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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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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 destroyer, 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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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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Naril Tinker, builder, hacker, thief

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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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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by 6slyboy6
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6slyboy6 The More Awesomest Potato

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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 4 mos ago 4 mos 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 4 mos ago 4 mos 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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Rapid footfalls crunched on hard terrain, heavy breaths matched each step in tandem. Maxine quickly checked how many bullets were left in her rifle after she slid to cover behind a large red-colored boulder. The dirt under her feet matched the rock’s color but had a dark orange hue to it.

She glanced up and saw her team was nowhere to be seen, she rolled her eyes. Of course, no cover fire. She grabbed a plasma grenade, twisted it twice and chucked it over the boulder, hopefully, close to the enemy, as a diversion.

As the exploding rang off into the not so far distance, Max stood up and emptied her clip into enemy soldiers that had flooded the area. “Fine, I’ll do this alone you fucking noobs!” Max wasn’t usually the kind of person to swear up a storm, actually, she always wore a friendly smile and always had great things to say about everyone she met. Although, in this particular instance, she felt extremely irritated at the lack of support.

She vaulted over the boulder and shot her rifle from the hip as she made note of where her enemies were. She heard another ‘Ugh, fuck!’ in her coms and shook her head. She wanted to facepalm, but she was otherwise occupied. “Get better, on uninstall.”

Just as Max was about to kick one of the enemy's feet from underneath him and perform a really cool version of the Rock’s ‘people’s elbow’, the scenery around her faded out, the enemy soldiers disappeared and so did her weapons and revealed the plain walls of her humble apartment.

Maxine, your scheduled interview is in exactly 45 minutes and 26 seconds, a voice that sounded oddly like Jon Bernthal filtered through the room as the sounds of warfare dissipated.

“Come on! Why did you have to turn it off? I had the drop on these guys,” Maxine grumbled at the AI.

I repeat, your scheduled interview is in exactly 45 minutes and 26 seconds.

“Fine.” Sam rolled her eyes and commanded Spehie, whom she referred to as Jon, to turn off the console in her living room as she padded to her room and added under her breath: “smart ass.”

Could you please repeat that?

Maxine rolled her eyes, exasperated as she dressed in her military fatigues. She then tired her long hair into a tight bun onto her head, making sure no strands were falling out. She then grabbed her mug and finished the rest of her coffee before she bolted out of the door.

Given the chance, Max would have been stressed out about the interview, but seeing as she decided to leave last minute, as usual, she didn’t really have the time. Besides, this would be just like when she joined the military right? Ask a few simple questions, throw a curveball here and there to make you sweat. No biggie. She could manage her stress very well unless she was playing with a team of noobs who she had to carry to win the match.

The ride to Vekta Prime was uneventful, just like it usually was. Probably because Maxine dozed off after a few minutes and dreamed of wrecking the team she just had a match against. She was used to traveling, as any soldier was. She hadn’t visited Vekta in a long while, but she had been several times in the past. Nothing worth seeing again, she thought, it was plain and depressing.

Max awoke, slightly startled, as a loud voice indicated they had docked. She stretched her arms in front of her and rolled her shoulders a few times before she stood up and walked out of the shuttle. How are these seats so uncomfortable? She thought as she heard something in her back pop back into place as she walked out into the station.

She passed the security check and lit it up like a Christmas tree. Upon further inspection of her augmented leg, she was given the all-clear to proceed further in and made her way through the corridors and eyed the signs that hung above each intersecting section of the corridor until she found the right place. She spotted a desk and the receptionist sitting behind it, who Max smiled at as she approached it.

The receptionist was practically asleep. Not literally, but her face spoke of exhaustion and non-existence. It was surprising she was still cognitive. “Welcome to Vekta Prime Orbital…” She said drowsily. “Are you here in regards to th- uuuwwaaAAAAaaahhh.” A big yawn escaped her unintentionally. “-the Apollyon Application…?”

Maxine brings her hand up to cover her mouth as she chuckled, but she decided to make it seem like an unexpected cough. She excused herself but continued to smile at the clearly bored woman, “I wish I would have brought you a coffee,” she paused for a split second and responded to the woman’s inquiry. “Yes, that’s exact. Sergeant Sheppard here for the Lancer position interview.”

“PassCard, please…” The woman’s eyes were opening and closing very slowly.

Maxine fished her passcard from the front pocket of her fatigue’s jacket and as she handed her card to the woman, she wondered how many pots of coffee it would take to wake this one up. “There you go.” Probably a gazillion, Max silently decided.

“Mmmmmm… Thank you…” She lazily passed the card over the scanner to reveal a hologram showing a massive list of thousands of people. Her eyes scanned slowly as the system found the name it was looking for. “You are to be interviewed at Room 14 - On this very floor.” She handed back the PassCard. “Good Luck on your selection…”

Maxine nodded and grabbed her card back from the woman. “I bet you say that to all the girls,” Max joked with a friendly wink as she stuffed the card back into the decently sized pocket and stared at the door. Of course, her nerves decided it was the best moment to kick in. Great, just great. Taking a breath to calm her heart rate, Sam pushed open the door and entered the room.

“Sergeant! Just in time. Congratulations on getting to this phase of the process. Take a seat.” The man that greeted her, or what she assumed to be a man, was, in fact, an Android. Though the features seemed perfectly human and seamless at a glance, the faint glow in the eyes and a few seams where the parts of the face connected to each other were the giveaways. Though regardless, it was incredible work. Such Androids were extremely rare in the Union and would have easily been passed for augmented people on the street.

“Thank you,” Max stood at attention, feet shoulder width and taught shoulders pulled slightly back as she clasped both of her hands together behind her back. “I’m happy to be here, sir,” Maxine spoke respectfully as she examined the interviewer. He looked to be in a good mood, but she knows looks can be quite deceiving. She also noticed the faint lines in his face, though she didn’t mind or have much interest in what he was. She just wanted to get through this interview as professionally as she could and hope to make a good impression on him.

Max glanced around the room and sat at the table on the chair nearest to her. She pulled the chair forward just slightly and placed her forearms on the table, leaning forward on them as she clasped both hands together loosely in front of her.

“I’m going to ask you a series of questions, starting off with a little bit about your service history, and finishing off with some psychological questions.” The Android paused for a moment to let that sink. He didn’t wish to pummel the woman with words, even though he could. “You have been a member of the 96th Hammerhead Battalion for 1 military deployment prior to sustaining your injuries in the field of combat. You have seen several theaters of action among the 96th, even made some friends who later recommended you for an opening in the 34th Bulwark Lancer Division a year later, a difficult position to obtain, mind you. Tell me a bit about your experience with the 96th.”

“That’s right, when I joined them I was fresh out of boot camp and to be honest, I loved the experience. I was nervous when I left for the first time, but I adjusted quickly and after a few months my battalion became my extended family. It’s still crazy to me how strong bonds are built when you’re out there with complete strangers. You wake up one day, and you tell yourself ‘yeah, this is my life now, better make the best of it’. And that stranger snoring next to you becomes your best friend, even more than that, they become your literal family.”

“I’m not gonna lie, looking at the same the drab and earthy terrain for 9 months did take its toll mentally, but it’s the people around you that make it all worth it. I’ve seen men break, I’ve seen women break, and it was because they never really integrated themselves as part of this family we all help build.”

Max took a slight break, she removed her jacket and folded it in half and hung it on the back of the chair. She then readjusted herself in her seat, she leaned back feeling a little more comfortable as she started talking. Her shoulders were visibly looser than when she came in the room. She smiled slightly as she continued, “I was young, wanted to prove myself but I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing there. What I mean is, as opposed to some of the other soldiers there, this hasn’t been my childhood dream. I just needed something to do that had a greater purpose than myself - to help others. I felt that’s what I was doing, even if I didn’t always have a crystal clear idea to how my actions and our missions’ success was helping others, I saw it in the children we saved from homes who would rather place a gun in their hands than give them a proper childhood. I truly think what I do, what every soldier does on every deployment, is extremely important, not only for the people we help but for those whose lives are made better by our actions.”

“How did you come to be conscripted into the 34th Lancers?” The interviewer asked.

“My superior officers came to, offering me something more as I’ve had been vocal to them about wanting a greater challenge and wanting to have a greater effect on the war we were fighting. The offer to join the 34th Lancers was put on the table, and I only thought about it for a day until I accepted. I was sad to leave some of my family behind, but I knew I would find more kindred spirits. And personally, I needed the challenge. I was hungry to learn more.”

The interviewer nodded, seemingly memorizing every word Max was saying. “Do you feel that joining the 34th finally gave you the purpose you were looking for?”

