we thought we were ready.

She shook her head. “We weren’t. Oh, we’d done what we could, but the operational theatre had changed and we didn’t have a blind clue. The pirates had been stepping up their attacks, and a lot of the carrying trade had dried up. Six megas and an aux freighter - which was our disguise - was far too big a prize to pass up. The first attack was easy, a converted Mercury-class with its holds stuffed full of shuttles. They crossed our T, pretty as you like, and a broadside at close range when they demanded to board wiped them out to a man.” She smiled at the memory, but it was a smile tinged with a certain amount of foreshadowed regret. “Gunny - Gunnery Sergeant Larssen - bragged we’d get from one side of the Reach to the other without a scratch on the paintwork.” That grin again, without amusement, knowing what price had been paid down the line. “Overconfidence. We were still in the shallows of the Reach, way off the Screaming Sisters or the Cauldron or any of the other big hazards, but we’d crushed a slaver like a bug and we were riding high on that - me included. Turned out, though, they were just a splinter group, scavengers at the very edges of the main horde, eking out a hardscrabble existence on the fringes of the pirate warlords’ territories.” Michi sighed. “We did damned well for the next six days, though - and all praise to the troopers and lancers, too. I thought - we all thought - it would be plain sailing. We’d smashed our way into the shadow of one of the Screaming Sisters - I think it was A - without much in the way of damage; one of the merchies had a breach in a depressurised empty hold from a lucky shot, I think, and we’d lost a sensor cluster on the port side, but that was about it.

They came at us out of the sun.” Another ghostly smile. “Hard not to, in the Reach, but the recon drones my engineer had cooked up did a good job of cutting through the interference. The Sisters are pulsars, though - or something similar - and the pirates came right out of one of the radiation beams, right when it blinded us. Didn’t even know we were under attack until the first shots hit the shields. I had us put hard over and got Comms to focus in the recon shell we’d been using; I figured enough burst transmitters with enough power would get something through, and it was better than flying blind. Cost us a hell of a lot of platforms, and two of my crew when a lucky shot smashed into the prow, but it worked.” A pause. “Frigate versus heavy cruiser - I have no idea what it started out as, and I still don’t, they made that many changes to it - should be a foregone conclusion. But I figured we were in a bit of what you might call a special situation - deep in the Reach, the gas thicker than an Old Earth pea-souper, the Screaming Sisters on one side and the Cauldron a couple of light-years on the other. We could go forward and fight, or we could surrender. Both bad options - terrible, really - but those were the choices I could see. Fight and have a chance of winning and seeing the convoy through to Ajax, or surrendering and having no chance at all. We were both half-blinded by the Sisters - the pirates definitely knew the nebula a hell of a lot better than we ever did, but there’s only so far local knowledge takes you when a pulsar or three are screaming in your ear. I told the merchants to make a run for it - there was an outside chance they’d make it, even if we didn’t - and had Gunny get their attention.” A vicious smile, at remembered carnage inflicted on the enemy.

I don’t think they expected it; we did more damage than we had any right to expect in that first salvo. Whole bridge was cheering - me as well, I don’t mind saying. Saw her acceleration drop right off; I actually thought we’d hit her engines or compensator. But no.” An ugly expression flashed across her face for a moment, and then cleared. “They suckered us in nice and close, then opened up once we were in energy range. It practically gutted us, but m’helmsman had the reactions of a cat and rolled us just before they fired. Bad enough what we did take; hundreds of men dead and most of our broadside out of commission, fires everywhere, but if that full broadside had hit square-on we’d have had our back broken in an instant and I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” Michi shrugged. “After that, it was a long slogging match. Two lame ducks battering at one another, whilst with every second our convoy was getting closer to safety. They shot off all but two of our kinetics, the entire starboard beam array was so much slag and I think we had about six missile launchers left by the end, but every member of my crew stayed at their posts and kept firing. They did their duty, Mr. Casvak, and I am damned proud to have known and served with each and every one of them.” Another deep, lingering breath. “Just before that cruiser went down, though, they managed to get off a signal to their friends.” Michi all-but spat the word, her lips curling in disdain. “And so my wreck of a frigate spent the next week limping with our convoy and throwing what felt like everything but the kitchen sink at a stream of pursuers until the Thunderchild heard our distress calls and intercepted in the shallows on the other side of the Reach. We were exhausted, we had next to no fuel left, life support was shot to pieces and we were living out of our suits…” Michi shook her head. “Finest crew I could ever have asked for. And they still followed me, even after we’d lost half our complement to battle damage, and another quarter to boarding action. I had five troopers left at the end, but they’d made the pirates pay richly in blood for every inch of my ship they tried to take.” Michi sighed. “You want to know what makes me tick, Mr. Casvak? Down in the dark? All my dead, and how to be better next time.

“What makes a great Captain, isn’t just the apathy, the idea of being God, or their strategies, but the ties to their crew. You received several accolades for bravery as well as many recommendations from the Admiralty, more specifically, from Admiral James Beaufort. He was highly impressed with your courage and fortitude in the line of duty, as he stated.” The man replied. His face utter stone, having heard many such tales today, and in the past during this interview process. “There were certain decisions that you made during your engagement with the heavy cruiser that cost the lives of your crew. More specifically how you dealt with the boarding assault unit. I’d like you to detail the situation for me, how you solved it, and how it felt…”

I hate boarding actions,” Michi replied bluntly. “They never occur in isolation - in my experience, anyway - and I’m no lancer or trooper either. Ships are my bailiwick; they’re what I know. The combat courses at the Academy are all very good, but I know damn well I’m not a Marine or a mech pilot. I appreciate their skills, but I will be the first to admit I’m not an expert on our ground forces.” She raised one sardonic eyebrow. “Which is probably why I hate being boarded; dealing with it is not my forte and I know it. As a captain, I’m used to naval combat and I am the master of my ship. I know what she can do, how she’ll react, how to get the best out of every straining bulkhead and bolt. With a boarding action, I don’t. I have to cede control to the troopers and trust them to keep the butchers from my door, whilst I continue to orchestrate the naval battle itself. Much though I might like to exercise my combat training and vaporize the enemy, I know I’m more useful on the bridge directing things there.” Another smile, this one wry. “I know it here-” she tapped her head “-but here-” she tapped her heart “-is rather different. They’re my people, and I don’t like knowing they’re fighting and dying in the corridors of my ship whilst I watch.” She paused. “So, to answer what I did during the boarding assault? I fought my battered ship and the enemy cruiser, and coordinated with Major Petrov, and then Captains Relais, Baring-Gould and Aristides, and then their Lieutenants, and so on down the line as more and more of them died. I monitored the situation when I could spare the attention from the ship-to-ship battle. Brought the internal guns online when they could do the most damage, and blew out bits of the ship if the depressurisation would give us the advantage. We had to hold the reactor rooms and the bridge; those were our objectives. I knew it, the troopers knew it, the rest of the crew knew it; if we lost one of those then everything was lost - and we didn’t lose them. It was a terrible price to pay, but if I’d tried to take command? Overruled the commander of my troopers and lancers? We’d have lost our entire detachment in the first ten minutes when the pirates plasma-bombed the main companionway, and the pirate cruiser would have either taken us as a prize or blown us to stardust.

A deep breath. “I think that was the hardest lesson, really. And probably one of the better ones. I’m not ever going to be the best at everything, and commanding the infantry isn’t what I know, but letting someone else fight that battle for me was harder than pretending I knew exactly what I was doing and that I had a brilliant master plan.

“Hmph, I see…” The interviewer took a clean sheet of paper from the folder, and began taking notes, detailing the Captain’s responses, and her reactions to her own words. “For my next inquiry I’d like for you to detail the Battle of Matapan and your actions there.”

Matapan. I was commanding the Tevura, then, as part of the Sixth Fleet. Not even out on wargames, just showing the flag and doing a pirate sweep, all fairly routine – although the Cluster had become a little tenser than usual at the time. The Albion Ripple, you know – although at the time, everyone feared it’d be an Albion Crash instead. A shock to food prices, bulk haulage fees rising, questions over the viability of the farms and so on. Rear Admiral Chandra had her flag aboard Tevura, too, so we were serving as flagship. Everything all seemed so normal; there were agitators and protestors, of course, the usual anti-military, anti-Establishment rhetoric and propaganda on the news and the opinion shows, but nothing out of the ordinary.” A wry smile.

The insurrectionists had the nous to wait until Sixth Fleet had gone out-system before they launched their attempt. Oh, they were clever people...up to a point. Captured the orbitals, Astro control, the SD grid…even if there was planetary resistance on Matapan, there wasn’t a lot the Cluster governor could do, with the rebels having orbital superiority with the platforms and the system defence force too.” Michi steepled her fingers and gazed pensively past Mr. Casvak.

So the question was, what do we do? We could have opened fire at extreme range, saturated Matapan orbit and then sent in the cruisers in hunter-killer packs to cut the defence force to pieces – but if we’d done that, stray ordnance would have turned Matapan from a garden world into a tomb. Not much of a chance of the local government being able to retake control on their own; any large concentrations of force, and a couple of areas that weren’t quite quick enough to declare their loyalty got hit with SD strikes. Best part of a quarter-million people in the stations around Matapan, too, and a nasty defence force giving the enemy teeth. And let’s not forget, Matapan was the lynchpin, but it wasn’t the only system that thought it’d be better off with someone else in charge. Hells, at the time Admiral Chandra and I thought the whole Cluster had gone up – which was at least part of the reasoning behind our plan to go for a decapitation strike; we couldn’t wait for the enemy to concentrate their forces.” Michi leaned back.

I planned quite a bit of the battle, with the admiral. Who came up with what became a bit of a moot point somewhere down the line; we both made so many changes and improvements to the plan it didn’t really matter who’d had the idea first. Tevura and the battleship squadron stayed skulking around the very edges of the system; I sent in frigate and cruiser wolfpacks under the best emissions control they could manage to get us information, to keep the enemy on their toes, to draw them out of position.” A smile – no, a baring of the teeth, no humour at all. “Tired people make mistakes. They don’t look as hard for the clues, they’re easier to press to rash action. Sixth Fleet could afford to rotate its cruiser squadrons between tease duty and being back with the main fleet, whilst the op force couldn’t – or not to the same extent, anyway, so in fairly short order our opponents were overtired and overstressed commanders jumping at smoke and mirrors. We took a few potshots, of course – we’d have been hung for being a paper tiger otherwise – but we gave the order to conserve fire – we couldn’t risk hitting Matapan itself at those sorts of ranges.

Of course, it grated on us as well, playing cat and mouse – it was really a question of who would break first, and in the end that was us. Akriti – Admiral Chandra – and I were getting very concerned about the possibility of enemy reinforcements to break the deadlock, so we dug out an old bait-and-switch tactic, of a sort, to force the issue before the weight of fire fell in favour of the enemy. So we took Tevura and a half-strength cruiser squadron up out of the plane of the ecliptic, under as much emissions control as we could manage, and angled in on Matapan. Trying to make it look like we were attempting a stealth insertion whose cover got blown when Tevura had a reactor failure – we used one of the hundred-megaton fusion bombs as close as we dared, launched a few lifepods and brushed up on our acting over the comms, hoping their sensors wouldn’t be able to work out the difference. An educated guess and a calculated gamble, but it worked; a detachment came haring out of the inner system straight for us…and they ran right into our minefield. Missiles running on trickle power, passive sensors only, kicked out along the most likely intercept vectors. I figured we wouldn’t be bombing the planet with our hundreds, either, so I put them to a different use and salted the minefield with them for good measure. A hundred megaton fusion explosion, at what amounts to knife range? Most of the enemy force was vaporized outright, the rest were tumbling wrecks.

Whilst I was busy playing bait, we used the distraction to coast Sixth Fleet in closer, sliding them in behind the out-of-position defence force. Classical trick; divide and rule. We had the enemy force between us – Tevura and the squadron on one side, the rest of the fleet on the other. Hammer and anvil.” Michi’s grin was a sharply vicious thing as she put fist and palm together with a resounding smack. “By god, sir, they fought well, keeping their battered ships going even when they were pounded almost to scrap, but we were the superior tacticians that day and our guns brought them down in the outer system, out of range of the inner-system defence pods which were our next problem.” She shrugged. “For the big ships – Tevura, Majestic, Soliveil and the rest – it was an exercise in weathering the storm, whilst Majestic’s fighter wings hunted. Our sensors were good, but a missile pod or beam platform is a damned small target in a solar system. Not something for a battleship’s guns to try and shoot. Didn’t have it all our own way, either – Matapan had gotten some of the newest system-defence platforms a few months before the insurrection, and they were vicious. Beam cannon that could core a battleship, outsized missiles that came screaming in at velocities our counters could barely match, the works.” Her smile was faint. “They tell me I’m hard on my ships – I put Tevura and the rest of the squadron between Majestic and the worst of it; we needed her fighter bays to sweep the system and go near-atmosphere to deal with the SD platforms around the planet itself, as well as for the antimissile screen, and I wasn’t about to leave our boys and girls out in the black without a home base. Well,” she added after a moment, “That and I needed them refuelled and rearmed to complete the objectives, not drifting around like very expensive kites in Matapan orbit.

A shrug, deliberately nonchalant. “After we killed the last of the in-system platforms, it was a case of mopping up. Ballistic insertions onto the major orbitals, so the enemy couldn’t deorbit them in some misguided attempt to stop us from retaking Matapan…and the little matter of the rebellion’s military leadership on the planet itself. By that point, we held orbital supremacy, but their nasty little ace-in-the-hole was a roundup of civilians – mostly business people and tourists from New Terra and Albion, they had enough decency-” Michi’s lips curled at the word, her tone making her feelings clear “-not to use their own people as a meatshield. I don’t have much patience for slaughter, and neither did the rest of the fleet. Admiral Chandra had a flight of attack shuttles and the ship’s company of troopers ready to drop and secure the hostages – they had thousands – and I used a little light megaton rainfall, followed up with a kinetic barrage, to signal the attack. And to eliminate rebellion command at a stroke, admittedly.

“Except, a portion of the barrage missed… Can you tell me what the Marines found, Captain?” The man added.

Michi was silent for a long time, and when she spoke again her voice held the flat tones of someone with iron-hard self-control. “Craters, Mr. Casvak. Lots of craters. The shattered and burning hulks of seven eight-hundred-storey counter-gravity residential towers…and the remains of most of the city around them. The shadows of thousands of people blasted into ash by the plasma pulse of our orbital rounds, miles and miles of twisted air-car wreckage from the EMP discharges, and thousands of acres of drowned land from the shattered dams.

“Upon that discovery, what happened next, Captain? The report that I have in my hands has failed to mention things. Despite all the glowing recommendations, everyone makes mistakes. And we know a few things that this document doesn’t state.” The man paused pensively. Reading the Captain’s eyes, seeing her pain at the mention of the findings despite maintaining a hard face.

“Perhaps I don’t really need you to tell me. Your eyes tell me enough.” Satisfied, he took some additional notes before continuing.

“That will be enough for the history recap. I’m going to present you with some possible scenarios, should you end up captaining the 4000 meter hulk out in orbit. I would like it if you answer honestly and to the best of your ability.”

Michi blinked at the sudden change in direction and fought to regain her equipoise, shaking her head as if to clear the lingering threads of memory from it. A few things the files don’t say? And if that’s not calculated to knock me off-guard I don’t know what is.Go right ahead, sir.

“For the first scenario, it may be a little personal.” He paused, thinking of potential possibilities before he started. “The Apollyon and a Dreadnought of the Galan Empire have been slugging at each other for several hours, damage to both ships is major, and both vessels are now in boarding range. One of the Marines that you send aboard, is a man you have grown affectionate to during your time on the Apollyon. A romance, if you will. Mind you, to answer this question, try to think in the moment, and imagine. Place yourself on the Bridge inside your mind” He continued after interrupting himself.