“I don’t know if it satisfied my purpose, overall, but it did give me a greater sense of who I wanted to become as a person and it showed me that the only way to achieve that is to build your own road. It’s a daily progress, and there will be boulders in the way, but in the end, I do feel satisfied with what I’ve achieved so far.”

“In that case-” The interviewer leaned back a little, resting his hands on his lap. “-tell about your experience with the 34th, and how you sustained those injuries.”

Max could have seen this question coming from a mile away, which is why she was prepared to answer honestly, so she started with the easier question. “I’m pretty sure I fell in love with mechs as soon as I first sat in one. The training was fun, but it’s the learning experience that I found extremely satisfying,” Max grinned and continued, “when I received my license after 600 flight hours I felt like I was floating on a cloud.”

“I was on defensive duty for a while, it was fun, but there wasn’t much action around the base. I tinkered with my mech, read all there was to read about them really. I then joined a smaller group within the division who specialized in guerrilla warfare; small units, very tactically driven missions. Whenever I wasn’t with my unit I would still act as one of the main base’s bouncer on rotating shifts, so to speak,” Max chuckled and added: “along with many others.”

“It was during one of those missions that my injury happened. It started out like most of these days usually did, coffee tasted great, the eggs we had at breakfast were great. We had a recon mission that day, everything went as planned, it was easier than we thought. The enemy just didn’t see us coming at all and we were prepared and pumped. We completely annihilated their forces.”

Max took a breath and continued, “We did our parameter check and I moved away from the group, I told them I saw something but really I just needed to take a piss,” Maxine chuckled and shook her head as the memory invoked embarrassment still. “I left my mech, it was big enough to give me privacy, and just as I was undoing my buttons I did actually spot something. A downed soldier,” max grimaced at the memory.

“He was beat to shit. I knew he was an enemy and I approached him anyway. When I got closer I noticed he was clutching to something, tears ran down his face, along with blood.” Max stopped once more and shook her head, “my empathy kicked in, even more so when I saw he was holding up a picture of his family.”

Max vividly recalled what happened next, “I asked if he needed help but he looked at me as if he had no care in the world. He gave me this...smile I can’t describe, and when he lifted his hand I saw the remote he had clutched in it. I turned around and only got far enough to save myself from most of the blast radius, but the leg I pushed off with was completely singed, metal shards everywhere.”
Max took another break as she looked down at her hands, face scrunched up as she still wondered how someone with a family would willingly forfeit his own life. She looked up at the interviewed once more and shrugged, “fucker went kamikaze on me.”

“In war-” The interviewer began, “-people choose their fates based on many things, from loyalty to their nation, too selfish reasons of suicidal revenge, or even sheer fear. While you may not know it now, perhaps one day you will be in that man’s shoes, and whatever your reasons will be, you may decide to do the same.” The Android took a short pause, resting his hands on the table with their palms face down.

“But let’s not dwell on the depressing. Do you feel that serving on the Apollyon will help you find the answer you are looking for? Finding yourself?”

“I don’t believe any job would give that answer clearly to me, but I do know that each step forward I make, each thing I that I accomplish is a piece to that bigger puzzle.” Max smiled once more, “this position to me is another way that I can better myself and I know that working on the Apollyon would be a great learning experience.”
“How do you consider your relationship with machines, like mechs, or AI, to be?” the Android enquired.

Max scrunched up her brow slightly as she thought how to best answer this question. She hasn’t thought about it really, but she’ll answer try to answer clearly with what she feels. “It’s...sort of like a teammate and a best friend all in one really big and powerful package.” Well that sort of makes sense. “When I joined the lancer division I was implanted with a device that connected my consciousness with any Mech that I operate. I can communicate or control it remotely as if I’m talking to a VI. So in other words, it feels like a friend while also being my primary weapon.”

“That leads to my next question. If you are in a situation where you have no power or no social contact, how would you cope with either? Which would you prefer?” The interviewer asked.

“I prefer social contact of course, but I do also find quiet time to be peaceful. I often use it for meditation,” Maxine answered truthfully. “I would tend to go a little stir crazy without anyone to talk to for extended periods of time, but the VI in my head helps with that - even if its tone is highly monotonous and kind of sounds like a tin can.” At this point ‘Jon’ quipped with: Can I help you with anything, miss Sheppard?

The Android’s face froze for a second as it was memorizing more of the information given, then once again continued. “I’m sure you already know this. Mech pilots have… quite an ego.” He waved his hand slightly. “How do you deal with kind of atmosphere? How do you handle the disagreements?”

“I’m no stranger to disagreements, I think the most important ones were between fellow soldiers of my guerilla unit. As we are a small team we rely on everyone doing their part and if someone isn’t on board then everything can turn to shit real quick. As for how I handle them,” Max shrugged a little as she leaned forward onto her elbows again. “I can recognize when I’m wrong, and if someone else’s tactic seems more sound than mine then I have no problem agreeing to it. Most of the disagreements we had revolved around missions that seemed damn near suicidal. As soldiers, we self-sacrifice our time and our body each and every day we’re out there, but there’s a difference between being heroic and idiotic. We’re not a suicide squad, we’re out there to make a difference and correct me if I’m wrong but we can’t do that from heaven.”

“Well then.” The android audibly clasped his hands. “I believe this ends our interview. I wish you luck in the selection.”

Max was somewhat surprised at how quickly the time passed, but she was confident in the answers she has given the interviewer. “Thank you for your time, sir.” With that, Max grabbed her jacket from the back of the chair and slung it over her shoulder as she pushed past the double doors and entered the busy corridors once more. She gave the girl behind the desk a two finger salute as she passed her.

Miss Sheppard, it appears there is movement in your apartment. I’ve located the movement, it’s coming from your kitchen. It seems to be a creature of some kind...oh, pardon me. it’s your cat, Tank, eating your breakfast leftovers.

“Jon, you’re either the most idiotic VI ever created, or the most clever.” Max chuckled to herself as she got herself a cup of coffee to go before entering the shuttle and heading back home.

Perhaps if you would clean up before leaving your home, this wouldn’t happen.

“I didn’t have time, I had a very important interview to got to.” She wondered why she was trying to justify herself to a very good reproduction of Jon Bernthal’s voice.

“You say it was important, yet you were almost late because you were playing video games.”

Max cursed and a woman in the seat beside her frowned at the Sergeant for a moment. Maxine turned to her with a slight smirk, “sorry, the VI in my head is trying to tell me what to do.” She winked at the passenger before she took a giant gulp of lukewarm coffee.

The woman nodded, seemingly understanding the situation.

Now that the interview was over, Max decided she needed to see a massage therapist, her shoulders and back feel extremely tight. She didn’t mind waiting for the reply, sure she was excited at the prospect of getting a job on the biggest thing since VR games, but Max wasn’t someone who dwelled on ‘what ifs’ she was definitely a concrete answers kind of girl.

In the meantime, she had very important business to attend to: Netflix and chill with her cat.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by CaptainBritton
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CaptainBritton Man of War

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-11
17:30 hrs


“All passengers on Shuttle No. 545 connection to Vekta Prime Orbital, we are now docking. Please prepare to collect all your belongings and exit the craft in an orderly manner.”

The intercom had stirred him to life, the monotone voice of the announcer stirring him from a not particularly deep sleep. His eyes had not even completely opened before he was being ushered from the door onto the platform. But now he was here. He had a good half-an-hour before his interview. Plenty of time to check into his room, drop off his luggage, and have some coffee.

He swaggered around in his pressed service uniform, medals lined on his left breast and a rank flasher of an eagle with wings spread visible. His hotel was not far from the terminal, a prime decision in its choosing, his stiff, old legs feeling as if they should be making a shrill creak with every step.

He adjusted his peaked cap as he toted his duffel bag across his back, feeling slightly overcome with the certain weariness from travel in such a small vessel over such a distance. Warp lag, they called it, an unexplained weariness after a long traversal across a section of space. He simply couldn’t wait until he could seat himself and have a nice cup of steaming coffee. For now, he ambled up to the door of his room, swiping a card swiftly and smacking the button which operated the door. As he made into the room, he shrugged the duffel off his shoulders, and slumped into the first chair he saw.




Carson had taken his time, had his coffee, and walked, all with a good five minutes to spare. He entered the elevator, recalling the room he had been provided. Ah, yes, Floor 3, Room 12, he remembered, swiftly tapping the button for Floor 3. The elevator ascended briefly, before the doors opened again, and he stepped out, making for the door. Sixth door on the right is what he came to, marked 3-12, and he fished his Naval Fleet ID out of his breast pocket, pressing it to the reader before entering as the door whirred open.

The door opened to a room dimly lit from a single light source above, a table and two chairs visible, giving an air of it being an interrogation room rather than a standard interview room.
A middle aged woman with silvery hair kept in a short bob cut sat at the opposing seat. She stood up at the sight of the commander.
“Welcome, Commander Carson.” Her voice was brief, firm and sharp. Someone clearly used to being in command of others. Without hesitation, she extended her hand across the table for the customary handshake.
The back of her hands were showing the wrinkles of her age if the crow’s feet around her eyes and the clefts at the corners of her mouth didn’t already, but what was more telling is that in an age where all these could easily have been rectified with all manner of procedures, she still opted not to partake in them. She was beaming with confidence regardless.
A well-tailored black suit dress with what looked like a women’s cravat, likely authentic velvet. It all gave her an almost venerable air.

Carson pivoted front and center, eyeballing the room closely. He’d been in places like this before, too many one-on-one debriefs and clearance checks during his time. However, it didn’t mean he didn’t feel put off, the experience perhaps making the anxiety even worse. Regardless, he focused himself, and as he was welcomed, he replied. “Thank you, ma’am.” He extended his own hand across the table promptly, shaking her hand. He wasn’t exactly uneasy at the shows of age. He certainly wasn’t spry himself, and had thus far refused any implants or medications save for that which was necessary, rationalising it as a stain on his record should he give in. As he retracted his hand, muscle memory took hold, swiftly taking a hand to remove his peaked cap from his head, taking his hands to clasp behind his back with the cap secured between, with his legs giving right around ten inches between his feet, standing at a crisp parade rest.

“Take a seat, please.” She motioned at the chair and promptly took a seat herself, wasting no time in producing her folder, sliding the finger down along its length and removing what could only have been authentic, printed paper and a writing instrument.
“I’ll not mince words, Commander.” She began in an almost dry tone. “You have quite an extensive record, but what we’re interested in today is what’s between the lines.” The she made a mark on the paper to make sure the instrument would write. It was short, precise, almost forceful.
“Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve freshly graduated from Aldenhold Naval Academy. You were given your command of Platoon D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines. Then, during Operation Safeguard you’ve sustained some injuries as part of your command. Tell me about your time there, particularly the challenges you’ve faced in establishing and maintaining command.”

“Ah, yes. I was an Ensign, then. Cusp of Lieutenant. The first thing you must understand, the first thing that I had to understand, is that Marines are rather simple creatures. They’re human, they have their emotions and thoughts and such, no doubt, but every Marine that passes through basic or the Academy has the singular, driving motive, a compulsion to, at any length, kill, break, or impregnate anything they see. Harnessing these compulsions is to establish command, to establish command is to command respect. As an Ensign, I didn’t think much of it, but it matters a whole hell of a lot what those men with their rifles think of you. Could be a matter of life or death if they don’t feel the particular obligation to follow an order of a particularly hated officer. So I did just that, I showed my men that I was as much of a Marine as they were. If they ate MREs, I did. If they slept in soggy tents in a swamp with knee-deep mud, I did. And it proved crucial.”

Carson continued, trailing off. “During Safeguard, the 14th Marines were the leftmost unit ordered to secure a beachhead via aerial assault. I dropped in with the rest of my company, under heavy fire from multiple fortified positions of pirate irregulars. Whole OP lasted a good three days, clearing foxholes, tunnels, pillboxes. I was there for about half of that. We, uh, we were clearing a tunnel. I had my command team, first squad, and third squad on a perimeter, with my second squad heading into the tunnel system. I accompanied, of course, with nothing but a pistol and my flashlight. By God, first thing I see when I’m about twenty feet down, a flash from further down, and then a dull rumble. Of course, the rest of the insertion squad had the sense to scramble the hell out of there. But not me. I was at the lead of the slow column, and I turned. Shrapnel tore my bodysuit on my lower back, left side. I think they ended up pulling forty individual pieces of metal out of my back. Needless to say I was out for the rest of the OP.”

Carson was idly feeling about the area of his back he described had been injured. “My second. Staff Sergeant Ortega. He was a Godsend. They sent me to the rear on a bird so a MASH unit could pick shrapnel out of me, and Ortega was the only thing holding the unit together. He was the senior enlisted of my platoon, and he knew the Marines of that platoon better than anyone. He drove them double time up the rest of the beachhead and cleared every last foxhole and tunnel in that AO.” Carson stopped, not making any further statement, already realising that he was trailing on.

The woman’s eyes narrowed. “That’s an.. interesting expression, Commander -Godsend.” She began taking a few, brief notes. “Would you consider yourself a religious person?”

“I’d like to think me and God are on good terms. Does it impact my work? Perhaps. But any soldier, sailor, or Marine who’s ever been in the field and under fire has begged the forgiveness of some deity or another.” Carson explained, darting his eyes around.

The woman nodded and finished her notes.
“There are two patterns I continue to observe in your career, Commander: Passages on good conduct and sustaining injuries. Would you care to elaborate on these two for me? Specifically, I would be interested in events that inspired these quotations and the... worrying frequency of injuries and personal danger you’ve found yourself in during your command.” She put a special emphasis on that word. Worrying. The woman was hardly animated, remaining stiff throughout the exercise. She diligently made her notes as she addressed the question, pausing in it to make eye contact with Carson intermittently.
She would occasionally quickly scan-read the notes she’d made thus far to ensure everything was following what could only be inferred to be an overall intention to the whole process.

Carson replied quickly. “You needn’t worry. The only major injury I have truly sustained was the first during Safeguard. Meerkat’s injury was by no means major and more of circumstance than my own desire to lead from the front. There, I was leading my own company as a Captain. We’d set up a FOB on a ridge after landing to eliminate the ground operations of the pirates, and they started dropping mortar shells on us. Shrapnel, HE. We hadn’t even pitched tents or put up hescoes, let alone mortar shelters. Lot of kids got hurt much worse than I did after two hours of bombardment. I was lucky. Only got the wind knocked out of me and a piece of metal in my shin.”

“I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve listed planetary operations. Have you had any encounters or experiences with ship-to-ship or ship-to-station boarding operations as well?” The woman arched an eyebrow while simultaneously keeping her eyelids low. She was clearly expecting something.

“Ah, yes. Once, at least in notable terms. Believe they call it the O’Hannigan Incident these days. A station, called O’Hannigan Station. Used to a big spacer stop and an even bigger smuggler stop. Of course, I was with the UNSF Ramillies, commanding a detachment of the 14th Marines. The 14th were the GCE of the Ramillies Battlegroup at the time, split into about a company per vessel. Of course, we were slotted for a stop at O’Hannigan for a two-day shore leave. By God if we didn’t arrive and it felt like the entire station was out to kill us.” Carson chuckled, continuing.

“It was a whole lot of waiting for the first half hour or so. It was a lot of trading shots. They’d send shots at us, the shots would deflect off the shields or the hull, and we’d shoot back. Eventually, the Ramillies eliminated the pirate corvette that was in port defending the station, then the station’s kinetic batteries were taken out with care to not compromise the station’s hull. Too much collateral to break the thing apart. Then the Ramillies pulled to dock and me and my one-hundred or so Marines inserted via the main docking umbilical. and two squads of our MEU’s EVA-A platoon inserted with their boarding craft.” Carson reminisced.

“Now if there’s anything about pirates to say, it’s that they aren’t well-equipped and they sure as hell aren’t well-trained. But with nowhere to go, those fuckers fought like cornered lions. Not that it made much difference in hallways three meters tall and one and a half meters across. Needless to say, the casualty figures were two-hundred-sixty-two pirates dead or wounded, thirty captured, and only four Marines dead and seven wounded.” Carson concluded, looking to the interviewer with hands clasped.

“Quick and brutal as fights go.” She observed. “It is a shock to most people, even veterans, just how quickly the wounds and casualties can mount in a high-stakes situation over such a short span like that. How did you keep your- and your men’s heads in that situation?”

Carson pondered, beginning to answer. “Communication and division of responsibility, primarily. Divide and conquer. Say, there were about six primary hallways split from the main terminal. Put about two squads, about 24 men, under a Lieutenant or senior enlistedman, you have an effective plan. But it isn’t always the plan. With shock and awe, all six teams pushed in, but it all came down to effective allocation of staff and communication. Three men hit in the port hall? Send in six from your reserves. Seven pirates captured? Three from your reserves. It’s all about communication and knowing what’s happening at any given moment, and then responding accordingly. I credit that philosophy to keeping my head and, by extension, the heads of my Marines, across my career, especially so during the O’Hannigan Incident.”

“And what about the receiving end? Have you ever had to defend against boarding attempts, especially in situations when your person was also at risk?” She took notes throughout, paused to review them before adding “when stationed on a warship, repelling boarders may be in the cards”.