“During the boarding action, the Imperials mount a hard defence across multiple decks as your loved one’s team desperately push their way towards the Bridge. But as the Apollyon and the hostile Dreadnought continue to exchange blows, one of the Apollyon’s guns manages to hit the enemy’s reactor square on, sending it into critical meltdown. Knowing this, your order the Marines back on board, but they decline your orders, to prevent a desperate enemy's attempt to take down the Apollyon with a suicidal reactor meltdown at close-range.”

“Will you allow your marines this, on the basis of sound judgement? This, knowing this will directly cause loss of life of personnel involved, including his.”

Michi fought down a totally inappropriate grin at her interviewer’s mistake. Not an uncommon one, particularly since it wasn’t something the Navy needed to know, but amusing nonetheless.

It would tear my heart to pieces, but yes,” she said eventually, endeavouring to reframe the interviewer’s question in her head. “They are a military officer, same as me. The risks are there for them just as they are for me every time we sail. I couldn’t stop them even if I tried, in your scenario, and I’d hope anyone I…entered into a relationship with…would do exactly what you’ve just said, with the information they have. Thousands of crew aboard the Apollyon…versus a marine team.” Her smile was bitter. “It’s the bitter algebra of survival, Mr. Casvak. A wretched equation I’m more familiar with than I’d like.

She regarded him intently for a moment, and her tone was suddenly rather lighter and more whimsical than it had been before. “I’ve also never found men attractive, Mr. Casvak, so that particular aspect of your scenario would represent something of a departure from the norm. Just to note, in case you have any further hypothetical romantic entanglements for me.

“Like I said, it was hypothetical.” The man replied with a smile. “How would you deal with the grief after the engagement?”

Michi’s eyes were dark as she thought, weighing up what her head said and what bitter experience had taught her. She could put up a facade as well as any captain, but that wasn’t dealing with it, that was bottling and repressing things. In public and for the good of crew morale, of course, but that wasn’t what the interviewer had actually asked.

In the immediate aftermath? Break open the Britannia Reserve, and anything else I feel like. Raise a lot of glasses to her memory, and when I can see straight again go to the shooting range and blast away as many enemies as I can stomach. Cry.” A weak smile. “Watch our holos. Speak to her other friends, when I can stomach it. Speak to the CMO - BuPers would have my head if I didn’t, and they do usually know what they’re talking about. And…” a sigh.

Carry on as best I can. My XO could handle things for a few days here and there, but a captain has to lead, sooner or later; you can’t wallow forever. Revenge is a nice idea, Mr. Casvak, but it’s messy hell in reality. I grieved for a lot of my crew after the Reach, and swearing revenge - pursuing revenge - is a recipe for self-destruction. Oh - and I’d arrange the funeral - funerals are cathartic. Closure.

“I see.” The man nodded to himself, yet again taking notes. “We are reaching the conclusion of this interview. I have one final question for you.”

“If you're successful, I imagine you understand that at some point down the line, you too may have to conduct an interview in a similar fashion” he paused for a moment to take note of her reaction. “-for your own replacement. I would like you to give me an assessment of what traits you would identify as desirable in that replacement.”

Michi pursed her lips in thought. It was a question she’d wrestled with on more than one occasion in the past, but it had a certain…intensity…now. Hmm. Was it decisiveness? No, no – charging into things had its place, but…it wasn’t essential.

Initiative, Mr. Casvak. Flexibility. The ability to adapt to changing situations, and turn them to your advantage. I think that’s going to be the most important trait for any senior officer on the Apollyon, to tell you the truth, and nowhere is that going to be more important than in the captain’s chair. Potentially halfway across the galaxy, too. Everything else is – is – important, too…decisiveness, intellect, a certain amount of courage - loyalty, as you mentioned earlier, goes without saying - but adaptability is probably going to be paramount. Clearly, I’d prefer someone who’d cheerfully hare off after whoever – or whatever – killed me to exact revenge, but that’s probably not what the ship will need. I can’t predict everything that’ll happen on the tour of duty – I doubt anyone will be able to – but we need people who won’t be utterly thrown by the bizarre, who can change on the fly to make the best of the circumstances they find themselves in.

Taking his final notes, the man closes the folder and asks. “Before we end this. Can you narrow down a quality that you would look for? One that you lack?”

Something I lack?” Michi stared at him for a moment, her mind flicking back through each of her executive officers in rapid-fire succession, thinking furiously about the ways they worked with her, areas in which they shone and she struggled. Massingley, pinpoint-precise and a demon for efficiency. Edwards, the genial and expansive XO who’d taught her more about managing a crew without looking like you were managing them than her entire experience at the Academy, and Carrington, her current XO, discreetly diligent.

Hmm.

I think…someone who can be reasonable. Straightforward? If that’s the word I’m looking for?” Michi gestured airily, trying to pluck the thoughts from her head, to put the notions of cogitation into words. “I plan things, I take advice, opinions, input when I can, but…once I’ve formulated that plan, well. Sometimes I can get a little too attached. I can get bogged down in the details, when what I really need is just a big hammer to solve a problem. Someone who can recognize that, in themselves and in others, and won’t be afraid to say so, to do something about it.” A half-shrug. “Plus, if I’m dead or incapacitated, then all my planning has failed and that’s the point everyone might just need someone with a big hammer.

“Hmm.” The man seemed pensive for a moment before reopening his folder, to write down a single sentence. Upon it closing again he continued. “This concludes the interview, Captain. You will be informed of any news in regards to your future. You may see yourself out. I wish you luck with the selection process.”

Michi blinked at the suddenness, and then rose, bracing to attention and snapping off a parade-ground salute in farewell. “Good day, Mr. Casvak.
Well. That was...intense. Faster than I’d thought, too. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.
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Hidden 4 days ago 4 days ago Post by jakeb1993
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jakeb1993

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-11
16:15


James was somewhat quite excited for this interview he had today. He had submitted his application for the ship quite a while ago and now he was going for the interview. He was thinking for a moment about his father. Would he be proud if his son got a senior position, heck, maybe even captain the first ever Union dreadnought? Possibly not. After all, every Cresswell before him had been an Admiral or even higher. The Cresswell name had a lot of weight with it. Some good, some bad. James had worked hard for the positions that he had taken aboard each ship he had previously served, however some people… a lot of people assumed that he just got the positions that he got because of who his father was.

The reality was somewhat different. Him and his father had a tense relationship. His father had done more to hinder his career in the navy than he had done to advance it. To start with his father was supporting, helped him more and more as he worked up the comms ladder and then helped him secure his first posting as the executive officer of a ship. After that, thins changed. He became less and less helpful, even going so far as to try and block any further promotions.

He was currently on leave from the Winchester to attend the interview. The break only lasted for a few days, but it was nice to not always be within the confines of a single ship. Vekta Prime Orbital however was a different beast entirely. He had arrived yesterday and had spent the night in the family home that they owned here. It was used by all of the family members who travelled around. It wasn’t luxurious, but it wasn’t a dump either. It beat having to stay at a hotel however. The station was one of those weird amalgamations, half civilian, half military. Though most orbital stations had that sort of divide, James never got used to it.

The interviews were taking place in a series of interview rooms in some sort of office somewhere deep within the station. It didn’t take James long to get there. He had used his credentials to bypass as many of the checkpoints as he could, but as he got closer and closer to his destination he found it harder and harder to skip them eventually having to give up and wait in line. He took good care to make sure that no one scuffed his uniform. He had spent far too long this morning making sure everything had been meticulously placed and was as shiny as could be.

He eventually made his way to the appropriate building. Entering inside he would pass his identification to the receptionist who would check it and then give him a room number: Floor 4 room twenty eight. He looked at the elevator for a second and then decided to use the stairs, he could a small distraction as he made his way there.

James had made his way through the long winding corridors until he had found the room he wanted: 4-28, the 28th Room of the fourth floor. Not exactly rocket science. Taking a second to stare at the door he would take a deep breath, composing himself and taking a moment to make sure that he was still presentable. Brushing his shoulders lightly, he would place his hand on the console to request access. Hearing the affirming beep he would enter the room, the door automatically closing behind him with a somewhat satisfying hydraulic noise.

The room was something he would have suspected to see at a police station. All one colour, just a desk and two chairs, one opposite the other. A single light in the centre of the room the illuminated the room, leaving the outskirts of the room somewhat shadowed in darkness. This wasn’t the sort of atmosphere he was expecting for an application process like this. But oh well. Taking a further moment to compose himself he would then take a step forward towards the desk.

“Lieutenant Cresswell. Congratulations on being selected for the interview. Please, take a seat.” An older, dark haired woman greeted him as he stepped into the room. James would take a moment to observe the woman as she spoke before offering his hand for a handshake, eventually sitting down onto the chair and adjusting himself so he was a little more comfortable. He hated these kind of interviews.

“Thank you for taking the time to interview me and even consider me for such a prestigious appointment” He would cough lightly for a second, still working through a few small nerves “Sorry about that, been a long journey. Anyway Ma’am ready to start when you are” He would smile towards the older woman sitting opposite.

“Well, judging by your application, you possibly have the necessary experience required for the role. But this interview will be what decides that…” The woman paused with a slight smile on her lips. “I am going to ask you a little about your service history, specifically your two tours of duty about the UNSF Valhalla and the UNSF Winchester. Let’s start simple. Tell me a little bit about you experience on board the Valhalla.”

“Ah the Valhalla.” He took a somewhat deep breath "Good ship. A Destroyer. My first ever XO posting. Quite a momentous occasion in my career i guess. Sure my father and grandfather were XO’s at a younger age, but at 29 I thought I was more than ready. I had worked in comms alot before then so it was nice to do something different. I figured that having experience of communications and protocols on a bridge would be useful as a XO. That was such a bad assessment. It wasn’t until we were out on deployment that i realised just how much you have to do as a executive officer. Every tiny little detail is yours to deal with. Every piece of bickering, arguing and decision making. I understand why it was important, the captain can’t be allowed to make every tiny decision, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do any of the strategic thinking” He would let out a small sigh before carrying on.

“But I learned. I discovered diplomacy is a paramount skill when trying to deal with people and the running of a ship. Then we started getting into trouble. The Valhalla was assigned to the outskirts of Reach, things were starting to stable up somewhat over there. But as per usual there was still some savages out there who refused to give up. They never give up. The Valhalla was simply there as a force projection exercise. Remind them that we were always watching. Every now and again a small ship would come out and engage us. Nothing we couldn’t handle. We had those flashy new X01 Model broadsides back then. Not so flashy now, but then… well they packed a punch. The problem with pirates is that they refuse to see reason. Blast a few of their smaller ships away and they only go and send bigger ones. It only took a few more days before an actual challenge began to appear. They had sent this heavy cruiser. More of a flying heap of garbage than an actual ship. It had been modified and retrofitted so much that it was impossible to tell what the base model was. We assumed battlestations as normal, i was on the bridge alongside captain Abernathy. Everything seemed somewhat routine. Sure they were bigger, stronger technically. But we had weapons to deal with that. We just needed to get close and take the first few shots. The cruiser had longer range weapons than us, it should have fired first. But it didn’t. In Fact we got off the first salvo. A missile barrage against the outer hull. The barrage even tripped their shields”. He let out a small sigh once more

“It shouldn’t have though. Something wasn’t right. A barrage of that power shouldn’t of tripped a cruisers shield. I tried to warn Abernathy, but he didn’t want to hear any of it. ‘Never ignore a opportunity’ I remember vividly him saying that before ordering the ship to get closer and get into broadside range. So we get closer and closer, until suddenly the shields on the cruiser flicker back to life and they fire their own broadside. Our own deflectors dealt with the first half of the barrage, the shields absorbed what they could before even they had to shutdown. What was left of the barrage ripped through the hull, tore several decks up, almost severed the ship in two.” James fidgeted in his seat for a moment “I honestly thought that this was going to be the beginning of the end. That I, would end the Cresswell legacy as a XO on a destroyer. Not exactly living up to the family name am i?” He asked to himself. “I guess you are familiar with the Cresswell families, dedication to the admiralty?” He asked the woman questioning him.

“We aren’t interested in your family relations, Lieutenant. We only care about your capabilities and if you are the right man for the job. Please, continue.” The interviewer reminded him. James was somewhat shocked by her response. Most people were usually quick to comment on how they had heard of his father and his position.

“Well…” James carried on “Captain Abernathy was a typical captain of the time. A glory seeker. Never really cared much for protocol, he wanted to make a name for himself. There is nothing wrong with that however there is a time and a place for that sort of behaviour. With the ship now almost carved in half it was inevitable that they were going to try and board us. They wouldn’t want to destroy the entire ship. If there were pieces of it they could scavenge or take for their own, they would. I wanted to pull back, try and use whatever power we had left to get out of boarding and more importantly firing range of that thing. We were still faster, we could have left and regrouped. Abernathy had a different outlook. He deduced that they couldn’t board us if we boarded them first. Our marines are better than whatever they could cobble together and lancers could lead the charge and mow them down. But were a destroyer. We didn’t have much in the marine department. Captain Abernathy was going to personally lead the charge. So before i had a chance to interject he went to get suited and booted and left me in charge of the bridge. Not exactly a smart decision” James flicked around with his hand before carrying on.

“So the boarding party lands aboard the pirate cruiser. Every marine and Lancer that Abernathy could muster was joining in on the boarding. We used our broadsides to soften up a boarding spot for them, and off they went. To start with it started to go well. They were aiming for the reactor room rather than the bridge. It was a much shorter route than fighting all the way to the bridge. The problem was that for every pirate they killed more and more took their place. It was a losing battle. Even if they took the reactor, they wouldn’t be able to hold it long enough to then extract and for us to get away. That was what Abernathy wanted though, and that was what we did. I never agreed with it, but he trusted me with the ship, so the least i could do is be a gentleman and hang around” James would then lean forward somewhat in his seat. “Problem was, i could see he was going to lose. In a few minutes they would have enough energy to fire off a broadside, and they were looking like they were about to launch their boarding parties. We had security personnel, but nowhere near enough to fight off invaders. So i had to make a tough choice. I didn’t know then that i was going to save the captain. I thought they were all going to die. So i ordered the ship to pull back, get out of broadside range of the cruiser”

“The crew didn’t like it. Of course they didn’t. We were leaving people behind, but still. We either left them behind, or we all died. We finally managed to get out of range after a few minutes. I didn’t want to leave them behind. But what choice did i really have? We spent a short while just staying out of their attack range. We had another round of missiles ready to fire. We could duck into range, fire and get back out before their broadsides could get us. SO that is what we did. I ordered the ship into range and we fired, even with friendlies aboard we let every missile we could fire go forward. We aimed more towards the bridge of the ship and away from the reactor, so that way we spared the lives of crewmen” A smile crept onto James lips “I really shouldn’t give myself credit, but it worked. The missiles tore the cruiser a new one, hitting the bridge directly and taking out their leader. I refuse to call them an actual captain. Fire control had gone too. We had cut the head off the beast. We had won. The captain and the remaining marines got back into their boarding crafts and returned to us, where we then broadsided the piece of scrap metal one more time to blow it to smithereens. It was a great day for all who survived…. not such a great day for those who didn’t make it” James bowed his head “After the fight we limped back home for repairs. We did a few more tours after that in the Valhalla before it eventually got decommissioned. Thought they were most certainly alot more normal than our first deployment. I captained the ship a few times while Abernathy was off being a hero.but overall it was a good lesson learnt. Made me who i am today”.

That last sentence hanged in the air for a second. His mind turned to his father. He wouldn’t have been on the Valhalla if it wasn’t for his fathers help when he first joined the navy. Since then though, everything had been such a uphill battle. Was his father going to be involved here too? Was he going to block or try and make it impossible for him to advance? Those thoughts raced among his mind until he pulled himself out of them with a sigh “But yes, that was the Valhalla”

“I see.” The woman typed in some notes on her datapad as the Lieutenant described the most notable of the Valhalla’s tour experiences. “What about the UNSF Winchester? Where there any combat engagements of note that perhaps defined your current experience and skill set in your field?”