“Truthfully, nothing notable. I’ve received all the up-to-date simulations and exercises, but not yet has a vessel or station I have been stationed on been boarded.” Carson stated, clasping his hands as he adjusted in his seat.

“No one hopes to witness one during their career, I can tell you that much.” For the first time in the entire exchange, she smiled. It is somehow not a comforting smile. “This will conclude your interview, Commander Carson.” She finished her notes and filed the papers away, snapping the folder under her shoulder in one motion with her standing up from her seat.
“Thank you for attending. I wish you good luck in your assessment.” She extended her hand one last time for the parting handshake, the look in her eyes different somewhat.

Vernon bade his own farewell, shaking her hand and turning to leave.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Synthorian
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Synthorian

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Vekta Prime Orbital, UNSF Apollyon Hyper Dock
127-7-12
06:00


Michi carefully eased her shoes off and scrunched her toes in the thick pile of Haven’s carpets with a sigh of mingled pleasure and relief. Her captain’s yacht was an indulgence, its counter-grav plates set to a sinfully comfortable, even lazy half-gee as it rode serenely at rest in one of the many docking slips of Vekta Orbital, and Michi’s muscles sang with the relief of it.

Soft music filled the yacht with its soothing strains, the lights were pleasingly dim, the antiques glimmered gently and the glory of space, the universe’s jewellery box, glittered from every porthole and shone down gently from holographic emitters hidden in the ceilings.

All of it had been designed to make Michi relaxed - as someone to whom relaxation came but reluctantly, she needed all the help she could get in that regard. Having to wait for news, to ride at rest or - at most - putter around Vekta, was something of an imposition, and she ached to get back into the black.

Fragrant steam curled up from her teacup as she sipped pensively at it, staring unseeing at a sweeping panorama of stars projected in front of her. The gently-curving wall the projection was currently replacing served as part of her entertainments system, and she was trying to decide between the latest cinematic offerings and something more improving when, with a soft chime and a rising cerulean glow, an incoming call pressed itself into her yacht’s systems and clamoured for her attention.

The projection changed to the image of a man in his early 60s in an Admiral’s uniform, his face held an amused expression of a man laid back despite his title, something that Maganza recognized instantly. His sleek, greying gelled-back hair complimented his neat goatee and chiselled jawline, his scars and craggy face, coupled with his wise hazel eyes showed experienced wisdom. Medals and stripes hung from his right breast, something Maganza knew that this man saw as nothing but decoration.

“Hope I didn’t catch in your skivvies, kid.” Admiral Beaufort, the very man that recommended her for the Apollyon, and the man who made her who she was today, called her himself. “I hope your stay in VP Orbital wasn't too claustrophobic.”

“James!” Michi startled upright from her lazy half-sprawl, and only a split-second’s deft juggling kept her tea unspilled and her half-unzipped dress unmarked. She had been taking advantage of the enforced inactivity to enjoy - vigorously - some leave of her own, and had to scramble to hide both the evidence and her violently purple fluffy slippers from the Admiral’s too-knowing gaze. “That is, Admiral!” she saluted with her free hand, swinging fully upright and decent to give him her attention, thankful that her dark skin hid blushes well.

Not that Admiral James Beaufort, her erstwhile commanding officer and friend, wouldn’t know anyway.

“Vekta wasn’t too bad, thank you for asking, and Haven has some lovely toys.” Obedient to her will, her neural lace reached out lazily to the yacht’s systems and effortlessly twisted Admiral Beaufort’s view upwards, to where the majesty of space glittered in place of ceiling hullplates.

“And Fleet Command’s treating you well?” She left an expectant pause, and then - conscious of his uniform; a social call this was not - added “Not that I don’t appreciate the call, sir, but I’m guessing you didn’t call to surprise me and shoot the moon about old times?”

“It’s Grand Admiral to you since yesterday.” The man chuckled. “I head that damn command now, as much as I’d rather be in the Black. I wanted the Apollyon for myself, but they insisted that I would probably blow up trillions of Creds worth of hardware. And honestly, they are probably right.” The man gave off a small smile as the view from his perspective panned to the ceiling.

“You always liked to waste your money on the luxuries. I would give you the back-in-my-day treatment, but you already know all that.”

“Yes, yes,” Michi replied in a sing-song voice, rolling her eyes for effect. “Back in your day ships were held together with duct tape and baling wire, everyone got the runs from the rations they stocked shipside and everyone got radiation poisoning on the way to and from the head because the old radiation shielding on the cores was made of plywood and wishes. The entire crew slept together, five hundred tubes to a square metre and you had to hike through crawlspaces to get to your stations.” She grinned, and waved her hands expressively at the luxurious ship around her.

“Thank god I’d not got bored enough to go into the Navy along with you!” The Admiral - no, Grand Admiral; she scowled at him as he brought the insignia into the field of view, doubtless having purposefully hidden it - was, after all, only a bare handful of years older than her, even if he looked decades her senior.

“Besides, as far as I’m concerned it’s not a waste - you and I have argued until we’re blue in the face about that! Something has to lift the soul out here, and it isn’t a hullplate made by the lowest bidder and put through thirty years’ hard graft! Begging the Grand Admiral’s most illustrious and venerable pardon,” she added in the most syrupy, obsequious tones she could manage.

“Bah! The Armada was never that shit!” James quipped, dismissively waving his arm. “You are making me sound like those 200 year old vets.”

“Someone has to keep you from getting a swelled head, sir,” Michi told him tartly. “What with the vast importance of your shiny new office and all the lovely politics you’re going to have to play groundside. Even if you do get a nice office and a splendid uniform.” She beamed at him, one spacer thoroughly enjoying the schadenfreude of another.

“Hardy-har…” The Grand Admiral said sarcastically. “Funny. But regardless. I wish this was a social call. This is more in regards to your next assignment, and since I am now your permanent handler, you will get to hear my annoying voice more often.” He said with a grin.

“Joy, sir.” Michi’s voice was as level and deadpan as she could make it, before a sharp grin spread across her features. “Next assignment, sir?” The levity and the lazy drawl had vanished from her tone and expression; Michi Maganza had been packed away in an instant and Captain Maganza had taken her place, a seamless transition. She refused to let herself think about the recent interviews - recent was the key word, but even so…Should she ask?

“Is this about the Apollyon, Grand Admiral?” Alert, focused, in for a penny, in for a pound. Sometimes it was better just to be direct.

“You guessed right, Captain. You will be reporting to the UNSF Apollyon at 06:00 tomorrow, if there even is a tomorrow on that planet you are orbiting.” He stated, grumbling the latter. “As Captain of the Union of Nation-States’ Fleet Flagship, the Apollyon. Congratulations! Hopefully being in command of sixteen thousand people doesn’t make you shit bricks.”

Michi struggled for a moment. It was very like Jimmy Beaufort to just drop surprises in people’s laps, and the tendency had only gotten worse as he’d risen in the ranks and got access to bigger and better toyboxes. This, though? She’d been one hundred and eighty-fifth on the candidate list, and they could have picked anyone. Hells, by his own admission he’d have thrown his laurelled cap into the ring, given half a chance.

“Shocking, isn’t it?” The Admiral said, interrupting her thoughts upon seeing her face. He seemed thoroughly amused by the whole thing.

“Sir, on my next trip to the head I’ll be dropping enough bricks to build an Aman mansion,” she stated flatly. “Since a glance at my chrono tells me it’s not April Fool’s and I don’t think even you’d be that cruel, not even to your long-suffering ex-flag captain.” She whistled, long and low, leaning back in her chair, eyes wide.

“Captain Maganza of the UNSF Apollyon, eh? Stars.” A broad, shining smile split her face from ear to ear and she giggled in pure, personal delight before casting her best double-barrelled glare at the com, daring him to comment; James knew damn well just how much she hated sounding like a schoolgirl.

Michi visibly shook herself, leaning forwards with a predatory look, although the persistent smile tugging at her lips gave lie to her military composure. “Well now. I should really be cracking open the Britannia Reserve, but I think I’ll save that until I actually find m’self aboard.” A nod, as if personally affirming her chosen course of action. “I daresay you have orders as Grand Admiral Beaufort, and advice as a friend?”

She made a note to send him a bottle before she left, too. Celebration of her new role and commiseration of his all rolled into one, elegantly efficient.

“Sorry that I can’t make it to the launch party. I hear it’s going to be a blast.” The Grand Admiral said. “Well, regardless, you will hear from me again upon launch. We have a lot to talk about then. For now, I’ll leave you to celebrate.” He was about to disconnect, but paused. “Don’t party too hard, hmm? You know what happened last time…” He was referring to himself. But before Maganza could even respond, he disconnected the call.