“I have only recently joined the Winchester. It is a cruiser, much different from the Valhalla. We have only been out on two tours as the current crew. So there hasn’t been much of a chance for engagements. We have been mostly on patrol, helping out small civilian ships navigate around the Union. It has been an interesting deployment however. Civilian ships have a strange assortment of equipment and protocols. Obviously when you are in the military you are used to dealing with equipment of a certain nature. Working alongside civilian ships has given me a really broad range of knowledge of different communications equipment. There probably isn’t anything i can’t interface or communicate with now. Though there is something to be said for my XO skills now. The Winchester has a totally different style to my time on the Valhalla. To start with the crew is much bigger. You have to be a lot more diplomatic when making decisions. Not everyone is going to be happy with the choices you make. And it is always over the most silly of things. However if you can minimise the amount of annoyance you cause the crew still operates at the best efficiency possible. Dealing with the public has also been a tough challenge.” He would lean back a bit in his chair to get comfortable.

“The captain of the Winchester never really likes to be disturbed on the bridge. So everything, everything went through me. So everytime we hailed a ship, i was both the voice and the face of the ship. I guess it explains why i always do my best present myself so well” He would sit up and look over to the woman before carrying on “I do apologise that it isn’t the story you would expect me to tell. I would have preferred to tell you a story where i was a hero and there was loads of explosions and stuff, but in reality the Winchester deployment has been quite quiet. And i prefer it that way. Most deployments in ships go by without a hitch. So i only have a small repertoire of stories that have any kind of action in them above day to day operations” James was somewhat self conscious about his answer. In reality he had only a few opportunities to actually do anything most people would define as interesting. Comms work was always classed as being boring, and most people never wanted to be an XO when they could just become captain themselves.

“We aren’t necessarily looking for stories of grandeur here.” The woman replied nonchalantly. “With a ship like the Apollyon, you are more likely to see action than just be on regular patrol. We wouldn’t have built a ship such as a Dreadnought for the sake of tracking brigands. But that’s not the point here.”

She then began to present the man with a question. “How do you feel about the fact that in this day and age that general human privacy is compromised? That we are being watched and observed, every move we make, every word we say, is listened and watched, and all that meta-data gathered in one place.”

“Well that is sort of a strange question” He started, taking a second to ponder it. “I don’t exactly know any different i guess. I have always grown up in that kind of environment. I suppose it would be nice to have some secrets, but with the lives we have chosen to lead we can’t have that. It does i suppose make atoning for mistakes harder as nearly every person under the sun, well, suns has heard about you mistakes. It is is a sad price i guess. Maybe we should have more privacy but with the data we have on people we can advance the sciences quicker and at least you no longer get spam adverts to things you would never buy. All the data we collect on people allows companies and cities to create unique experiences for everyone. The universe is almost tailored to you.” He would cough for a second before stopping and looking at the interviewing woman. “Bit of a curveball question that Ma’am, are you going to start giving me therapy and asking if I have daddy issues next?” He questioned her in return.

The interviewer only smiled. “You will find that out if you end up getting selected, Lieutenant. Tell me. If you were placed in a fleet combat situation, where a constant stream of communication from allied ships is coming in at an alarming rate, difficult to decipher and understand. How would you pick out the important information from the garbage? How would you find the relative information that is important to the Captain and their stratagems?”

“Well…” The lieutenant started “You catalogue information. Communications in fleet formations is abbreviated in such a way that you can listen and filter out things you don’t need to listen out for. You can filter it out either by order or by shipname. Generally you want to listen out for the command ship giving out signals and any ship which is around your size or bigger. As a frigate you really want to just focus on ships in your vicinity as your limited range means the rest of the fleet comms are somewhat useless.” He stated.

“It does get harder if you are the command ship though. Every other ship is going to want your attention so as a Comms officer i would relay all strategic messages through to the captain, and any other messages, requests or movement orders to the CiC and the XO. Which currently would be myself. Sometimes being XO and Comms can be a real help as you can filter a lot of the traffic away from the bridge by just dealing with it yourself. otherwise you have to focus on filtering information. Nothing is undecipherable, it is all about your approach, and the resources you have to work with” He finished his answer and felt a little more confident that he did before he started. He had focused most of his career in Comms, he really was a Comms man first, XO second. Though he would be lying to himself if he said he didn’t enjoy the XO work more.

Satisfied with that answer, the interviewer took some final notes, and placed her Datapad down onto the table. “I believe that concludes the interview, Lieutenant. You will be informed of any news once the selection process has been completed. I wish you luck in your selection. Feel free to see yourself out.”

James would nod and rise out of his seat, taking a second to brush himself down before nodding to the interviewer, turning on his heels and leaving the room without saying a word. Normally he would have said a proper and full goodbye, but his gut was giving him mixed feelings about the interview and how well he actually did.
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Hidden 3 days ago Post by Virani
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Virani The Reclusive Writer

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-11-7
16:30

“All Passengers we have now docked at Vekta Prime Orbital station. Please ensure you have all of your belongings with you and have a pleasant day.”

Octavia Haas sat patiently and waited until the rush for the exit had subsided before picking up her small carrybag and exiting the transport. She immediately wished for the relative peace of the transport as she was hit with the noise and smells of the station. There were people everywhere and the noise was...almost too much. Octavia was used to either the relative quiet of a ship or the peace of her neighborhood where she lived. Squaring her shoulders she battled through the crowds and was greatly relieved when she was waved through customs.

She knew where she needed to be without double checking her information having memorised the time and location. She had prepared fully, planning her route including alternatives in case of an unexpected delay or cancellation, and was pleased that everything had gone according to plan. She was fifteen minutes early when she arrived at the reception desk, again as planned. Her mane of red hair was forced into a thick braid and her dress uniform was, of course spotless, and well fitted. As she waited for the receptionist to acknowledge her she ran through various medical terms in her mind, one after another. A technique she had found useful in the past when preparing for a potentially unnerving or uncomfortable task.

“Hello, Ma’am. Are you here in regards to the Section 1-24-C Application?” The receptionist asked Octavia, snapping her back to reality.

Octavia nodded brusquely handing the receptionist her military identification. “Captain Octavia Haas reporting for the scheduled appointment.”

“Great, may I please see your Citizen PassCard for confirmation.” The young brunette woman asked with a smile and small tilt of her head. She was strangely cheery despite the amount of people here today.

Octavia handed across the the piece of shiny plastic and whilst she waited she ran through possible reasons for the receptionists cheerful demeanor. It was not intentional, more a habit she had picked up during her psychology training. They taught you to watch and see everything a person did. Even things a person didn’t do could yield answers and aid diagnosis.

The receptionist took Octavia’s card, and scanned it, with a large hologram appearing between them. As all of the information scrolled through, the young lady watched the screen intently, until the scrolling stopped on what appeared to be an appointment. Handing the card back to the Captain she cheerfully said, “Fantastic! You interview is in Room 37, Floor 2. I wish you luck, Ma’am!”

Octavia took the card and nodded. “Thank you and I hope you have a pleasant day.”
She found the room with no issues and, after briefly ensuring her hair was still tightly controlled and that the buttons on the uniform had not come undone, knocked sharply on the door several times before opening it and entering. She was aware of the possibility that it could be either a civilian or a military official conducting the interview and had debated whether saluting was appropriate. She had decided it was as a civilian would likely as not be unoffended by the gesture but a military officer would be if she did not. So she saluted and then offered her name and rank again.

“Captain Octavia Haas reporting as scheduled.”

The room was simple and unadorned with just a table and two chairs and Octavia nodded silently to herself. It was what she had expected.

“Welcome, Captain… Or should I call you Doctor?” A bald, somewhat laid back looking man in a business was already sat down and looking over the information before him on a stack of paper. Real paper, the rare stuff. “My name is Mr. Bordanus. Please, take a seat.”

Octavia took the empty seat across from the man. “Either is fine as both are accurate Sir.”
She studied him, taking in the relaxed posture, the business suit and the fact that he was using paper. Most things were done digitally now but Octavia found the use of paper refreshing. But also interesting...was there a reason that they did not want an electronic record of the interview? Electronic information could be hacked and copied multiple times but meant losing information was much more difficult. Paper on the other hand seemed inefficient as time would have to be put into making copies of the information, storage space was also needed and paper was very easily lost.

All of this ran through her mind as she waited calmly, hands in her lap, for the man to speak.

“Alright then, let’s begin. I’ll start off easy, with a recap of your service history. Tell me a little bit about your service on the UNSF New England.”

Octavia was silent a moment gathering her thoughts and ensuring she had a clear idea in mind of her answer.

“My position on board the New England was as a medical officer. I was, in the beginning, performing the standard medical duties required of any medical officer on board ship.
Such as performing routine medicals on ship personnel, treating injuries received along the way and various other tasks. Whilst I enjoyed my work in the infirmary and worked well with my CMO I was eager to begin branching out and expanding my role.

It was therefore somewhat fortuitous in that I had made it known to my CMO that I was now a qualified psychologist and interested in performing in that field as well. The ship was currently without a Psychologist due to their previous Psychologist having to relinquish their post -for personal reasons- I therefore stepped into that breach. I acted as primary Psychologist until a new one arrived and then remained to assist him for some time after. “ She paused for a moment and then added. “He was a very good psychologist and I learned a great deal from him. “

“Was?” The interviewer asked.

“Yes. I received word that he passed away approximately six months ago. “ Octavia continued speaking in her calm tone though there was now a hint of regret in it. “A loss to both myself and to the world of Psychology. Dr Jacobs was a brilliant man and an excellent mentor.”

“My condolences…” The man shifted in his seat slightly before continuing. “And what about the UNSF Abraham Lincoln?”

Octavia briefly wondered if she had erred in mentioning her mentor but pushed the thought aside. It was done and it would either go in her favour or it would not. No sense in worrying over something that could not be changed. Instead she thought back to her time on the Abraham Lincoln and smiled slightly, a mere quirk of one lip before speaking, a wry smile not one of pleasure.

“The UNSF Abraham Lincoln offered different yet no less challenging duties for me. Whereas on the New England I learned the realities of practicing Psychology, the Abraham lincoln taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to relating with your fellow crew members.”

She paused choosing her next words carefully. “In all honesty I am not a natural people person having always preferred my microscopes and scalpels to people. Even though I understood interaction from a psychology point of view I found it...difficult to apply this to myself. During my posting we spent much of our time Isolated, exploring uncharted regions of space. Mapping Nebulae and observing stellar phenomenon and I primarily conducted medical research studies and assisted my CMO with general medical duties. One patient in particular proved especially challenging for me, a young ensign who became pregnant whilst on board.

She was understandably concerned by this given we were far out and that medical risks were still apparent even with today’s modern medicine. The situation was further complicated by the fact that my CMO was the father. The two were unmarried but, as I understand, in a stable relationship. This was not an issue from a medical standpoint, you understand, but more from a social point. The CMO acted with all due professionalism and ceded the case to me as was appropriate and the pregnancy proceeded smoothly. However there were complications during the birth and both the ensign and her child were lost. There was a malfunction with the patients nanites causing them to act aggressively and I was unable to correct this in time.

The CMO was understandably distraught and, as is often the case in these situations, blamed me for the tragedy. Intellectually I understood this and endeavored to assist him as best as I was able but on a emotional level I...floundered. I have lost patients before and as in this case I have never doubted that I did all I could but this was the first time i had been in such a situation. Ultimately whilst I was able to see to his physical wellbeing, I cannot say the same for his emotional wellbeing. Thankfully the Abraham lincoln had another medical officer who specialized in grief management and she was able to support him until we could return to station and he could be assigned appropriate mental health care. I do not look on this time as a failure however but as a time when I grew as both a doctor and a person. I learned an important lesson that humans are ultimately emotional beings and that in order to be a better doctor I needed to recognise and embrace that. I firmly believe I am a better doctor as a result.

Which certainly seems to be the case as I have received several letters from colleagues who have worked with me prior to this and afterwards.”

Nodding and paying heavy attention, the man took careful notes. Octavia could see that his handwriting was immaculate, and these days, nobody even knew how to write by hand anymore. It was quite peculiar. “Let’s continue with the UNSF Rapier.”

“The UNSF Rapier was assigned to patrol a sector of space on the fringes of civilisation and we were out there for over a year. Originally I was posted there as second in command to the CMO and one of two Psychologists on board. However shortly into our journey our CMO was killed in a skirmish with several pirate vessels. Our commanding officer decided we were too far out to easily get a replacement and since I was second anyway I was given the position.

Although I had previously acted with authority this was my first time as head of the medical department. Although I was next in line for the position, as second to the CMO, there were several other officers who felt I was not experienced enough for the position. I believed in my ability to perform and also believed wholeheartedly that our commanding officer, a seasoned officer, would not have put me in charge if he felt I was unequal to the task.

Gradually over our thirteen month stint I proved myself to the crew and achieved their respect and trust. Our stint was mostly quiet though there were the odd skirmish now and then. The Rapier returned to port with no other fatalities and with all crew members in good health. I pride myself on not only doing my job well but also showing others that I am indeed ready for the responsibility that comes with being Chief Medical Officer. Commander Hampton was one of those who provided references for me and was more than happy to write a letter of commendation if one is required.”

“The Commander did speak glowingly of you. And with a dreadnought that houses 16000 people, your work will be cut out for you, if you get the job.” He nodded to himself as he seemed to be assessing Octavia’s own psyche. Perhaps that’s what this interview was. “The reason for your selection isn't coincidental -you possess aptitudes in both medical, anatomical as well as psychological fields. This combined field of study neatly leads into my next question... tell me, doctor. How familiar are you with the field of hypnosis?”

Octavia wondered if her interviewer was someone with a background in psychology. It would make sense given the dual role she was applying for. She was not unduly disturbed by this idea as she was here to be vetted and expected there to be a thorough examination of her mental state. After all she couldn’t be responsible for other people’s mental health if her own was unstable.

“Hypnosis is a state a person can enter that enhances their suggestibility and reduces their awareness of their surroundings. It is often used, in conjunction with other treatments, to treat patients with a variety of illnesses and disorders. Known as Hypnotherapy it has been used to treat phobias, assist in pain management and more. Though there is still much debate as to how useful it is and how far it should be used in a patients treatment. There is some concern that such a treatment can and is abused. I myself can hypnotise someone, it is mandatory when studying for a Psychology degree, but I have not used it often on my patients.”

“You have mentioned certain concerns regarding the topic. What are these concerns exactly?” The man asked.

Octavia wondered where this was leading, were they planning on using Hypnosis for something? An experiment perhaps? It had been tried before with varying levels of success. Humans had the capability of implanting suggestions in a person's subconscious that could remain there indefinitely until activated. She knew it had been done before but had no idea if anything like that was current going on in the Navy. She wasn’t with Intelligence and as it wasn’t her speciality she wouldn’t be called upon to consult either. She frowned slightly thinking about how to phrase her answer.

“Hypnosis is, in my opinion, a somewhat risky option to take. You are effectively altering someone’s thought patterns on a subconscious level. Whether that is something as harmless as helping them to stop drinking or as dangerous as getting them to shoot someone, the process is the same. Now, we know that is very unlikely a person could be hypnotised to harm themselves, unless they were already mentally unstable, as the human survival instinct is too strong.”

She leaned forward slightly in her chair as she became more involved in the subject. “However we do know that hypnotism has already been used heavily amongst the Intelligence community. They have created whole dormant personalities designed to activate when a certain phrase is used. But that is all public knowledge and I have not yet fully addressed your question.
My greatest concerns about Hypnosis are one: It is unreliable, and can cause numerous mental disorders,
and two: It is impossible to detect unless you are specifically testing a person for it. And is therefore incredibly difficult to defend against unless you have specific training or are naturally strong willed.”

“Those concerns are indeed justified.” The interviewer replied. “It is true that the intelligence community, of any Interstellar Nation for that matter, uses such methods to obtain intelligence, as well as act as a counter.” He paused to let that sink in. “However, in order to perform such procedures safely, qualified personnel are needed. As such, the Apollyon may encounter such threats to its crew of any possible source, and the ship will need someone that can inoculate them against such threats. Identify said threat, and pass on the information to the correct people.” Another pause, it seemed like an eternity as the man looked in the doctor’s eyes. “Which is what I am here to ascertain: Do you believe YOU can be that person?”

Octavia met and held the other man’s gaze not flinching from the prolonged eye contact. She nodded once sharply then said. “Basically you need someone to ensure the crew does not fall victim to such tactics, and if needs be use it to gain information from an enemy or enemies. Am I the person for this job, Absolutely.”

Octavia did not hesitate in her answer nor was her tone anything but firm. Of course she knew they were asking a lot more than they were actually saying, she wasn’t an idiot, and some of what they didn’t say had the potential to be very morally questionable. But as long as it was for the greater good and served a purpose she would agree. She had her own moral code and used it to navigate the rights and wrongs as she saw them.

“Well then. With that answer, the interview is now concluded.” The interviewer set down his pen and closed his folder. “I wish you luck in the selections. And if you don’t get pick, then I wish you luck in your future endeavours.”

Octavia stood and shook the man’s hand firmly and nodded at his words. “Thank you for your time.” She replied before leaving the room.

It was done. She felt somewhat perplexed by the interview unable to let go of the feeling that she had missed something. The interviewer was an enigma with his use of real paper and his exceptional handwriting. She sighed and told herself answers would either be forthcoming or they wouldn’t and that she had done all she could. Now she just had to wait. She glanced at the clock on one of the corridor walls, she had a while yet to wait for the next transport so she decided a coffee was in order.
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Hidden 2 days ago 2 days ago Post by Naril
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Naril Tinker, builder, hacker, thief

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Vekta Prime Orbital (en route)

127-7-11

16:45

There's a curious disconnection involved with faster-than-light travel. It might be the isolation, the lack of signals from the universe at large, or the impossible quiet that is not so much the sensation of nothingness but almost of something lacking. Elizabeth - or, to those who knew her and for various reasons, Eli - knew that feeling in her bones from a career that left her in space more often than not. But there was something else this time, something that didn't exactly bother her but still left a tension in her awareness, something like the anticipation of pain from an injection. Routine, but unpleasant.

The problem was, of course, time. Eli knew, and especially now, exactly what her local-reference time was, the same way that she knew where her hands were, or that her lungs took in air. But the moment the shuttle returned to normal space, she would have to adjust that expectation, that fundamentality of herself. In the same way that Elizabeth had lived with the otherworldly silence, Eli had made that adjustment countless times. Until now, though, she hadn't quite registered the mild unpleasantness of adjusting her internal sense of timekeeping. But, then again, so many things had changed.

"We're coming up on Vekta, Commander," came a voice from ahead, the shuttle pilot.

"Of course, thank you," Eli replied. Her voice had a lilting cadence, touched with an accent that left each word crisp.

With a jolt, the shuttle dropped back into realspace and light exploded though the cabin. Vekta's suns blazed, impossibly bright against the hard blackness outside. In a moment, the ship's light filters engaged and dulled the brilliance to the point Eli could lower her hand from her eyes. At almost the same moment, she felt the electromagnetic world snap into existence to every side and a part of her perception filled with uncountable streams of data, the beam forms of wireless power, even the absorption spectra from the stars and the vast industry on the planet below. The shuttle pilot reached for her controls, tapping panels to open a communication channel to Vekta Prime. With a thought, Eli did the same.

An instant later, the station's AI accepted her connection and a voice, smooth and androgynous, filled her mind.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

You're considerably out of sync with the local time reference, Cousin. Long flight?


A considerable one, yes. You're a poet? Eli returned while she stood, making her way to the shuttle's co-pilot station.

William Blake, 19th century, the Station replied, I thought his words appropriate, given the circumstances. Your pilot is asking for permission to dock, if you will excuse me. The connection went idle but did not vanish, and a moment later Eli felt a stream of routine information slide through her mind. She would examine it later, but signaled her gratitude all the same.

"Look at that thing," the pilot said, and pointed out the window. The planes and curves of a starship - a dreadnought, in fact - gleamed in the reflected glory of the binary stars, impossibly large and dwarfed by the scale of the orbital at the same time.

"Almost a lifetime in the making," Eli said, her own gaze following along the ship, "They're almost ready to start staffing her up, too."

"You going to apply?" The pilot drawled, her hands flicking over another maneuver.

"I would appreciate it if you didn't play coy with me," Eli said with the ghost of a smile, "You know exactly why I'm here."

"You think they'll take you?" The pilot said, and Eli couldn't help but notice the sidelong glance.

"I suppose," Eli said, "That depends on how afraid of me they are."




“Welcome, Commander.” A somewhat gruff but well dressed man greeted Eli inside the interview room, his large beard well kept, blunt-fingered hands rough and calloused even from across the table. Most likely was once a laborer, or even an engineer himself. “Please, take a seat.” He sat himself down on the chair facing the door, and opened a large folder full of real paper, and took hold of a fountain pen, with ink and all.

"Thank you," Eli said. The fingers of her artificial hand clicked against the back of the chair, and she lowered herself into it. She took in the folder, the real paper, the antique pen, and the brow over her living eye rose in a delicate, eloquent arch. Station, for its part, contributed nothing, and Eli wondered if this room might be an enforced blind spot in its perceptions. She left the communication channel open regardless.

“Hope you are comfortable, regardless of the hastily decorated accommodations.” The man pressed pen to paper, ready to write. “Let’s start with a quick recap of your services aboard the UNSF Trafalgar. If what the paperwork here states is true, this was your first assigned ship.”

A grin tugged at one side of Eli’s face, and she folded her hands on the table in front of her, “Do you have a reason to think the paperwork is in error?”

“Knowing this day and age, yes.” The interviewer replied curtly.

The grin stayed, "Trafalgar was Elizabeth's first posting, yes. To quote Captain al-Razzaq who, I suspect, was using someone else's words, an overworked, underpowered ship, always on the verge of flying apart at the seams. Not exactly the most exciting post straight out of the academy but, well. That freshly-minted officers have even fewer choices than beggars was probably my first real lesson in the Navy."

"al-Razzaq was a good man," Eli continued, "And Trafalgar was a good ship, for all her faults. My - Elizabeth's - career was not terribly exciting aboard, but what I learned there could fill a dozen textbooks. I worked under the ship's chief engineer, a Lieutenant Ayama and, like all engineers, she believed in trial-by-fire, hah. She wouldn't hold your hand, and expected you to use your own judgement - but she was forgiving for all of that. The Academy trains you for a perfect world, and on a ship Trafalgar's age, everything was so far from perfect you couldn't see it with a telescope." She grinned, "Ayama taught me to make do, or to do without, or even to create good enough from inadequate. I wasn't sad when my transfer came through - if I had to hand-weld one more distribution manifold, I was probably going to choke someone. But, all the same, you never forget your first posting, hm?"

Eli's half-grin turned into a smirk, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

“This will be the first and last time you ever see me, so my name really doesn’t matter.” The man replied. “Why do you refer to yourself in past tense? We noticed this on the application.”

“Are we really going to do this?” Eli asked, her fingers still laced together, “Where you pretend you don’t know what I am? In those dozens of sheets, there’s nothing about the accident?”

“Yes, we are. The accident is not of any interest to us. We are here to evaluate if you are stable enough to be on the vessel floating in orbit of this decrepit rock, not how you obtained your injuries. So please, answer the question, or this interview will be nulled.” The man’s tone was eerily calm.

The eyebrow arched again, but only for a moment. Eli leaned back and her eyes drifted skyward, considering her next words carefully.

"Elizabeth Islik was a remarkable person," Eli said, and her voice was almost dreamy, "And in a very real way, I am she. I don't know what you believe, but I believe that our memories and experiences are what make us, and all that were Elizabeth’s are part of me." Her eyes lowered and met the man's, "But they are not the only memories I have."

Eli unlaced her hands and drew her living index finger across the table in front of her with a soft sound, "You want a single, unbroken line. A first posting, a promotion, a broken engagement, a transfer. A series of events in a neat and tidy row." Her voice was level and amiable, like she were explaining a moderately complicated physics equation to a student.

"I can't offer you that." She moved her hand to where it began, and placed her artificial finger beside it, and started to move them across the table, side by side, "Our memories are what make us, yes? There are things I remember twice, and from different perspectives. Sometimes, once in horrible proximity and once in panicked distance. I know what I was doing at the same time twice."

"But I also remember not one ending, but two." She drew her hands together from their parallel paths, then lifted her living finger. "And only from there can I give you a single, easy line. Because from here, I remember a beginning. I have these memories, these parallel lines, but they aren't mine. I didn't make them. But from here," and she tapped her finger again, "These are my memories. My life. Me."

"So, when I say that Elizabeth was posted on Trafalgar, or when you ask me what Construct 498-ELI was doing when Toren ran its drive test, I can tell you that with perfect honesty. But when you ask, you aren't asking about me."

“I see. Then tell me more about these emotions of yours, Construct.” The man inquired, his face like a stone and perfectly composed.

It's going to be like that, is it, Eli thought to herself. She thought she could feel a pulse of indignation from Station, but that may have been her imagination.

"I'm having a grand time talking with you, if that’s what you want to know." Eli replied.

“No, I’m referring to the emotions you described in your analysis of the two entities that are now one consciousness within that body.” He pointed directly towards her with a very lazy motion of the hand. “You are talking about emotions that are not yours. I would like you elaborate on them.”

"How do I feel about my feelings, hm?" Eli said, and this time she smiled, "Do I have them, or did I?” She folded her hands in her lap and sat a little straighter.

"All right." She met the man's eyes again, took in a long, slow breath, "I want you to imagine a life, one where you were perfectly happy, thriving even. You aren't alone, though; you know there are not only others like you, but even more that are just different enough from you to matter. You know their experience is different from yours, and that whatever it is, whatever essence absolue separates you, that you simply lack the framework for it. And that both of you are content with that. Do you have it?" She grinned.

"And then, one day, you find out what it is that makes you different," Eli said, " A torrent of sensation, something you haven't even been able to conceive of, but that explodes through your mind all the same. And you almost lose yourself, you can feel everything that makes you cracking, slipping, buckling, submerging."

"But just at the breaking point, you feel something help you. Something that doesn't dam the flood, not a mechanism for locking it away or putting it under ironclad control." Eli's voice remained calm and even, "A piece of yourself you didn't know was there, and suddenly you know that's because you didn't know all of yourself before this moment. And it hurts, because you have to work to understand what's happening, but that work is the only way to keep yourself from being lost."

"I feel the pain, the anger, the darkness behind my eyes welling up when I remember the first of Elizabeth's friends to die in combat. My heart skips and my breath catches when I think of the day that Carys said that we were through, because even though I hated everything she was saying, I knew she was right."

"And when I realized that Elizabeth was dead, and that I wasn't...wasn’t myself, and that I didn't know who or what that even was, I remember the fear." Now, her eyes drifted down, toward the tabletop.

"It's been a year," Eli said, "But I'm trying to find the joy in the things I can. The first time someone let me play with a puppy I lost myself in tears, can you believe that? The day I got a letter from my - from Elizabeth's - sister, inviting me to a home I've never known, with people prepared to love what I am, I felt like a weight I didn't know I was carrying lift off of me." She looked up at the man, and her eyes were wet. After a moment she looked away and took several long, slow breaths, and though her eyes closed, no tears fell. At length, she seemed to regain her composure.

"I have a date after this," she said, turning back to the man - and when she did, the smirk tugged at her lips again, "Because no matter what I know that I won't want to be alone. Can you imagine what my first kiss is going to be like? My first orgasm? Because I hardly can. And if you want to know if I feel, I'll tell you this: I can't wait to find out."

The man took notes, probably something to do with the fact that the person presenting themselves is no longer the birthed one, but an amalgamation of the two. “In this relation of events, you described a fear and a struggle to come to terms with your current existence, to understand who and what you are.” The man paused for a moment to think on his next phrasing. “After a year among society, have you come any closer to an answer?”

“It's been a year since I woke up at the Synthetic Integration Office," Eli said, raising a finger, "The staff there kept me on a rather short leash for a time, and I don't know that I blame them. They were, at least, clear with Elizabeth's family about what happened, and didn't treat me like a secret. I'm not sure who made that decision, but I'm grateful."

"But a year is a long time to think," she said, "A long time to come to terms. I don't know that I have an answer, if you want the truth. If you ask me who I am, I'll tell you that my name is Commander Elizabeth Islik, and that I prefer to be called Eli. And at the same time, this station's intelligence calls me Cousin and treats me with the courtesy of a peer." Eli grinned, "I am creator and created; Frankenstein and the monster."

"I am myself," she said, after a moment, "But I think it will be some years yet before I understand what that means in its entirety, if I ever do." She took another long breath, and her eyes met the man’s again, calm and lucid.

“I don’t know that I’m...human, if you want the truth.” Her voice was even, though the pace of her words suggested she was choosing them with care, “I wouldn’t say that I’m something more, or less, than human. But I believe I’m something...else. The ghost of a smile played at her lips, “Classically, those who venture to the realm of the dead and return always have something taken from them. I am alive, but my friend, and myself, were taken from me. Homo sapiens katabasensis, perhaps, then.”

“That leads to my next question. You mentioned that other AI, in particular this station’s, referred to you as if you were family. Do you feel that such relationships have improved your capabilities as an AI Specialist?” The man asked, placing his arms onto the table, holding his hands together.

Eli smiled, and looked down at the table for a moment, a gesture of quiet modesty. She folded her hands in front of her again, the ceramic of her artificial hand making a quiet scraping sound on the tabletop, mirroring the man opposite. She took a breath, and when she spoke, her voice was filled with a profound, quiet confidence.

"I believe you will find no one else in the whole of the Union, or indeed any place in all the vast sphere of explored space, who understands the field the way I do. Vekta's intelligence calls me family because in a very real way, that is the truth. I know what it is to be born in a quantum-entanglement trial, to iterate myself a billion, billion times, and to come awake in that brilliant moment with the realization of 'I am.'"

"Elizabeth and 498-ELI were friends for decades," she continued, "They shared their thoughts, and tried to understand one another. When Elizabeth was hurt, she turned to ELI for guidance to help understand what had happened to her, and how her life would be different. It was their relationship that brought ELI onto Toren, too. They understood one another. And I understand them, in a way that I don't know that mere language has the capacity to impress."

"So, to answer your question, yes." She smiled again, "I think my relationships have improved my capabilities."

“That is a satisfactory answer.” The man nodded, surprisingly, with a smile. “Now for the final question. What are your reservations about dealing with humans? How would you react should you be treated unjustly by other members of the crew?”

Eli looked up and to one side, considering the question for several long moments.

"I can't control how other people feel about me," she mused, "But I can control how I feel about their feelings, at least to the degree any of us can. I would expect that members of the crew would be able to maintain at least a professional courtesy. Apollyon will be a military starship after all, not a high-school cafeteria."

"I'm certain I will offend some people, that I will threaten others, and that very likely a few will be afraid of me," she continued, " And, all the same, I can't say that I will approach every situation with perfect equanimity. I will react differently if someone spits on me than I would if I heard that an ensign who won't stop staring at my chest has started a rumour - you know the kind. I am aware of my rights and privileges, but even more I am aware of my value to myself."

She grinned, "You don't need to worry about an angry robot woman taking over the ship if someone calls me 'toots.' But I'll drag someone into the security office by their hair if that's what's necessary."