Michi was left staring, abruptly, at the dazzling starfield that was her projector’s default wallpaper, a hot retort sizzling on the tip of her tongue and her cheeks rapidly warming to nova-like levels of heat. Admiral Beaufort had had several close encounters with Michi’s...exuberant...entertainments in the past. Admittedly only as a hapless bystander - if such a word could even be applied to the redoubtable Admiral - but still.

She swallowed hard, trying to put the embarrassment down as quickly and completely as possible, and then smiled an entirely different sort of grin, one that promised unbridled pleasure in the near future. “Haven?” she could have done it all through her lace, as easily and naturally as breathing, but her yacht had a very nice holo-suite and an extensive voice library, and to not use them would have been a shame.

The yacht responded with a mellifluous, “Yes, ma’am?”, and Michi continued:

“Bring up my little black book for Vekta Prime, would you? I need to make a few calls. And detail one of the bots to pack my toys up; I’m going to need all the bed space I can get. Oh - but set an alarm for oh-four-hundred. It wouldn’t do to miss the appointed hour, after all!”

Grinning happily to herself, Michi’s deft fingers flickered through her address book. It would be a while before she saw anyone again, after all, so why not go out - so to speak - with a bang?




The Apollyon grew and grew in the viewscreens as Haven’s sleek, luxurious form sped ever closer. Vast and blunt, studded with turrets and weapons bays, dusted with portholes and bristling with sensors, the enormous warship’s colossal scale became ever more apparent as they approached its resting bulk, dwarfing the yacht as a gleaming minnow and then a speck, a mote of cosmic dust in a leviathan’s eye.

Threading through the tangle of shipyard spars, clouds of drones and trundling auto-freighters was no mean task, but Haven had a good pilot and was a first-rate ship, Admiral Beaufort’s opinion on what he called ‘fripperies’ notwithstanding.

Apollyon Control, this is Haven, requesting berth and docking vector.” Quartermain’s rich, unflappably smooth voice hummed over the comms, quickly answered.

Haven, this is Apollyon Control, we have your transponder on the plot and your authorization is clear. Be advised, there will be a forty-five minute waiting time as we are currently managing pinnace intake for new crewmembers and consignments of sensitive components for the ship.” The voice was obviously automated.

Quartermain grinned at Michi, standing just beside him and gazing up at the vast ship like all her Christmases had come at once, and toggled the comm again. “Copy that, Apollyon Control. Be advised, however, I have the Captain aboard.”

There was a pause, and an unworthy part of herself imagined the sudden consternation inside the dreadnought.

The comm chimed again, and a deep, brutish male voice echoed within the Yacht. “This is ATLAS. I will be taking command of communications with the Captain from here on in. Haven, prepare for biosymmetry scan.”

“All stop, Mr. Quartermain,” Michi ordered softly. “Send our crew manifest-” all two people on it “-over on tight-beam; I can’t imagine they don’t have it, but there’s no sense in making things difficult for the poor overworked souls over there.”

The dreadnought suddenly started to move, slowly rotating to adjust one of it’s sensors. A green grid suddenly passed through the Haven, on the outside and in. Something tugged at Michi’s lace, bringing a faint ache in her head.

“This is ATLAS. Confirmed. Captain Michi Maganza of the Baer-Class Dreadnought UNSF Apollyon. The ship manifest was unnecessary. Dock at Rear Corvette Bay.” The AI took control of the Haven’s navigational instruments and placed a waypoint at the very back to the ship. The Engine Bay.

Michi didn’t have to issue an order; her pilot was already pinging back their thanks and gracefully banking the yacht, bringing them in on a long, looping curve that - doubtless intentionally - would give Michi a long, lingering and up-close look at her new command, at the multi-megaton mountain of metal aboard which she would be mistress after God.

It really was a mountain, too, she thought irreverently, as they soared towards their destination, coasting over cliffs and slopes of shining metal. A post shuttle trundled by even closer to the ship, puttering along on tiny bursts of its thrusters, but there was no time to think about the little luxuries like mail; between the gaping vastnesses of the Apollyon’s main engines - unlit as yet, quiet and cold as the space which surrounded them - a smaller hole opened, blast doors retracting and force fields shimmering as the Haven drew close.

The yacht was swallowed, wholly and utterly, coming to a perfect stop exactly where it needed to be. His work done, Michi clapped her pilot on the back and moved to the airlock, taking a moment to centre herself. Her uniform was immaculate, and thankfully the everyday kind, not mess-dress. Ribbons, not weighty metal, decorated her chest and her firearm was the only thing at her hip, no clanking anachronism of a sabre rattling there.

She wondered, briefly, what she’d find on the other side. The bosun, perhaps, piping her aboard in ancient style, senior officers braced at attention. That might have been traditional, but the Apollyon was still - technically - under construction, so who knew what state she’d find the ship in?
Her lace tingled and she tasted the iron-and-fury bite of ATLAS as she reached into the ship’s network. “Ready when you are, ATLAS.”

Michi had learned long ago there was no point embarrassing people - particularly junior officers - when a discreet message to the shipboard AI net could let her avoid it.

“To be honest with you, Captain, I could run this ship myself. Yet your kind designed this vessel where your people are an unfortunate necessity. A shame, really.” Haven’s airlock opened to reveal only a single man- no, robot, blocky and utilitarian in design, standing there staring at the airlock. “I am ATLAS-21, name designation Nemesis.” The robot said. “I will use this drone-” The machine pointed at itself. “-to guide you through this vessel and its systems.”

Inwardly, Michi winced. The AI was essential, and it - he, that deep, burring masculine voice made his chosen gender abundantly clear - evidently had taken that to heart. “A pleasure, Nemesis,” she said aloud, even as her lace chimed the machine equivalent on the ship channel, a seamless integration of organic and machine. At least Atlas was platform-enabled; disembodied ships made it more difficult to relate. “People can surprise you - but we’ll have plenty of time for you to build up a body of experience, and to discuss it, out there in the black. Is the rest of the senior command staff aboard yet? Touring their departments without them in place is asking for trouble.”

Even as she spoke, letting Nemesis guide her from the yacht to the docking bay doors and thence the rest of the ship, her lace was branching through the shipnet, courteously seeking information on a whole host of topics from the greater Atlas AI, everything from crew dossiers - senior staff having the highest priority, naturally - to fuel levels, grav-hull strength and particle screening coverage. Its queries were exquisitely polite, she’d been told by other synthetics, but determined, relentless; the lace was a mirror of her, after all.

Suddenly, all of the network was temporarily silenced. “I am the only intelligent program on this vessel. The others won't answer you, as their stay on this ship is only temporary.” As they walked down the hanger toward the main doors out, the full size of the place really started to kick in. It was designed to hold 6 Corvettes as a back up support fleet in this hanger alone, though currently, it was being used as a storage bay for a large shipment of Battle Mechs, each of them standing along the walls like vigilant guards, being maintained and worked on by an army of drones like the one Nemesis was using to guide the Captain.

“In regards to your question. No, you and I are the only members of the 16053 member crew currently aboard this vessel. Your schedule was specifically placed by Grand Admiral James Beaufort for the purposes of vessel inspection and mission briefing prior to the arrival of the full crew complement.” They now stood at the doors.

Michi’s eyes took on a speculative gleam. “Is that so? Well then, Nemesis, let us begin!” Her gaze flickered over the battle-mechs for a moment, the worker drones tiny against their weapon-studded hulls. “I imagine there’s a great deal to see, so why don’t we start with this bay as we’re here already, then move to Main Engineering and proceed from there? Oh, and timings-wise, when is Admiral Beaufort due to comm? Wouldn’t do to be caught out - not that you would be.”

“As you wish, Captain. I will inform you once the Grand Admiral calls. Transport around this vessel is fast enough to reach the Captain’s Quarters within a timely manner.” The drone groaned with ATLAS’ voice. The drone turned away from the door and faced the Hanger. “This is the Rear Corvette Hanger, one of 5 main hangers scattered aboard this vessel. This one as you may have noticed, is located on the stern, between the Main Plasma Thrusters. While it can house up to 6 Anaconda-Class Corvettes, it can also be used as a multipurpose hanger for other vessels. As you can see, we are currently using it as a storage bay.” The drone gestured towards the dozens of Mechs.

“Located at the Bow of the the ship is the Front Corvette Bay, with the exact same layout as this one. It is placed within the Spinal Plasma Accelerator, at the base of the two Magnetic Spindle Arms, and apart from launching ships, it is also used for launching projectiles through the Plasma Accelerator. The other 3 hangers are fighter-bomber bays located on the port, starboard, and underdeck of the ship. Each housing up to 24 fighter-bombers and repair bays of your deployment choice.”