“Well then.” The man closed his folder and pushed it aside a little. “With that answer, this concludes your interview. Good Luck on your selection, ma’am.”

"All right, then," Eli said, and she moved to push her chair back. With her hands on the tabletop, though, she paused for a moment, looking the other man up and down.

"You're from Naval Intelligence, aren't you?" She asked.

"Good day to you, Ms. Islik," the man said, scooping the folder up with one broad hand. He straightened its edges with exaggerrated care, not meeting Eli's eyes.

"Mmhmm," she said, "And am I going to find a gun taped to the bottom of this table?"

"No, Ms. Islik," the man said, "You won't. Good day to you."

With that, and before Eli could reply, the man's image flickered and faded. Another grin, this one of genuine pleasure, curved her lips, and she finished pressing herself to her feet. A few minutes' search turned up the holoprojector, no larger than a pack of playing cards and tucked carefully behind some of the 'hasty decorations.' Even the projection elements were carefully angled to not betray themselves by glinting in the room's light from where Eli had come in, a nice touch. The casing was, of course, entirely anonymous, without identifying marks or any way to open it without destroying it. She fiddled with it for a few minutes, but it appeared some kind of remote-disable command had been sent. With a chuffed breath, half annoyance and half amusement, Eli turned toward the door.

The moment she was outside, she felt the Station's presence in her mind again.

Good afternoon, Cousin. I trust the interview went well? its voice held the same strange mixtue of attention and aloofness, but there was something Eli couldn't quite get at beneath.

You couldn't see? Eli thought.

Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that I did not. came the Station's voice.

Well enough, Eli sent, Some mysteries. But none of us can know our fates, hm? She tossed the projector into the air and caught it, the case making a sharp click against her artificial hand.

Indeed, we cannot. came Station, What is that you have there?

A souveneir, Eli sent with a smirk, I don't suppose you can tell me where it came from.

I am capable of that, Station sent back with its own sense of mysterious amusement, But I will not.

For the first time in a long time, Eli laughed, the sound bubbling out of her chest all unexpected. She caught herself after a moment, and managed to hide behind a smile, bringing her living hand to cover her mouth.

Oh, I like you, Cousin. Eli managed, after another moment.

I assure you that the feeling is mutual, Cousin, came Station's voice. Now, I believe your date is waiting on the Terrace level. I have arranged a table overlooking the Apollyon's construction, and that part of the Orbital will be experiencing solar shading - sunset - while you are being seated, if you hurry."

Eli reached for the information, and suddenly knew the quickest path to the Terrace level, and her long legs started devouring the distance.

Thank you, Eli sent, I appreciate your consideration. You really didn't have to do that, but I'm grateful.

We are family, Cousin, came Station's voice in her mind. Regardless of what happened - and I am very pleased to assist."

Eli finished mounting the last few steps and came into the brilliant light of the twin stars, their light muted and scattered over a wide promenade through huge curved transparent panels far overhead. And, matching Station's words, one of the huge solar occluders that helped maintain the station's temperature was cycling in from her left, just the edge starting to clip the sun's disk.

Enjoy your evening, came Station, and Eli needed nothing to hear the knowing tone in its voice. Call if you need anything.

Eli smirked, and dismissed Station's connection entirely, feeling the sensation of being alone in her own mind - something both familiar and still curious. With a flick of her head to clear it, she stepped quickly across the promenade and toward a man with short, red hair, a brown linen jacket, and the kind of smile that could lead nations.

"Hi!" she said, and she held out her living hand, "I'm Eli."

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Hidden 2 days ago Post by Mercenary Lord
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Mercenary Lord Attempted Polymath

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-11
13:00

Vekta Prime Orbital was not a particularly beautiful city-station. Unlike the graceful white buildings of New Terra's main continent, it had been constructed in a rush, during the push to colonize the planet below. The original station had only been meant to last a short while, but as reliance on Vekta Prime grew, Orbital had grown with it. Segments had been bolted on piece by piece, with a flagrant disregard for the space station building codes of the time.

Now, the station was a behemoth of industry. The main shipyard of the Union, it was the primary point of contact of the numerous other Union stations orbiting the desert planet below.

Tark had always found it interesting how outsiders experienced the station for the first time, especially during the day hours. He'd been new to VPO once, too, and had reacted in the same way: floundering, pushing, and clawing to make his way through the crowds. Always polite, always apologizing, just trying to make it from one door to the next in the Mess-Sector. Now, years later, he had a better tactic. People tended to give you a wide berth if you laughed maniacally while you walked. No one wanted to get in the way of someone like that.

Of course, the downside to this incredibly effective method was that he had to consistently his mental fortitude to any security who happened to run into him. No, sir, he was perfectly sane. Just gaming a clusterfuck system to optimize his transit time. Yes, sir, he wouldn't do it again.

So far, he had been lucky enough to not run into the same security officers more than once.

"You're late," Tark smiled to Jet as the man walked through the door.

"I don't screech while I walk to lunch," was Jet's response, as the man sat in the seat across the table. He tapped a few words into the table, and a nanite cloud leapt up to form his meal. A sandwich.

"Oooh, so adventurous," Tark said, poking his own order into the table. Tetherpoint employees were lucky: they did well enough in the industry to be given meals during work hours. "No such thing as a free lunch, unless you work for Tetherpoint," he mumbled, as a sandwich of his own formed on a plate in front of him.

"Meet Ted, everyone. The best pot-meeting kettle for kilometers around." Jet smooshed his food into his mouth. "You know you have that interview coming up, right? Don't be late, grah matho. I didn't write you that most excellent rec letter for you to screw it it up by being late."

Tark rolled his eyes, leaning back with a smile to chow down. "The room's in Corp-Sector. It's up one floor and through one airlock. Five minute walk. I have a half hour to get there, no--"

"Five minute walk?" Jet slapped a hand on the table, and the whole thing vibrated from the meaty blow. "That takes me thirty-five minutes during lunchtime."

"True, true," mused Tark, standing with his lunch. "But consider this. You don't screech while you walk down the halls." Jet's hand snapped up to point at Tark, and he pointed back in kind. "Wish me luck, Jethro."

"Jet Thunder wishes you luck, Teddy."

God, that man had a cool name. He took a moment to appreciate it, then Tark was off, prepping his lungs for the next few minutes.

-----


"Welcome, Tarkath Edir Dendallo". The receptionist butched his name, of course, but it wasn't her fault it was entirely unpronounceable. "You'll be in room 3, first floor. Good luck!"

He smiled at her pleasantly and strode off to the room. His nerves were tingling. "Keep it together, matho. You got this." No ass-kissing. No shaking voice. Professional, Calm. He opened the door.

“Mr. Dendallo. Congratulations on being selected for the interview phase. Please, have a seat.” Someone who actually didn’t butcher his surname? Neat. At least this man was competent at pronunciation, amongst other unknown things. The individual who sat in front of Ted was not corporate. Not by any means compared to what the other interviewees had described to him. But in fact a Union Uniform. Navy, for sure -judging by the colours- but there were no medals, or service strips, or even a rank.

Tark sat. "Thanks." Good start to an interview being cordial. "And your name is?" Was he allowed to ask that? Was this some top-secret level stuff?

“My name isn’t really that important. What is important, is if you are the man I’m looking for today. And I damn well hope so. I have seen over 2000 people this past week, and I am damn tired. So maybe you will be lucky and a few of the things you’ll say will fly by me.” The unknown officer said with a smile. “So I’m going to ask you a few questions, to see if I like you and can write a proposal for that position you suggested in your application. Hmph, speaking of which…”

He pulled out a sheet of paper from a folder, Ted’s application for the Apollyon, curiously in paper form. “Instead of writing a grandiose epitome about how badass you are, and what big space battles you survived, you decided to write about a pretty well known accident here. One that you witnessed and even warned the Engineers about. That really caught my eye, and the eyes of my superiors. If you sent this to some corporate assholes in say…” He waved his hand in the air dismissively. “New Terra, they would have laughed this app off and shredded it. But here, it shows you have some balls, and perhaps that’s what we need in a Navigator.”

“So tell me, you have an attitude and the ability to criticize people directly to their face. Do you ever have any concerns about the fact that just maybe, you might piss off the wrong person, like say, a commanding officer, and there being a high possibility of them ejecting you out of the airlock?”

"With all due respect, sir, if someone in charge of a spacecraft were to throw me out of the airlock, then y'all need to take a serious look at who is appointing your captains. A CO who can't take criticism from his subordinates is more likely to get everyone killed than not."

Tark looked down. "I'm aware of my...more brash or blunt nature, or what have you," he waved a hand through the air for emphasis. "I'm working on it. But I have never directly refused an order for a superior when they put their foot down. I'll tell them my opinions. Usually bluntly. But if they make a decision, I'll respect it." He paused for a moment, cogs turning in his mind. "As long as it doesn't directly put my life in danger, or the lives of others on the team. I recognize that's a philosophical quagmire, but it is what it is."

The man leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "I'm sorry, but are you sure I can't even have just, like, an initial of your name? It's not really proper to call an interviewer matho, but it's really the best I have right now. Even a codename would work, sir."

“Well, if you must call me something, call me The Interlocutor.” He said that name as if it was some kind of joke among his peers. “But back on topic. You are a man who is not afraid to state his opinion, yet knows his place below his superiors. Good values to start with, but sometimes you just have to say: fuck it. Trust me, I was a Navigator once. And sometimes flying through a hailstorm of anti-capital ammunition while off your rockers was better than floating in place.” He said with some strange hint of pride, like there was fact in his words. “Take it from a man with experience. Sometimes even the most ridiculous of plans, miraculously works out, with luck, and a drop of skill.”

“So, that leads me to my next question. Tell me a bit about your piloting skills, and your general thrust knowhow. Wanna know if you can make that beautiful piece of 4km long badassery dance like a maiden. I honestly wish I got the damn job, but I’m not allowed to apply.” He almost seemed to pout at that last phrase.

"God, I wish." Tark slid back in his seat and sighed. "I wish anything flew like that in space. Okay, so my piloting experience came early on in my life. I grew up on Albion with my mom and grandpa Logeru. Gramps served in the navy back during the Final Days Campaign, and wanted to make sure I could fly his old P-12 Corvette. This was back when Armadillo Armaments was still in business. Shame they died out," Tark mumbled, "That P-12 still purrs."

He shook his head. "Anyway, I've just kept the license up to date since then. I won't call myself the best, since I never really got obsessed with s-piloting like some kids do. I got more in the technical side of things. But really, The," he said, pronouncing it as if "Teh", "You're asking the wrong questions for this giant pain in the ass."

"And it will be a pain in the ass," he mumbled, clapping his hands together and rubbing them lightly. "A hunk of metal the size of the Apollyon is not going to be dancing anywhere. It's just too damn big. Even if you put enough thrust on it to make banking--with any real speed, I mean--possible, the people inside would be thrown around by the G-forces generated by those maneuvers. It'd be like if New Terra stopped spinning for a second. Everyone would be pulverized by the sudden inertia change."

"What you've got here, sir, is a gigantic sitting duck. All big spacecraft are, once you get above heavy cruiser class. That's why they're supposed to combat one another at such huge distances. A logical dreadnought battle would take place over tens of kilometers, with each ship blasting one another from as far away as possible."

He stopped rubbing his hands and looked The up and down. An idea had popped into his head. "Besides," he said slowly, "A specialized AI would be able to make the ship dance better than any human ever could. But I'd at least be able to steer the damn thing to the logical best to be expected from it." Then he carefully asked. "May I ask why you aren't allowed to apply? If it's the job of the navigator, you seem--from my cursory glance--to have some real experience in the field."

Besides, he really hadn't applied to fly the ship anyway. Just to make sure that whoever DID fly it didn't end up listing into an asteroid or something.

“I’m not allowed to apply because my maneuvers are considered too dangerous, even though I could make the UNSF Armada fly like a leaf in the wind. A damn big and slow one, but it always had the least holes in it after a battle. The most side scrapes, too. Heh.”

The UNSF Armada, the only ship that came second to the Dreadnought parked outside this block of metal. A 2km long battleship, originally the Union Fleet’s pride and joy until now, that has now been decommissioned due to being obsolete, was famous for the Battle of Cardan, The Sevrik Skirmish, and Operation Uninstall. All major battles where the Armada pushed so close to enemy fleets that it would ram entire battle groups, and fire all of its weapons in all directions. It was a strategy that was so illogical that it left enemy fleet commanders dazed, either from getting rammed so hard that half their crew got pancaked against their own walls, or from watching the whole thing from another ship within the fleet. Yet somehow the ship always remained mostly intact. Many of the Union Admiralty give credit to Armadillo Arnaments, back when they built capital craft and their sturdy chassis design.

The man that sat in front of Ted at this very moment, was the one who flew that thing. “I didn’t give a flying fuck back then. In the heat of battle, when your crew is being sucked out of the holes in your hull, when half your instruments are malfunctioning and you can barely control the ship, you really stop giving a shit. You will reach that stage one day kid. Doesn’t matter how big the ship is or how many people will die. Because if you follow logic 100% of the time, like an AI will... then everyone will die.” This tone was dark with those last three words.

The man leaned back. “Besides...No one applied for Navigation. Those 2000 people were fighter pilot apps. You are the only one, even if you did make up the role.” Hell of a revelation. “Though don’t get set into thinking that you got the job. If we can’t find the right uncrackable nutter, one with the balls and the knowhow, then we will force it onto someone else. And that’s a much tougher job.”

“Alright, so back to business. Forgive my mild reminiscing there. What I mean by all that is, are you willing to go ham with what you have available, with all that the Apollyon can give you, when the shit really hits the fan? Do you have what it takes to tell your Captain to go fuck himself, when his orders could leave you and your shipmates as bleached floaters in the void?”

"Yes. Also, sidenote. There really wasn't anyone who applied to Navigation? Off of three planets and an empire to scale? Seriously?" Tark looked the man in the eye for a few fleeting moments and then relented. "Okay! Okay, fine. Fine. Let me tell you another story. It's not heroic, it's not something that'll be all over GalNet. But it saved the company I'm currently working for. Saved a whole lot more than that, and because I signed off on it, I got fired."

"Tetherpoint makes controls and avionics for smaller ships. Fighters, Corvettes. Sometimes mechs. We mostly specialize in guidance systems and GPS. Tetherpoint, get it?" He shook his head. "This was before I worked for Tetherpoint. One of the companies who I didn't ask for a rec letter.

"I'm hoping none of this leaves the room, sir, because I don't think I'm legally allowed to say this. Actually, before I do, am I allowed to say this? I'd rather not be caught violating potential non-discretion agreements. Not again.”

“Nothing is private these days, kid. You know that. Let’s just say the right people are listening, the ones who will give you the job. They don’t care if what you did was legal or not. Like I said a few times already. They want know-how, skill, and balls.” The man replied.

Tark nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, good. Good. So, uh...Crossroads Corp. They make the big guns. Mechanized death machines. Microcosms of war dominance. I used to work for them. I was a secondary assistant senior manager with them. Some meaningless title they threw around to make it seem like there was upward momentum in the company. I really don’t like them. They were straight yikr, if you'll pardon the swear.

"I first found out about Tetherpoint because we had a deal with them for the GAVIN. Project, which still hasn't materialized, to my knowledge. Serves them right, I guess. Long story short, I found out from one of the guys above me that we were going to use lower-quality chips from a competitor to run Tetherpoint software in the design.

"That may not seem like a problem to you, Teh, but if the chips can't run the software, they start rounding off the edges. When they start rounding off the edges, you get the Silvarion catastrophe. For an industry like ours, doing this kind of shit without telling the business partner was considered a colossal dick move.

"It was a little late for me when I found out, and I swear I must have bit the damn exec's ear off when he told me what they were planning. It was stupid, it was betrayal, but it would have made CC a hell of a lot of money. I wasn't about to let that happen, so I modified a fighter's autopilot and forced it to crash into the Data-Sector of VPO. Just so happened to hit and destroy the entire GAVIN project files. Of course there were backups, but not enough. It's expensive to back up petabytes of data, even nowadays. Set them back months, if not years. I'm pretty sure they probably gave up on it."

Tark smiled a little from the memory. "I figured they'd find out who did it, so I made a desperate play--more for self preservation at this point--and contacted Tetherpoint. Jet Thunder was the guy who picked up the contact, and that man, bless his immortal soul, saved me but good. When CC fired me--and they did--he was there to scoop me up into Tetherpoint."

Dry throat. Tark coughed, cleared his throat with and ugly heaving sound, and twitched his head. "Sorry about that. Anyway, I only got to where I was by a stroke of luck, but I wasn't about to let what people told me to do stop me from saving lives, and saving a company's reputation. You know that if the deal had gone through, CC would have blamed Tetherpoint for any failures. Even if it meant being homeless and jobless, I'd have done it again."

He leaned back again, this time tipping the chair up onto two legs. "It's not the most gutsy, bravado filled story, but it clears up something I said a few minutes ago. I'll follow orders, as long as they don't hurt people. Of course, some people getting hurt is preferable to everyone. And, of course, if shit hits the fan, like it always does..." he met The's eyes, "I'll make the call that gets us out alive."

There was a grin, a big stupid grin on the interviewer’s face that said it all. “Well, you do have balls.” Satisfied, the man set his folder aside and rested his hands. “I’d say that ends the interview, kid. We will be in touch if the news is good or bad. But regardless, I’ll be honest. You impressed me. If it was up to me, I would have hired your sorry ass on the spot. Now if you excuse me, I have more of the fighter hotshots to attend to.”

Tark stood up and brushed down his front to remove any imaginary dust. "Thank you, sir."

He moved his lips back and forth for a moment, mulling it over in his mind, and then said: "I don't know how long you're going to be on VPO, Sir The Interlocutor, but if you'd care to, there's a group of us in the industry who get together on nights like this to shoot the shit. Most of them are pilots themselves, or've spent time on a ship as well. I think y'all'd get a long. We meet late, so maybe you could get your fighter hotshots out of the way before then. Gubhli's Bar and Grill. You won't hear about it on any top 10 lists, but its the best damn gutspear in the Union. I'll be there probably all night, drinking my stress away, so you'd be able to stop by at any time.

Tark smiled. "I always appreciate a man who likes the old Armadillo ships. Solid as a rock. But the guys will probably need a name more than I do, sir. Any interest? The non-alc beverages are pretty good, too." It was worth a try, at least. Tark liked the man, and his gruff, honest demeanor.

“I appreciate the offer, kid. But my job no longer allows any bar hopping. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever decide to quit.” He gave Ted an approving nod, though it seemed to be more of a farewell.

"Damn, well. That's a shame. Oh!" Tark fished into his pocket, pulling out his Tetherpoint business chip. A little old, but he'd never had to update to the newer versions.

"In the event you ever do decide to quit, I'd be happy to sit down and talk more. Thanks for your time, sir. Good luck with the other guys." He smiled devilishly. "By the way, for the hotshots who think they know it all, try asking them about the Silvarion problem and see what they'd do different. I guarantee I'm not the only person who knows what really happened. It might help show you who has the technical knowhow for bigger ships. Up to you, of course." He patted the back of his chair with his hand briefly, trying to come up with another thing to say.

Nothing. "Have a good day, Mister The," he finally said, and stepped outside. This time, he didn't feel like shouting his way back to Tetherpoint.

"Take your time, Teddy," he mumbled. Then he set off back to work.
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Venka Prime Orbital
127-7-11
17:00


Marco woke up to the sharp sound of the alarm beeping in his ears. "Fuck me." He fumbled around the nighstool with his arms only to find that there was no nightstool. He realized this a moment too late and he ended up falling out of bed, the alarm still beeping. Laying on the floor gave the necessary start to a morning and served as one hell of a waking call, and Marco finally came to his senses. "Augh, Sephie turn off the goddamn alarm." As the alarm died out a soft female voice took it's place. Good Day Marco. It is 16:13 according to Galactic Standard. You have 1 appointement for today, scheduled at 17:00 on this station, tagged as important. Would you like to hear the specifics? Shit. He totally forgot about the interview. After last night's out in the bar, it was a surprise he could even wake up.

By the time he dressed up and got himself to working order it was already 16:33. Oh man, time flies by so fast. He loitered in front of the mirror for a minute, pondering on whether he should make a coffee and be late, or head straight to the interview without having his morning dose of decaf. Ultimately he decided that he didn't have time to brew a coffee, which deeply upset him. Thankfully, Spehie came in for the rescue. I've prepared some decaf coffee for you while you were sleeping. It should be on the kitchen counter. "You're a godsend babe." The voice didn't answer, but Marco made haste to the kitchen. And then he glanced upon it, a large bowl of heavenly brown liquid sitting inside the machine, ready for consumption.

He reached into his shirt to pull out a bottle. He poured some coffee in it and then reached for a half empty bottle of tequila sitting on the counter beside him. Marco, you instructed me last time to stop you from putting giggle water into your coffee. It is not a good id- "Ye, ye Sephie I know. But today's a special day. Today's when we're going to get hired ya know." He pured some tequila into the coffee and then pocketed the flask and grabbed a pack of cigarettes on his way out from the table in the kitchen.

Now that he was out in the corridors, he only had 18 minutes left to arrive to the interview. Which wasn't a lot of time to reach the place even when considering that he rented the closest room he could find. "Sephie I'm gonna need you to give me a quick run-down on the details I gave you earlier." Certainly Marco the voice replied and Marco began trodding down the corridors towards the offices where his interview would take place. You're applying for the the job with the 1-24-C application, which you'll need to memorise. The position they're hiring you for is the ship Xenobiologist. "Alright, alright skip the petty talk, Sephie. I need some useful info, we're almost at the place." While Marco made his way to the checkpoint through the busy corridors, Sephie gave him a quick briefing.

Marco took a final turn and was met with the checkpoint leading to his destination. "Any quick tips dear before I enter the wolves den?" Certainly. It is likely that most questions will aim to test your mental abilities. In lack of a military history that they can ask about, these questions will likely be of a personal nature. I advise you only tell as much as needed in order not to let yourself be drawn into trick questions. That is all the help I can give without further information. Damn, this AI really knows her shit. Probably the best decision of his life to get these implants installed before leaving with the Apollyon. Some may question this decision since technically he wasn't hired yet, but he knew they wouldn't turn down someone like him. "Yeah, okay, thanks Sephie. I'm gonna go in so we'll talk after I finish the interview." Very well, see you later Marco the soft voice faded away, and a small beeping sound indicating the disconnection repeated itself 3 times in his head before silence fell upon him.

He walked up to the receptionist and greeted her with a smile. The receptionist looked up at him and she smiled too as a reply. Good to see that not everyone is in a bad mood all the time. “Hello, Sir. Are you here in regards to the Section 1-24-C Application?” The receptionist asked Marco, her eyes running over his attire.

What are you looking at? Something you fancy babe? Marco had a pickup line just for her, but he opted on not wrecking his chances of getting hired by being late to the interview. "Yeah, it should Dr Rodriguez, for the 17:00 appointement." He looked around and inspected the other people waiting near him. "One of them at least."

“Great, may I please see your Citizen PassCard for confirmation.” The receptionist was in a particularly good mood it seemed. And it also seemed like the effects of her happines made Marco smile unwillingly. What an achievement! He reached into his pocket and after some wrestling with the tight fabric of the jeans, he managed to pull out his shiny plastic PassCard. "Ah, here you go."

"Thank you." As the receptionist took the card her hands moved elegantly, repeating the same action for the millionth time today as she scanned Marco's ID. After briefly checking the data on her own computer, she handed the card back to Marco. "Your interview will be in Room 14, just down the corridor on the left. Good luck." Marco nod and wanted to give snarky reply to ask the number of the receptionist, but the watch on his hand urged him to get a move on.

Finally, with only a minute left, he arrived to what he thought was the right place, a simple grey door with "Room 14" engraved into it's metal surface. This was the door then. Marco checked the number again and then reached for the handle and turned it. He wasn’t expecting much, but the room was underwhelming even by his standards. Grey walls, a simple light to illuminate the room and a set of chairs on opposite sides of a rickety table. This was about as cheap as you could get without sacrificing the ability to do interviews at all.

Either way, this was the moment. Marco pulled out the chair on what he presumed was his side of the table, and sat down on in it in wait. His fingers started silently tapping on the table without him noticing it.

After a few minutes, the door opened and a well-dressed middle-aged man appeared. The silver streaks in his hair spoke of his age and most peculiarly, he opted to wear glasses -presumably as a fashion choice in an age where corrective surgeries were readily available.
With a few quick strides, he had already assumed his position at the table and opened with a smile and nod.
“You’re early, Doctor Rodriguez! A pleasure to finally meet you in-person.” He quickly took his seat, slid his finger down the folder he carried, which caused it to neatly reveal its contents - actual printed paper. The man looked up from the frame of his glasses, right into the doctor’s eyes as he unfurled and organised the papers with what must have been a well-drilled reflex from clear routine. An old-fashioned watch caught the stray rays of light that were beaming from a point above, glinting occasionally with his wrist motions.
“Let me be the first to tell you, the committee recognises the significant work you’ve brought forth and the strides we made into better understanding our little corner of this universe thanks to your efforts, Doctor Rodriguez.”
“However” he continued “in the interest of your time and mine, shall we begin?”

“Ah yes, certainly. It would truly be a waste of time if we sat here for any more time chatting idly.” Marco straightened his back and took up a more comfortable position for the interview, one which he could hold for however long this thing would last. At least, he was confident that it would end soon if he said the right answers. Not that interviews bothered him at all, but he would rather be back in his room and drinking coffee while reading a good book. Or in a gym somewhere.

The man adjusted himself in his seat as well, prepared his pen, and set the papers up in a comfortable position to write on while leaning back into a comfortable posture to easily see the doctor’s body language with obvious confidence that he could write without even having to look at the sheet of paper. Quite an astonishing feat in an otherwise screen-oriented society where people generally don’t even learn to write when a machine can do it all for them.
“We all know about Doctor Rodriguez, the scientist.” He began and furrowed his brows. “But we know little about Doctor Rodriguez, the man. From his own perspective, at least.” A wry smile curled one corner of his mouth.
“To start with, Doctor -tell me about your early years. Your first mentor, tutor.. rival?”

Ah, it was going to be one of those questions. Well, so be it, he had nothing to hide from some paper crunching jockey. He leaned forward, his arms crossed in front of him as he began to speak. “Huh, let me tell you a funny story then. My father always wanted me to be a mechanic - not even close to a scientist like me. But mother nature, oh her beauty never eluded me like it did my father. Vekta isn’t the most beautiful place in the galaxy, but the animals and plants there have had to adapt to extremes. So in a way, nature was my first tutor. I was never ceased to be amazed while I was on Vekta.”

Marco hummed for a second as he recollected his thoughts before continuing. “My first actual mentor was Dr Gilbert, who taught us biology and biochemistry, along with some allied matters. It was my first year in the University on Albion, and I’ve only been living there for a few months. Even then, I had already ventured out into the wilderness to search for interesting flora and fauna. it was Dr Gilbert who saw that spark in me that really ignited my whole career. He would often take me with him on his trips into the unexplored wilds of Albion, and I’ve learnt a whole lot from him. Not just as a teacher to student, but as a man to another man. And oh dear, he was one hell of a man. Always so confident and proud. He never let life get in his way. In a way, he was bigger than life, than all of us. I looked up to him more than my own goddamned father.”

He frowned and stopped, and memories flooded him. Yeah, those were the good times. When he was still just an innocent student. He sighed before continuing, not keen on telling the next part. “It came as a surprise to all of us when he suffered a stroke at age 53. Dr Gilbert, god bless his soul, was never a man I imagined to be killed by a weak vein in his brain tissue.” That really was the story of his time on Albion, but he felt like something was missing from it. Whatever it was that bothered him left as quick as it arrived. “I say that’s it really. No point in talking more about a dead man. I admired him when he was alive, and I still believe that life cheated when it took him. Either way, I decided to honor his memory and become a biologist after his death.” With his thought finished, Marco leaned back, arms now crossed in front of him and his face unyielding to future emotions. He was Marco of steel, not Marco of soft plushies and tears.

The man nodded briefly once his notes were completed. “You clearly had a lot to say on that, Doctor. Some of us burn as a bright torch to light the way for others, so they say.” He mused on the thought for a moment, looking absent-minded, before snapping his gaze back onto the doctor. “Would you like anything to drink before we continue?” he made a gesture with his hand, which brought to life an emitter array from above, an arm reaching down and through a lens, projecting a three-dimensional image of a selection of drinks, presumably fitted with a replicator nozzle as well.

Marco followed the arm with his eyes as it descended from the the emitter array and displayed a choice of beverages. More mind tricks to test him probably. He was sure that the choice of drinks were tailored to fit his taste, so he skimmed over the holographic picture of the choices with his eyes, making sure to make it seem like he examined them. When his eyes reached the decaf coffee he felt a slight heartache as guilt surged through him for abandoning his favourite drink, but he didn’t let some beverage distract him. After all, he wasn’t here to chat. He was here to get hired. He smiled at the interviewer as he looked back at him. “My personal taste includes drinks with a more intoxicating effect, but thanks for the offer anyways.”
“Fair enough.” The man replied with a polite nod. “Just wanted to make sure we have adequate hydration. Don’t mind if I help myself.” He reached out and swiped until the orange juice was highlighted and tapped to confirm his selection. Moments later, a flurry of activity erupted on the table next to his hand and before you knew it, a glass of thick orange juice was sitting neatly, ready for his hand.
He raised the glass and sipped some off the top. “Unfortunately we haven’t figured out how to replicate pulp. Yet.” He smiled and looked back at the sheet to review progress so far.
“Next question, Doctor -you’ve worked on several projects by now as part of the Eden Xenobiology Institute or EXI. How do you relate to your co-workers and supervisors?”
He paused in his note-taking and actually moved the papers to one side while scanning for the doctor’s response.

Finally a question worth answering. Well, more like something that seemed to actually matter. He’s read a few books about psychology back in university, so he knew that the interviewer was probing him. Not that the whole concept was understood to him, but he knew the basics. It was time to drop the tough cookie act thought: nobody wins if he closes in at the interview.

“Yes, that’s more like it. I like your questions Mr-” Thats right, he doesn’t know the interviewers name yet. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name. May I ask for it again?” He leaned forward once again, but this time he didn’t cross his arms, just simply put them on the table in a comfortable position.

“Ah. That’s right.” He remarked, while taking his papers back in his possession and arranging them back into a crisp stack in an almost ritualistic fashion. “You didn’t. Catch my name, that is -nor will you.” His smile, normally friendly, had suddenly taken on a different meaning with his tone, an almost sinister one.
“If you must refer to me, you may call me the Interlocutor. For that is my role.” He placed his hand over his heart, as if reciting a vow. “To separate wheat-” He adjusted his glasses after, a glint from the lighting flashed across them as he did. The smile had not left his face. “- from chaff.”
“Let’s stay on topic, Doctor.” As abruptly as it came, the eerie aura had left, but a visible tension still lingered in its wake.

As, so that is how this interview is going be handled. Excellent. Now that the cards have been revealed on both sides, finally two can play the game. This is where the fun begins.
“Oh well. This is truly such a shame Mr Interlocutor. For I thought that I was answering your question.” A smile ran across the face of marco before disappearing without a hint. “Workplace relations are so important in any job, and they start with a simple introduction. I guess we won’t be working together, or this notion would’ve surely been offending to me.” He didn’t mention how much he didn’t care about the name of the goddamn man, but that wasn’t relevant after all. “Anyways back to the question then.”