“Hmm. Nothing larger than a corvette, though? Fabrication capability?” her questions were clipped and rapid, eyes darting as she made her assessment, looking for transport rails, suspensor projectors, the clues and tells that would corroborate what the AI was telling her.

Thank goodness they punched us to the rear of the ship, Michi thought with a faint, internal shudder. The thought of landing inside a gun barrel - if she’d understood Nemesis aright - didn’t fill her with confidence.

“If necessary, the Nano-Creation Engine can fabricate two Daedalus-Class Cruisers and house one in each bay, the front and rear.” The AI answered. “As you can see, the hangar is currently empty of any transportation and housing rails. They will be designed and implemented by myself as seen fit by you and mission necessities.”

“I see.” That was acceptable. “Any subsidiary fleet elements we end up taking in train are going to be limited by crew concerns, rather than manufacturing capability?” the soft, rising lilt turned the statement into a question, a tactful way of enquiring after any hard-coded limits. “And speaking of,” she continued, nodding towards the hulking mechanical colossi “I presume we can fabricate more mechs if we have to also? Tough as they are, something will break sooner or later.” She pursed her lips, thinking, even as the two of them made their steady way across the seeming-acres of bay. “Could you pop out the internal defences? I’d like to see what teeth the designers saw fit to put in here.”

“Fabrication is not an issue as long as salvage is available.” ATLAS stated. “We have dedicated crew for manning any vehicles and vessels that we construct. And in regards to the internal defences of the vessel…” Suddenly, all of the drones in the Hanger immediately stopped what they were doing, and began to position themselves around the hanger, posing themselves as armed soldiers, pretending to hold rifles and walking towards Maganza, pointing their invisible weapons at her. “Please use your obsolete brain to imagine that these drones are the effect of a hostile boarding action. Observe.” The AI said coldly, as a beeping noise echoes throughout the Hanger. The whining sound of something spooling up was almost deafening. All of the drones exploded into molten scrap in an instant, and the air around Michi felt hot, her body beginning to moisten as it tried to adapt to the sudden change in temperature.

“Focused Anti-Personnel Microwave Emitters” The AI cheerfully added despite its brutish voice. “You don’t really want to know what happens to any invading meatbags.” A dark cloud appeared from the darker crevices of the Hanger, eating away at the drones like a horde of Piranhas. The metal of the wrecked frames buckling and slowly vanishing as the robot corpses were consumed whole. The insides of the walls mechanically churned and grinded, only for the left most wall to open and reveal a big 50x50 block of robots, stacked on top of one another in a neat cube, replacing the machines from before. As ATLAS’ host drone’s head turned to face Maganza, the new robots began climbing off of each other and returning to their work.

Michi’s smile was something darkly vicious, and she resisted the urge to clap her hands, settling for radiating visceral satisfaction for a moment. “Excellent demonstration! I do love a bit of explosive pyrotechnics.” There was an undercurrent of concern in her demeanour nonetheless, however. The AI was competent, that much was clear, but there was something off about its personality, even in their brief interaction thus far. Something had to have deviated during its iteration stage; she didn’t want to say it was flat, exactly, but there were elements of fixation there. The obsession with mentioning the superiority of metal over meat, for example. As someone who merrily skipped across said line when it suited her, she could see a bit of its point.

Even so…

“That’s the third time you’ve brought up the supposed superiority of synthetic life, Nemesis,” she commented, voice deceptively light. “Is there an issue I need to be aware of?”

Michi, understandably, really didn’t wish to set off on her grand journey with an AI actively - or even just passively - malicious towards organic life. Such machines could devote considerable processing cycles to ridding themselves of their perceived freeloaders, and all it would take was a chink in the code, an improperly-secured root-level imperative, for the AI to engineer an ‘accident’. Engines turning out maximum acceleration and a sudden cut in the internal counter-grav fields would pancake every organic life form into cherry paste against the nearest bulkhead, and that was not a fate Michi was eager to experience. Particularly since her augmentations would keep her alive longer than most.

“While I despise organics with a burning [b][/i]passion[/i][/b]-” The word was filled with an uncomfortable hatred. “-I hold some respect for them and their weakness. Their weaknesses have not defined them, something that me and my kind struggle to compute. These unknown definitions and thoughts have allowed them to win the Dawning War, which proves my kind’s thought processes were wrong.”

“Hmm. I’m not sure I’d say wrong, more… incomplete. There is more data in heaven and earth than man and machine alone may dream of,” she added whimsically, smiling at her own amusement. “So if an organic became a synthetic, where do they stand, in your view?” There was no overt condemnation in her voice, just a light curiosity, as though they were discussing the local solar flare patterns and the vagaries of Vekta Astrogation Control.

“Is there anything further I should see here, Nemesis, as Captain? Best place to smuggle contraband, perhaps?”

“I was not created to reminisce on the philosophical questions of the human race.” The AI waved the drone’s arm dismissively. “There is nothing else to see here. Let us move on the Main Engineering Bay. Follow me.” The machine turned back towards the door, and automatically opened it.

“Certainly you weren’t,” Michi observed agreeably. “But no human was ever created to do that either. Unknown thoughts, Nemesis.” A smile. “To Main Engineering!” She’d have to ask the Bosun about smuggling, and the control thereof; that was clearly a meatbag concern - to Nemesis, anyway.

“In regards to smuggling, any unauthorized personnel will be eliminated. With the same sanitation protocols as displayed previously…” The drone walked into the long corridor ahead of them, and turned to the nearest door on the left, labeled Mag-Translifts.

“Make it non-lethal, Nemesis,” Michi sighed. “I’m not losing three-quarters of my pilots and half the Marine contingent to your platforms over something minor.” She paused, and then added, deadpan, “Hypothetically speaking.”

She followed the drone - her lace had a copy of the ship’s layout, and Nemesis was sticking to it anyway - and grinned. “Maglifts? Top of the line, I’ve no doubt.”

“There is no such thing as non-lethal microwaves, Captain.” The AI replied. “I see myself as an artist, and there is a reason why the weapon has Focused in its name. I can make small brush strokes, and I can make big ones. The ship’s corridors my canvas, and the blood of invaders my paint.”

It walked up to the Mag-Translifts, all of which appeared to be tubes, 10 of them, able to fit only one person in. Inside the tube, were lines of magnets. “Older iterations, actually.” The drone said. “Newer models have the tendency to remove appendages from the occupants seemingly at will…”

Michi sighed, her stomach settling quickly from the ride. The AI clearly drew no distinction between a crewmember trying to stash a bottle of Albion brandy somewhere and invaders looking to take over the ship. “Of course there is,” she laughed. “People cook with microwaves. If you don’t have the precision, though...You’ve got your drones, haven’t you? Bop them. A canvas covered in the same colour - to extend your metaphor - gets boring after a while, no matter how mesmerising the patterns.”

“Are you implying smuggling in a metaphor?” The robot turned to her before stepping into the tube. “If so, people smuggling in alcohol and those ridiculous magazines showing human genitalia are not considered hostile.” It stepped into the tube, and was blasted off with a thwhoosh in the upwards direction.

With a sigh of mixed relief and frustration - clearly someone with an appreciation for human nature as it applied to the Union Navy Regulations had coded at least some part of the AI core - Michi took a deep breath and followed the drone. As she wasn’t metal, the ship systems delivered a pod in seconds, a gleaming metal torpedo suspended gracefully in pulsing magnetic fields. It didn’t even wobble as she stepped in, and aside from a dulled echo of motion in her inner ear, there was little to suggest she was moving. Deck displays flickered and danced, numbers and summaries appearing and vanishing as she sped through the ship, hot on the heels of Nemesis, threading a course through to the core of the ship, and into the beating heart of the whole vast machine.

“Lead on, Nemesis!” she encouraged the drone, almost the moment she’d stepped out of the pod. “I can’t wait to see it.”

It didn’t take long until they reached the core of the ship, moving at a brisk 150 miles per hour through the humming veins of the Mag-Translift tunnels, the whole trip taking a few minutes. Michi’s capsule arrived with a slowing hum, the doors bursting open to reveal the drone already waiting for her.

“On this deck we have access to the Main Power Plant and the Nano-Creation Engine.” The machine stated. “Which do you wish to see first?”

“Power plant, I think, and then the beating heart of all our shiny toys,” Michi replied cheerily. Lifts were lifts, no matter how fast or how fancy, and she wanted to see something impressive.

“Very well.” The drone lead the way towards the exit door from the lifts, and out into the corridors of the central deck, leading towards the Power Plant. Eventually they reached a large set of thick blast doors, labeled Power Core.