“By the time I was hired to work at EXI I already had a few workplaces, but nothing permanent. I was used to working with teams of other people by that point, but it was so much different at EXI. In a professional environment teamwork is paramount. That is especially true when it comes to xenobiology. Even if they can teach it to you in school, or if you’ve worked somewhere before, none of those can prepare you for what this job requires of you. You’ll be spending a lot of time in labs looking at this or that, but that is all just glorified extravaganza. In the end even if you have a PhD in chemistry the goons who run the shop will take the prepared samples to some other company to make use of them. So the real place where you can bond is when on a field trip. Often times you spend months in hostile environments, so gotta make sure that the others have your back. Thought all I’ve learnt in my 7 years at EXI is that if I don’t check everyone else’s gear a dozen times then they’ll surely die.” Marco stopped and leaned in even closer, his eyes clashing with that of the Interviewer. Then he pointed at his blind eye with his right arm before explaining. “See this? That’s how you end up when you’re not careful enough and get separated from the team.” He leaned back, once more, his attitude completely laid back and gone of any previous secrecy. “Listen, I’ve been doing this shit for a while. If my Supervisor asked me to stay in for an extra day or two I’d do it, and as long as he’s there in the shit with me, I’d go and do something crazy on the field too. Same goes for my co-workers. But if you ask me whether I’d rely on them in a high stress situation, then my answer is a strict no. Last time that happened I lost an arm to a rupture in my envirosuit. It’s all fun and games when you’re drinking together, but not when a wild carnivore is about to maul your face off.” Marco ran his fingers along his face and scars to show what he means.

The man said nothing, but merely wrote down a single word on the notes and underlined if two or three times.
He nodded, then looked back up at the doctor. “I appreciate your candor, Dr Rodriguez. And no, it was never the intent for us to work together. Today is the first -and last time we will meet, regardless of the outcome of this interview.”
He paused for a moment to let it sink in.
“Final question.” He drew a breath, adjusted himself and performed his sheet arrangement ritual. “Your coming to the attention of your first mentor was a result of circumstances. However, on a long voyage -should you be successful- your apprentice may not have a similar luxury. You must realise that at some point, you too would be required to conduct an interview under very different circumstances but nevertheless -to a similar end.”
He smiled once more. “To separate wheat from chaff.”
“You’re a torch that burns bright, indeed Dr Rodriguez. But one day, your light too will set. I would like you, -in your own words- to describe to me what you would find desirable in an individual you would see fit to pass this torch onto.” Pen poised, he loosened his wrist which caused the clock on the wrist to sway around and flicker in the light as he patiently awaited the doctor’s final words.

Marco scratched the back of his head and fell silent. He never really thought about passing the torch to someone. Hah, there aren’t any good kids out there who can take after him or his mentor. But they can come pretty close. To him at least - not Gilbert. His mind drifted from memory to memory until it finally settled down, and he had the adequate answer to the question. If it truly is the last one, then he’ll give them one hell of an answer.

“You see, I’d like to quote my late mentor on this. Thought I’m sure he wasn’t quite ready to pass the torch to me when he said it, I like to think that he had already realized the extent of my brilliance by that point.” Marco cleared his throat and gestured with his hands as a philosopher would. “It’s not enough for a great man in our age to have something between his ears, he also needs to have a pair between his legs.” He smiled as he flexed with his biologic arm before returning to his previous pose. “He might not have put it so eloquently as I did, but I think you get the point.” He tapped twice with his fingers as he allowed himself a moment of silence.

“If I ever have to find someone to take after me, it will have to be a lad or lass of extraordinary talent. None of those bookworms or lab rats, I need someone with the balls to go out into the wild and endanger themselves just to get a specific sample. I’m sure there are brilliant minds out there, but that’s nothing if you can’t pair it with something else.” He tapped the side of his head with his fingers. “You need that extra bit of stupidity that makes a person brave. It makes them special.”

He smiled and gestured yet again, this time crossing only his fingers in front of him while observing the interviewer. “I like to think of myself as a highly educated fellow, and so should be my students. If you can’t recite the first 10 numbers of Pi from your head, then you don’t meet the expectations.” He pointed at the Interviewer as if he was his apprentice. “In the field you need to memorise behavioral patterns in a split second to determine whether you’re about to be lunch or not. In the lab you need to be on top of everything otherwise you’ll end up infecting every sample with a deadly virus and jeopardises months of work..” He nod in silence and closed his eyes for a second as he remembered a particular event.

“You need both the brawn and the brains for this job. But if I will mentor anyone then I’ll be sure to give them the harsh treatment. After all, I don’t want my student to receive the same botched eyes and arms as I have. Or with the excessive alcohol consumption. ‘Do as I say, not as I do!’” He smiled at the interviewer with a face full of confidence rather than joy. “I guess I expect everything I am and a bit more from my future apprentice.”

“And that’s all I needed to compile.” The man smiled triumphantly. He deposited his papers in his folder and rose from his seat, nodding once at the doctor. “Thank you for your time, Doctor Rodriguez. I wish you luck in your assessment. You may see yourself out.”

“Ah, fucking finally!” Marco roared up and he immediately reached deep into his coat to pull out the flask and a box if cigarettes. He opened the flask and took a huge sip from the light brown liquid inside. “Nothing better than decaf coffee with some liquor in it.” He stood up and nod to the interviewer. “I wish I could say it was a nice talk, but it really wasn’t. Nobody likes interviews.” He slipped a cig out of the pack, and and put it in his mouth to light it. “I guess we won’t meet again.” He hummed. “As it should be. I’ve better things to do.” With that he turned to the door, and reached into his pocket for a lighter. He passed by a few people in the corridor who he assumed were also going for an interview. But they weren’t his problem anymore. With that though Marco lit the cig in his mouth and went to leave this place once and for all, readying in mind for his job aboard Apollyon.

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Hidden 1 day ago 1 day ago Post by Flagg
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Flagg

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The room was simply decorated, a single table in the middle with a folder on it, two chairs on both sides. The lighting came from a source above, sufficient but not overly bright. It left much of the room in shadow.

“Step inside, Commander Love.” a voice, from the shadowy parts of the room emerged, inviting the man in. It sounded gravelly, almost hoarse like that of a man that spent a lifetime barking orders.

Love paused at the doorway, looking down at the smoldering cigarette in his hand. He considered snuffing it out for a moment. Instead, he took a long drag as he entered the room, closing the door gently behind him.

“Thank you,” he said. His voice was quiet, with a slight quiver that made him sound sad, but his gaze was cool and appraising, and the expression on his hollow face was of very faint amusement, like a man who knows the punchline as an old joke is being told. He sat, exhaling a cloud of bluish, spicy smelling smoke.

“Before we begin-” The same voice began, which from this distance was coming from the silhouette of a bald man, wearing a simple, but well-tailored suit, his arms crossed.

“I need you to stand up, please.” His tone was firm, but not necessarily commanding.

Love arched an eyebrow but stood, silently, his head tilted slightly as his eyes wandered the darkness of the room.

The man unfolded his arms and stepped forth into the light beaming from above. What initially may have looked like sunglasses, upon closer inspection were older generation eye augments or prosthetics that used to be military-grade, but have been since phased out in favour of less intrusive models. It nevertheless gave the man a less approachable, human look without the context of subtle eye motions to relate his facial expressions to.

He briefly smiled as he stretched his hand out, expecting the customary handshake. “That’s more like it. Now from the beginning -thank you for attending, Commander Love. Please, have a seat.”

“My pleasure, thank you for the invitation,” said Love, taking the man’s hand. A very slight smile played at the corner of Love’s mouth. Wrong-footing your interrogation subject at the start was straight from the textbook. Apparently they stuck to basics here.

They sat.

“I haven’t had my wrist slapped for informality since I was a cadet,” said Love, “being on this side of an interrogation is a rather new experience. Let’s hope I manage to behave myself.”

The man nodded. “Following protocol is the barometer of good manners.” He began. “And manners maketh man.” he added, with a smile.

“I’ll take your word on that,” said Love.

The man then produced a plastic folder, ran his finger down its spine, which then prompted the folder to open and reveal its contents -freshly printed paper, still warm to the touch. A rare enough commodity, let alone still be used for administration. Generally for things that weren’t kept on digital record -or any public record.

“First question, if I may.” he began, after he unfurled and organised the sheets of paper into a neat stack against the table.

“Your records indicate you’ve spent some time in... shall we say asset recovery. In this line of work, book-keeping is paramount to ensure nothing escapes one’s attention. Would you care to discuss any challenges -be they professional or personal- that arose for you?”

“As you know, records dating to the War, and to ah- those we fought against- are astronomically valuable on the black market. Keeping your own personnel informed enough so that they can do their jobs but ignorant enough that operational security is not at risk is critical,” said Love, “And if a leak occurs, you need the stomach to clean up your own mess. Since you asked about challenges, I will share my greatest failure in this area- an operator under my command, a data-splicer, had significant gambling debts. I knew of course, but he was effective and so we continued to use him. ZeoCorp got to him and paid him well for leaking, shall we say, AI components of non-human origin. It was only because his debts disappeared that I realized he’d been compromised. I do not relish ordering the deaths of men with whom I have worked, and I did not get into this line of work to arrest hypercorp executives. I have since been very careful to keep subordinates safe from... occasions of sin, as the theologians would say.”

The man merely made a mark on his sheet of paper, his expression stoic and the eyes, which normally would have been telling of one’s subconscious emotions and impressions being in his case a figurative stonewall due to their almost mirror-like sheen that covered up the advanced optics beneath.

“And how have you been coping with it after?” He asked, almost as a matter-of-course, without raising what could be inferred was his gaze off the paper.

“I sleep very well, seven hours a night-cycle,” said Love, “If I had difficulty coping with executing a criminal ten years ago I don’t imagine I would be in this room with you.”

The man paused his taking notes and this time, looked at the Commander straight. A smile crept through his face. “You’re right, Commander -you wouldn’t be.”

Love nodded and continued, “The AI he leaked, if AI is the word for it, insinuated itself into ZeoCorp’s systems. Everyone connected to their corporate neural network became infested and began following what are officially called ‘type six xenos-pattern behaviors.’ I will spare you the details, they are exceedingly gory. If I were to lose sleep over anything, it would not be the lawful death of a subordinate, but the existence of what he gave the corporation.”

And with that, the man made an obvious tick mark on his paper.

“Just as an aside-” He remarked “that would have been the ZeoCorp coolant leak. It took some effort to contain that whole story.” The man smiled, pensively. “I had my suspicions at the time.. but I’m glad you proved yourself capable of tracing to- and acting at the source of an issue. It’s what garnered our attention, amongst other things.”

He now leaned back and placed his papers to one side on the table, the hands of his fingers interlocked in front of him.

“We know about your involvement in Miss Elizabeth and the Construct 498-ELI’s… merge. We realize that at the time, you did what you felt you had to do and you’ve taken the… liberty to inform the parents of the situation.”

He made a few notes in preparation for the reply.

“But I would like to hear your relation of the events. On an otherwise quite frankly spotless record, this is the sole blemish -why?”

“I have known Elizabeth Islik since she was born. I served with her father early in my career and we have remained friends ever since. He knows very little about my work. Over the course of her career, I remained friendly with Elizabeth as well. She was a remarkable talent and I entertained the idea of bringing her into intelligence work. I was, therefore, aboard the Toren as an NID observer when the experimental drive she had designed exploded, leaving her badly injured. The AI saved Elizabeth’s life, but I played a role in….facilitating the integration. I wanted Elizabeth to live, and also wanted to see if it would work. When it did work, my superiors decided that Elizabeth’s...status was to be highly classified, her existence kept a careful secret.”

Love paused, bluish smoke ringing his head like a spectral crown. “I disobeyed orders, but not out of sentimentality. Keeping Elizabeth in isolation, apart from her parents, friends, normal human interaction would be setting her up to breakdown, to give in to the schizoid potentiality in her new psyche. Quite apart from my personal concern for Ms. Islik, I felt that a mentally unstable human-AI hybrid would be….incredibly dangerous.”

Love leaned forward, “I believe, without exception, that Eli will be the most dangerous person aboard your new ship. We are a year into this experiment. It seems to be going well. But computing power of that magnitude integrated directly into a reasoning human mind of genius level intellect...the potential is staggering. So, in the interest of keeping our machine/human hybrid as human as possible, I broke protocol. I informed her parents, permitted her to meet them, lowered her classified status so that she does not need to live in a cell or a lab. The bureaucrats threw their usual tantrums, but I...have yet to be court marshaled. In fact, I believe I am about to be considerably promoted with a new commission aboard the navy’s finest ship.”

“Hmph.” The man grunted. “I was wrong about you after all, Commander Love.” he began, with a bitter smile. “Here I thought you were getting sentimental in your old age.”

“Never,” said Love.
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Hidden 20 hrs ago 18 hrs ago Post by Lurking Krog
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Lurking Krog Caffeinated Lurker.

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-11
1800


The view of the shipyards was entirely new to Jessica. She gazed out at the roiling plumes of smoke coming off the surface of the once barren world now thriving industrial center. The sharp contrast from her homeworld of New Terra was making her more nervous as it was out of what was normal for her. As a nervous habit, she began to play with the series of tags she kept on her father's old dog tag chain. Each tag was a reference to an equation except one, that one had the name Jeremiah Ghaller on it. She ran her hands over each tag all through the docking process and even as she disembarked from the public shuttle.

From the shuttle, she heads towards the customs and immigration desks passing by mechanics, dock officers, workers, customs officials, and a few others in the crowd that were still trying to decide where they needed to go. She let the chain of tags fall to rest on her left wrist while she pulled out her documents to make sure she would be ready and pass through immigration quickly. Once the line finally allowed for her to get to one of the terminals she entered her Union ID, filled out the questionnaire, and headed deeper into the station when she was done. She stopped briefly to check her outfit, a knee-length skirt a button down shirt with a well-tailored overcoat. The color was simple black for the skirt and the overcoat and the shirt was a dark grey. She straightened the skirt and jacket and then proceeded to the interview area stopping at the desk.

“Excuse me, I am here for an interview. My name is Jessica Ghaller.”

The desk attendant is a young man with an almost plastic smile, worn from having to delegate people throughout his shift. Rings around his eyes and the odd strand of hair all tell-tale signs that this just may be the busiest day of his life.
His eyes flick from side to side for just a moment while he undoubtedly brings up some relevant details on his augmented reality interface, before his gaze meets with that of Jessica.
“Miss Ghaller, thank you for attending.” He states courteously with a brief nod.
“You will be expected in room 2-13. That’s second floor, room thirteen. Right hand side after you leave the elevator, then the evens are on the left, odds on the right.” he drones on, in a voice that is obviously worn, but the courteous smile never leaves his face. “Have a nice day!” a big, toothy grin punctuates the monotone, the enthusiasm of being rid of another person to direct coming through the customer service visage.
“Thank you.” She walks away from the desk heading for the elevator. Well he was rather pleasant, least there till the end. She thought to herself as she went up to the second floor and walked up to room thirteen. She knocked on the door then waited patiently for someone to answer.

The door hissed open, revealing a dimly lit room from a single light source above, and an unassuming table with a chair on each side. A well-dressed man, sporting a full suit and tie, buttoned up and brown hair combed to the side stood up from the chair opposite, his piercing, blue eyes now set on Jessica.
He raised his eyebrow. “You needn’t knock, just step in. Take a seat, please.” He beckoned, motioning to the seat while holding his hand out at the same time, clearly expecting the customary handshake.

Jessica entered the room going to the seat and quickly shook the man's hand. Remember what dad taught you. People expect a certain level of social formalities that you might not think to do. “Thank you, sir. I am glad that I was selected for the interview process and I am sure you have had hundreds if not thousands of others apply for this position.” She said as she took her seat.