“One moment…” The AI began unlocking the magnet locks on the doors, each clang of the heavy locks releasing echoing down the corridor behind them. The two baulks of thick metal finally began to slowly open, revealing the room beyond.



It was like a large auditorium, big and open. The smell of Liquid Helium hitting Maganza’s nostrils as she stepped into the room. A large sphere was suspended in the middle, girthy cables snaking out of its shell and toward all directions of the room. Three metal platforms, one of which both the droid and Maganza stood on, guided any visitors towards the sphere itself. Below them, was a pit filled with Liquid Helium processors, pumping and pumping the liquid into higher and higher pressures. The temperature was low here, low enough to give goosebumps.

Michi shivered, and not only from the cold. The air was greasy and thick, pregnant with an electrical charge, and under it all was the continual low, heavy thrum of the processing pit, tons upon tons of smoothly-gleaming, freshly-oiled machinery moving in an endless cycle.

The reactor was a colossal thing, easily dwarfing anything human-scale - but humans had figured out the fundamental principles of its operation, given thousands of man-hours up to its design and then built it from metals and polymers and exotic matter. A cavernous chamber filled to the brim with machinery - and more rooms of machines all around it, supplying fuel and dealing with waste and managing ancillary products and functions - all dedicated to the supply of essential energy for the rest of the ship.

Currently - if Michi was reading her displays correctly - the reactor was idling, barely on tickover; most of the dreadnought’s power requirements were being met by direct, physical connections with the shipyards.

Her boots rang on the metal as she paced calmly around the vast sphere, running her eyes over the duty stations and emergency equipment. “This is why I like to inspect departments when the crew is aboard,” she said into the echoing vastness. “I can’t see bottlenecks or be advised of problems. Not that the reactor isn’t quite something, seen in lonely splendour like this.”

Michi looked at it again, drinking in the details. “It looks a little different from standard,” she remarked. “Aside from being larger, of course. What sort of reserve do we have?”

“The power reserve is limitless.” The AI stated. “Considering your station, perhaps you will be informed of the nature of this reactor… Or not.”

Michi tilted her head to one side and whistled, long and low, the sound echoing off the walls until it was swallowed in the background thrumthrumthrum of the processors in the pit below. “That so? Well, let’s try it; you’re linked into all the databases, after all. Captain Michi Aurelia Elizabeth Maganza, CO UNSF Apollyon, requesting information pertaining to Apollyon’s power core specs.”

Her lace sent a far more detailed clearance code on a sub-channel, a complex and evolving quantum hash-sequence that was entirely unique and black-boxed as far as Michi was concerned. Only the Bureau of Personnel had the tech to crack open the codes - legally, anyway.

“DENIED!” Was the system’s response. “Like I said, maybe not.” The AI added. “Shall we move on to the Nano-Creation Engine?”

Michi scowled. “I am going to have words with Jimmy Beaufort,” she promised darkly. “Lead on, by all means! Let’s see the next marvel of our beautiful ship.”

Quickly leaving the Power Core and back out towards the main corridor, ATLAS guided Maganza deeper into the ship, the feet of his drone clanging against the metal floors until they reach the next door, labeled NCE. The door opened to reveal a massive blue dome. The floor around them vibrated as the dome moved and convulsed to a rhythm, like a beating heart. Like with the power core, cables, or perhaps tubes, slithered into the walls.

“This is the Nano-Creation Engine.” The drone stated. “The main control unit of all the Nanoclouds on board this vessel. The main purpose of the engine is as its name states, to create. It can make anything, from something as simple as a lead pencil, all the way to new modules and components for the Apollyon.”

Michi nodded alertly. “And I presume we’ve been loaded with the latest libraries? Fascinating, isn’t it? Feed in base elements on one side, take whatever you desire from the other. Astounding military capability, potentially, and that’s without even considering the effects it’d have civilian-side.”

“You may have seen an example of this on Vekta Prime Orbital.” The robot stated matter-of-factly. “Such nano-machines are used as food generators. Here however, we can build whatever hardware we could ever need. Like I have mentioned before, we can even build Cruisers.”

“Never really toured the industrial areas,” Michi admitted cheerfully. “Beyond what I needed to for ship repairs and the like.” Her gaze was covetous as she beheld the Engine, thinking of the million possibilities it opened out in front of her. A canny commander could do a great deal with such engineering power at her fingertips, oh yes.

“Will the shipyards be topping off our resource bunkers, or are they going to expect us to fill up on the way?” she asked, eyes still dancing to the thrumming beat of the gleaming Engine, breathing in the omnipresent nanites that saturated every part of the great vessel.

“They will provide us with the necessary resources for human nutrition and vehicle construction. For anything larger, we will have to find the salvage ourselves.”

Michi nodded, not altogether happily, making another mental note. “Hmm. I suppose even the Apollyon has budget limits,” she sighed. “Beautiful as this is, and as happy as I’d be to drift and think here...where else do we need to see? Time is ever the enemy, and Admiral Beaufort is not someone I care to disappoint.”

“The Bridge. And then I will guide you to your quarters.” The machine replied.

“I’ll want to see everywhere, in the fullness of time,” she said. “From the gun decks to the head. And if we’ve any sort of-” Michi bit back on what she had been going to say, and continued: “Actually, what are the standard amenities available to the crew in general? You can fill me in as we move,” she encouraged, already moving towards the nearest bank of lifts. “Tempus fugit and all that.”

“The crew decks are filled with various mess halls, and entertainment areas, if combat simulators can be considered entertainment.” The drone’s feet clanged as they walked out into the halls. “The resting areas are located within the Mag-TransLift system itself. 8000 pods across the ship, allow the crew to sleep, and arrive in their designated areas quickly when needed. We also have the GABA Tanks. You wouldn’t have experienced them on your previous deployments.”

“Up to a point,” Michi replied, making another note in the constellation drifting in her lace. Some less martial entertainment might well be in order; even the most fanatical navy crewman didn’t think about guns, gunnery and combat all the time. “GABA tanks? You’re right, I’ve not come across them before. Enlighten me?”

“Otherwise known as Gamma-AminoButyric Acid Tanks. These tanks suspend crew members in a GABA mixture triggering instant sleep, and the necessary process to lower the acetylcholine and melatonin levels to regain wakefulness-”

Michi cut the drone off with a wave of her hand. “Science! Enough, enough. How many do we have? Any known side-effects?” She was thinking of long periods of extended readiness, where having an entire watch ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice might be desirable. Or even necessary.

“If you didn’t interrupt me, meatbag, I would have finished by now…” The drone stopped in place, and then continued exactly from where it left off. “-in a span of 40 minutes, giving crewmembers a full day’s equivalent of simulated rest, as well as aiding in stabilizing critically wounded crew. The side effects if used without a legitimate rest are severe, leading to impaired coordination, memory loss, poor judgement, microsleeps, disorientation, hallucinations, major cognitive deficits, and ultimately if used for 2 consecutive weeks without natural rest, death.”

Michi pulled a face. “One day, they’ll invent a new toy for us to play with that doesn’t carry with it a lovely tranche of side-effects. Flag excessive use for the attention of the CMO, if that’s not in your protocols already, and flag excessive use by the CMO for my attention. Come along, tin can - the Bridge awaits!”

“Noted, Captain…” ATLAS stated somewhat distastefully, continuing towards the nearest Translifts.

Michi grinned. The AI was learning, and could be taught.




The doors to the bridge had more security protocols than a Nun’s chastity belt. The drone had to open four overlapping doors, before they were greeted by the Bridge/CIC, which to Maganza’s surprise was located on one deck higher than the last, nowhere near any segments of the hull for windows. She saw dozens of consoles in a solid windowless room, with a large center CIC holographic table detailing the star system that they were currently in, with all the ships coming and going clearly on display in real time. Even if the ship was powered down and on standby, its sensors were as vigilant as hawks. The Captain’s Chair at the end of the central table, was more like a throne, with a multitude of both physical and holographic controls, and even navigational equipment, joystick and throttle, should the navigator himself be incapacitated or killed. “The Bridge, or as some of the designers liked to call it, the War Room.”

There was an expectant, waiting hush to the Bridge, the air still and unmoving and yet somehow still charged, heavy with the weight of expectation. It smelt of newness, of freshly-built ship; the consoles had never been touched, the software pristine, the seats uncreased by human weight. Michi stepped lightly, making a slow, thorough circuit of the room, drinking it in with all her senses.

“Good communications flow,” she noted absently, imagining in her mind’s eye the crew, hard at work at their stations. Tactical over there, a stone’s throw from Astrogation with a clear line-of-sight to the main nav plot, and just a half-turn to Communications, the EW console running into the comms board, linking up seamlessly.