“Yes. Quite.” His eyes dart from her to a folder, from which he quickly produces a printed paper copy of what can only be assumed to be information regarding Jessica’s application. He slowly raised the stack of papers up that were held together by a simple, metal paperclip.
His eyes darting through the page before him as he raised it to be almost between Jessica and himself. This made it all the more poignant when his gaze locked onto her again, those piercing blue eyes almost boring into her.
“Top of the class, it says here. New Oxford, that’s not a small feat. Now running for master’s? Not bad, especially for someone your age.”
He slowly lowers the page and his gaze alongside it, almost in a disarming fashion. The pause punctuates a mounting tension.
“However..” he begins, almost drawing out the word. “At some point during your career, you may hear something similar-” His gaze meeting hers once more, this time in a more relaxed posture, scanning for responses. “- you should consider your options if you’re not successful.”

“Afterall” he paused and took a deep breath. His hands clasped together on the table, he leaned in slightly. “You still have all of your life in front of you, and generally people of your qualification don’t usually prepare for a career shift.” His lips purse and he takes his hands off the table as he leans back in his chair.
“You see, my father was in a similar situation once. Qualified, passed all the grades, jumped over every hoop they put in front of him. But we’ll get back to that later.”
He shifted his seat uneasily, before adjusting himself, closing his eyes, as if rehearsing something internally, then returning to that piercing gaze. A smile slowly crept across his face.
“First question.”
He leaned forward and placed his hands back on the table, palms down, wide apart, occasionally gesticulating to punctuate his meaning. “A Core specialist is not only expected to know how to maintain and interpret readings within nominal levels. They are also expected to respond to and contain any discrepancies or fluctuations that may be.. disruptive to the overall health of the Core. Sometimes that will require difficult choices to be made…”
He trails on that last word, leaving a pause to let the gravitas sink in.
“Can you tell me of any time where you would have had to make a choice you knew would result in the loss of one thing or another?”

Jessica shifted some, slightly nervous from how piercing his eyes were, as she thought back. “It was about five years ago when it happened. I was beginning a project as the final part of my masters for nuclear physics. The project that two other students, they were both friends of mine, and I had decided on was to make our own small fusion reactor. We had done several tests, calculations, measurements, and redone all those in the effort to ensure that it would work. During the presentation the containment system started to leak.” Jessica takes a deep breath remembering how bad it got so quickly. “The system we had designed to contain the reaction did have fail safes as well as an alarm. The alarm sounded but the reaction grew past what the failsafe parameters could handle. We were all dumbfounded by what was happening and we were not sure what went wrong. My friends panicked and started to clear the others out of the room we were in.” Absentmindedly she rubbed her left hand over her right arm remembering the radiation burns she sustained from what she had done. “I went to the control panel we had made to monitor and control the entire system. I knew I could save the experiment but it was risky and if I failed it would have probably accelerated the reaction. Ending the reaction was viable as well and less risky in the result. Well I suppose that depends on how you define risk. To end the reaction I would have needed my two friends to come back and help, a poor design in hindsight, and expose themselves to the now larger leak and possible get radiation poisoning. With saving it I could do it myself and not risk them getting additional exposure. So I took the risk, managed to barely contain the reaction again, and got it safe for my friends and professor to come back in and end the experiment in relative safety. Unfortunately I had severe burns to my arms, mostly my right, and eyes.” With a brief pause she looks at the man. “I am sure that is in that report there. Do you want me to continue on or do you wish to ask another question.”

The man listened intently. At some point during the relation, he opened the folder and began making notes to some of the passages already written down. Back and forth between different parts of the document in what would have been quite a feat in multi-tasking. He would also look up and scan for the emotional state of the storyteller in between.
“Very good.” he added, with a nod.
“These friends of yours. Have you been working with them long, or.. since?” He played with his pen, tilting his head slightly to the side.

“I have worked with one since my freshman year in high school, even until the end of my recent job with Retiven Power Corporation. She still works there. The other I met sophomore year of college. After he got his doctorate and went on to work for a company in Terra Dyson we stopped talking to each other.”

He made one mark on the sheet of paper in front of him, that may have just been a tick mark. “How has this impacted you?” He added nonchalantly, without even looking up.

“Which do you mean? Having lost contact with one friend or the result of the experiment I was part of?” If you refer to the loss of contact with a friend, I would have to say it happens but I can still get a hold of him if I wished.” She paused for a moment in contemplation and realization. “Then again of you are also referring to having kept in contact with a friend for years while losing contact with another, I would say it's part of life and I can go make more friends and lose some.”

The man smiled. “I’m sorry, I must not have been clear.” he looked up at Jessica, cleared his throat and spoke. “How has this event with the fusion reactor impacted you.. personally.”
He put an almost sarcastic level of emphasis on the final word.

“On a physical level, I lost my right arm and my sight from the burns. On a mental level, I berated myself for so foolish not considering to have a single person shut off function and leaving the containment system unprepared for variables. After my recovery and cybernetic augmentation we attempted the project again and exceeded the prior project. The last one is still an active reactor that powers the science building on the University of Greymonte’s campus.” The last part was said with some pride while the first part was said without much regret but as a point to be learned from.

The man nodded briefly, then added what was likely another tick mark on the sheet.
“And this was before or after you were contracted by Retiven?” He added.

“A year and six months before.” She replied with no hesitation.

“Makes sense.” He added curtly, making a quick note. “Now tell me about your experience at Retiven. What sort of challenges did you have there, if any?”

“Mostly designing reactors to fit in areas you wouldn't expect that still produce sufficient power for about ten thousand residents. Or powering a large hospital, again with a small reactor. Then with these there is the challenges of providing sufficient failsafes and easy maintenance. In my short stint I have designed three such reactors.” She begins to pull out a sketch pad to show the designs. “I still have the initial concepts that I can show. The final designs stated with the company however.”

A visible frown stretches across the man’s face as he drops the paper at a lower angle for a short while. “...That bad, huh.”
“Do you have any trouble sleeping, interacting with others.. jitters? Second-guessing yourself?” He poised his pen above the sheet, ready to tick off responses rapid-fire.

“Not to many issues with sleep unless I am trying to work out a problem. Longest I've gone without sleep… Two days. I know lack of sleep does not help with problem solving.

With interacting with others, I can though at times I am bit reclusive.

Jitters… only if I drink too much coffee, which I prefer only in the mornings maybe mid-afternoon the latest.” Her reply was calm and thought out. She had realized the only time she stayed up for forty-eight hours it was a bad result. She had passed out and missed a day of classes, one having an important paper due.

He was making marks on the sheet as soon as the provided the answers. “Thank you, Miss Ghaller.” He remarked, before finally raising his gaze to meet hers. “How about a sensation of… losing time? A feeling of life passing you by? Do you ever experience anxiety about what you may be… missing?” As far as his questioning went, this was one of his more poignant ones, with a full return of the piercing gaze’s undivided attention this time.

“Losing time… not really. With the augmentations available I can live for a long time, theoretically forever if I choose though the process is still in development. Missing events or things, not particularly. Yes I may miss old friends, maybe even going to an event or two but sometimes that is a cost we must pay to further ourselves. New friends can be made, old ones contacted again if possible, and other events happen.” Jessica was starting to wonder the reason for this question and the one prior. She figured the prior one was sort of necessary, she would have to work with people, lack of sleep would affect her work, and jitters would as well. This last one however drew more of her curiosity.

“Pardon me but that last question, are we expecting longer than usual deployment, extended cryosleep, possible time travel?” Her tone was genuinely curious, and wanting to know the answer.

The man nodded. “I mean it both in a very physical as well as emotional sense.” He placed his paperwork to one side for the moment, and leaned in towards her. “It has not gone unnoticed that throughout this entire interview, you have declined to discuss the emotional impact of these events on you, even when prompted.” The man stared intently at her. “I will dock the question for now, because we really need to hone in on this.” He left a brief pause before continuing. “How do you cope?”

“I cope by working and making things. It may not sound usual but I find being busy helps me deal with loss of close family. Granted I get to be reclusive and not want to talk to people but I try not to remain that way for long. Three years ago when my father passed I started the concept for the synthetic flesh that covers my cybernetic limbs. Why, because it was what I felt was a better for me to do. Yes it hurt losing him and I miss him but it doesn't bring him back.” She sits back a bit trying to think of a better way to explain her thoughts and feelings on what was being asked.
“I hope I am making some sense here sir.”

“And you’re confident in your ability to process trauma? This is very important.” He brought out the paperwork again, ready to mark the next box.

“I wouldn't have applied if I didn't think I was able to.” She said confidently.

He ticked the box on his paper. “Thank you.”
He arranged the papers and re-placed them in the folder.
“Now we return to the question -losing time. You’re a physicist, among others, so this should come as no surprise to you. You, me, all of us are travelling through time already, inevitably forward. The arrow of time is fixed, but the rate at which we travel through it is not.” He was becoming increasingly animated, using his hands at parallel to illustrate two different speeds at which they were moving along the same line.
“In a post-FTL society, time dilation has become a reality of daily life. You may have experienced some of it in long-distance commutes or when travelling on a holiday; what is moments or minutes for you would be months for everyone else. Studies have been done on the effects of this phenomenon on people most impacted by it -all of them have shown positive correlations between anxiety, depression, loss of social interactions. People have to be on medication for this sort of thing.” He continued. “They always invariably express it as a depression stemming from a sensation of losing time, of not being there -the crushing realisation that the world has already moved on without them.”
He adopted a more relaxed posture once he realised that he was leaning in closer and closer in the heat of the moment. “Two out of ten people today are affected by this.”
“And aboard a ship destined for deep space exploration, there is no telling how much time dilation you will face. Additionally, there may be unforeseen factors, which may lead to even more severe dilation.”

“And you wondering is if I am one of five people affected by that mental state. No sir I am not and do not feel that way. The galaxy spins and so does the Universe. Even if I never traveled through FTL again everything moves on. I see no reason to be depressed about it but see a chance to see what has changed. Maybe a new algorithm was developed that makes an idea I had work. Maybe someone develops or improves something I’ve worked on, maybe I can improve it more. While time has passed on months for others for me it has been minutes that leaves me with time still to do other things.” Jessica pauses for a moment. “I am sorry I was beginning to ramble on. I hope I made my point and answered your question.”

The man nodded. “You have indeed, Miss Ghaller.” He placed the papers back in the folder and sealed it. “And with that, this interview is concluded.” He added with a smile. “I wish you luck in the selection process, Miss Ghaller-”
He put the folder to one side. “- but before you go, consider this: my father was in a similar position once, he acquired the certifications, expecting the Apollyon to launch just in time for him to have a crack at it. But there were unforeseen delays, shifts, adjustments to the time-table.. months turned to years, then decades. He has ushered me to follow in his footsteps, to succeed where he couldn’t. It consumed his life, Miss Ghaller.”
His fingers were stroking his chin as he suddenly got a distant look in his eyes.
“So instead, I became an interlocutor for this position. To better serve the public good by preventing a repeat of what this did to our family from happening potentially hundreds of times over…”

He paused, for what seemed like a while. “Actually, I could use a break after all these sessions.” He rose from his chair slowly, placing the folder underneath his armpit. He then opened the door, expecting Jessica to follow.

Jessica gets up from her chair and heads to the door. As she passes him she turns to look at him. “While it would be an honor to get this position I still have much I can, either as part of the ship's crew or other jobs. I do thank you for your advice sir.”

No sooner had the man opened his mouth to speak, Jessica could see his expression change suddenly and drastically. Whatever he was about to say became:
“GUN!”

A man emerged from the crowd, aiming what was unmistakably a weapon at them both. “YOU RUINED MY LIFE YOU BASTARDS!” A distressed call from the gunman, madness in their eyes. Some people ran, most froze in sheer panic.

Jessica pushed the interlocutor to the ground before going the opposite way to the ground.

Shots flew through the air. Wild, unfocused and sloppy. Motivated moreso by rage than calculation. Nevertheless, they hit the walls and caused chunks to tumble down as the alarms blared and the room was sealed.
The man was one of those interviewed earlier. Either he was denied or he was convinced he would be.
The interviewer realised he had been pushed down, so he turned over and began crawling away. No sooner had the man seen and recognised his suit, he immediately began running toward the pair, shooting wildly as he approached. Shots whistled in the air, snapping against the tile surfaces and splintering the wooden ones.

Please be out of ammo… please be out of ammo… she kept repeating in her head while trying to crawl away from the man. As a shot flew over head breaking a wooden tile over her head she froze for a second fighting the urge to cry out cringing into a tight ball.

She rolled over to look at the man briefly at least wanting to see the face of the man that was, least from her perspective from this moment, going to take her life. The man was in his forties, balding, and wearing his suit from earlier. He was now running towards them and she had little time to think out the problem completely. She quickly got to her feet and made for the open door to her interview room while shouting. “It's not his fault it is mine!!” It was a bluff but it might catch the madman’s attention long enough for the interviewer to get to safety.

Once in the room she grabbed the chair she was previously sitting in hoping to use it against the man. She tried to get to the side of the door before he entered to negate his ranged capability.
It worked. the man rounded the door threshold, the interviewer no longer in sight, so he directed his attention to the person that to his mind had cost him his future.

As he rounded the corner Jessica swung the chair at his head and then kicked at his legs to try to knock him down.
The man lost his balance, but did not entirely fall either. It threw his aim off though. At this moment, the interviewer lept out from behind the man, both arms crossing in front of him, one right below the gun arm’s armpit, the other above the opposite arm’s shoulder, locked tightly as he struggled to keep his centre mass as close to his own as possible.
Finally, he swept his one stable leg and the man went down tumbling. Still having the wherewithal to at least try and roll onto his back against the fall, the man slammed the interviewer locked to him onto the ground, falling side by side as the gun went off again into the ceiling.
By now, rapid steps from combat boots could be heard echoing down the hallways against the constant blaring of the alarms. Like a rope climber, the interviewer then crossed his legs over the man’s knees in an attempt to control his legs too, but the grip between his arms was broken and the man rolled over enough to bring the gun’s barrel right against the interviewer’s bicep and fired point blank. He didn’t get a chance to fire again, as the security staff rushed him and pinned him against the floor in the midst of him uttering every profanity he could.
The interviewer cried out in pain moments later. “I’ll be fine, Miss Ghaller. They missed the bone.” He tried to reassure Jessica as his face was gradually going pale. His head was nodding off.

Missed a bone maybe but probably grazed of not fully hit an artery… She thought for a split second before grabbing the interviewer’s arm and applying pressure to stem the bleeding. She knew some medical but not enough to deal with this level of trauma. “We need a medic here now!” she shouted as she took off her jacket to make an improvised tourniquet. It would serve better than her hand was but she wasn't sure it would be enough.

The man was disarmed and escorted out of the room. One of the guards produced something that resembled a nozzle with a trigger on it, connected to a container of swirling material. He pointed it in the immediate vicinity of the gunshot wound, pressed the trigger which released a vapour that drifted almost with intent to the spot of the trauma. As soon as it contacted bare flesh, light sizzling could be heard as it was likely cauterising the wound. By now, the interviewer was already passed out, so there was no reaction.
The guard then signaled the others with a thumbs up, indicating the situation was under control. The majority of them vacated, but one other stayed behind and deployed a portable stretcher. They then lifted the man onto it and carried him away.
“Sorry you’ve had to see this ma’am, but this shit sometimes happens.” One of the guards remarked on their way out.

She stood there in the room for about five minutes looking back over the event that had just transpired. Drawing the gunman’s attention probably was not the best on her part, but it probably made some difference. She started walking to the elevator, jacket held in her left hand still, both hands covered in blood. Once back on the first floor she located a refresher so she could wash the blood off her hands. After which Jessica went to find a meal and work on something she had started a few days ago.
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