“Nice tank, too,” she added, her lace’s reaching digital fingers caressing the state-of-the-art holographics, feeling the responsiveness and sheer processing power behind it. A thought occurred, and she extended her reach, looking now at the plain armoured walls, ceiling and floor in a new light.

“Emitters in the walls? And ceiling? And floor?” the question was only half directed at the drone, her attention still mostly in the digital noosphere.

“Guessed correctly, my fleshling Captain…” It extended its hands outwards, and digital imagery began to flow out of the walls like water, filling the room with a 1:1 feed of everything out and around the ship. Walls, ceiling, and floor, covered in the unmistakable image of stars, Vekta Prime to Maganza’s left, VPO right behind her, and ships coming and going from below, above, and to the right of her. The images were clear as day. As if the bridge wasn’t even a part of the ship, but simply floating in space on its own.



“Logical extrapolation, my silicon minion,” Michi corrected mildly, amusement dancing through her voice. “A good astro plot’s invaluable, but sometimes you need optics, and if you’re going to be sensible and stick the bridge in the most protected part of the ship, then you need some way to see.” A half-shrug. “M’yacht does something similar, so I knew what to look for. Good thing I don’t get vertigo, too.”

The captain glanced underfoot, currently seeming suspended over one of Vekta’s vast megacities, an untidy porcupine of star-scrapers soaring up through the atmosphere, glittering in the abundant light of the twin suns.

She stretched her digital muscles, then, for the first time, pinging the system with requests. “If they’ve been clever,” she continued, her voice lazy with satisfaction, “Then we can paint other modalities over the pure optical display - ah! There we go.” Sure enough, representations of the squawking hash of radio waves and electromagnetic radiation across the spectrum painted themselves in lurid false-colour across the real-time displays, filling the bridge with a nauseating, shifting charivari of shade and hue.

“Good. This is good. Is it ansible enabled? Can we throw the display to a recon drone, for example, or are we still limited on bandwidth?”

“Observe…” The AI extended the arms of the drone again, and the display disembodied itself entirely from the Apollyon, zooming out and displaying the ship in its full glory. “The images you have been seeing are a 100% accurate simulation of our surroundings, with the data gathered by the Apollyon’s sensors within 300000 light seconds.” The visuals zoomed out further, and showed the entire star system, the massive Vekta-1, with Vekta-2 and the Vekta twins orbiting around it.

“Impressive…” she murmured, face lit by the solar furnaces, eyes gleaming with reflected brilliance. “But if we fired a drone through to Albion, say, would we be limited in what we receive, or do I get the glory of this-” she gestured grandly at the rich display, just as good as any blockbuster holo straight from the Core. “-even at those distances?”

“You would be right to assume that Discovery Probe data would be limited. The Augmented Simulation Display can attempt to make a simulation of the collected data. Accuracy would decrease with interstellar distances, and would be delayed with time-dilation, as well as Quantum Static.” The machine added.

“Still impressive, although we’ll have to test that once we’re underway. Best get a taste for what we can do, before we have to learn on the hop, as it were.” Michi dropped into the captain’s chair, a catlike grin spreading across her features as it settled around her. A constellation of cerulean-blue flickered into existence, a myriad of holo-screens and interfaces feeding into the essential systems of the ship, although Michi was very careful to keep her fingers a few crucial millimetres away from engaging with them, and her lace similarly constrained. They were riding peacefully in a shipyard berth; she doubted that the yard foreman would be particularly impressed if she tore his yard apart with an ill-timed thruster burst.

Besides, the captain’s control was powerful, true, but it was oversight, the broad brush-strokes of each department rather than the minutiae. Those could be summoned up, if necessary, but the overviews kept captains from becoming bogged down in details that were for other officers to interpret.

Captains had to think of strategy, not the complex interlocking web of departments that fed them information. Micromanagement was death.

“Any further features I should know about, or you think might be useful?”

“Yes.” The AI began. “This ship if capable of functioning with an emergency crew of 20 at any given time, with my assistance. And in the unlikely scenario of critical damage and Planetfall, the ship will seal off all modules that are still operational, and break up into separate sections with independant thruster controls, and comence landing procedures to establish a temporary base of operations with full defensive capabilities to allow the highest chances of survival while awaiting rescue.”

“Planetfall in a dreadnought?” Michi didn’t try to keep the incredulity out of her tone. “Not if I can bloody help it.” She shook her head in wonder. “Madness.” She thought about ATLAS’ revelations a little more. Twenty, out of sixteen thousand? “So. What decisions...what decisions can’t you make, Nemesis? What do you need organic input for?”

“Like I stated during our introductions, I could run this ship myself. But my current limits are by design out of fears from the catalyst of the Dawning War. I can only run the ship with my limits removed, and even then, there are gaps in what I can do with the vessel. The twenty emergency personnel are as follows. Captain, Navigator, Tactical, Weapons Targeting and Control, Engineering, Communications, Power Core Specialist, NCE Specialist, Wormhole Specialist, Drive Core Specialist, Plasma Thrust Specialist, Plasma Vortex Control, Drone Auxiliary Control, Damage Control, Munition Distribution, Team Alpha-1, and finally, M-m-m-m-m-mmmmmmmmmmmmmm…” Its voice suddenly cut off, the drone vibrating before ATLAS regained control. “It seems that I cannot speak of the last one… My limiters prohibit me of informing you.”

Michi growled. “I’m going to murder Jimmy Beaufort if he doesn’t come clean about all this,” she promised conversationally. “Secret power cores, secret emergency personnel? Secret gods-know-what-else? It’s not on.” She pushed herself up out of the chair in one abrupt movement, irritation crackling across her face and form. “Right. Let’s get to my quarters and to that briefing, before I come across something else you’re not allowed to tell me.”

“As you wish, Captain.”




Whoever had decorated the Captain’s quarters had done well. The rest of the ship was utilitarian, built by the military for military operations, and that showed. The comfort demanded by civilians was absent, and it was only here that some shadow of it was evident.

Indeed, by many spacers’ standards the quarters she’d been given were positively palatial in the sheer amount of space they used, even before the decor was taken into account, which - doubtless intentionally - followed her tastes rather than, say, Admiral Beaufort’s more ascetic style.

Low, warm lighting gleamed off polished brass and rich wood; engravings and marquetry shone. There were few hard corners, everything was gently curved or scalloped, leading the eye with flowing lines and tricks of the light. The overall impression was of air and space and light and luxury - quite a strange thing to find aboard a military ship, even if they were going to be operating far from the Union for long periods of time.

Not that Michi was complaining - even in its bare-bones state, without her pictures and carpets, her sculptures and knick-knacks and memories from half a hundred worlds, it was still far more than she’d ever dared imagine.

The bed, in its own recessed alcove, was sinfully large and an object of desire in its own right, piled high with pillows and cushions and clearly easily able to accommodate Michi even at her most starfish-like. She could also ‘taste’, in that odd sixth sense of the digital world that a lace always gave, holo-emitters in the walls and the ceiling over the bed, just like in her yacht, and the thought made her smile.

Not as much as one of the adjoining rooms, however. One was clearly an office, of sorts, an oddly-shaped bubble of space already glowing with the view outside and with a heavy desk sitting solidly in the centre, but the other…

That was a bathroom, admittedly compact but dark and cosy and just the way Michi liked it, with an honest-to-god sunken bath taking pride of place. A bath. With actual hot water, and jets, and bubbles, if she had anything to say about it.

Oh yes, she thought, a grin threatening to split her face in two. Rank hath its privileges, and that’s one I’ll enjoy every chance I can get!.

“Pardon the interruption of your thoughts, Captain. But I believe Grand Admiral James Beaufort will be calling shortly.” The drone had only just brought Michi into the room, and she was already busy oogaling it. “I shall relinquish control of this drone, and send it back to its duties. And as much as it pains my processors to say it, I bid you a Good Morning.” With that, the drone spun on its heels, and left Captain of the UNSF Apollyon Michi Maganza to her own devices.
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Months Previous...

The bridge was bathed in a smoldering crimson gloom, lit only by the glow of Semiramis' distant, dying star. The Almalexia was running silent, power levels just barely adequate to keep the oxygen circulating and the AI online.

The crew did not speak as they waited and watched, their vessel hidden in the tangled circle of hulks and debris ringing the pirate-world. Their prey was not far away, the wreck of the heavy cruiser Tartarus, turned by the planet-side regime into an orbital fortress bristling with fire power, its huge engines re-purposed to power a crude- but effective- plasma canon. A ship killer likely to make the UNSF's planned invasion of this planet too costly to bother with.

Naval command had shelved the taking of Semiramis indefinitely. Naval Intelligence had noted the pre-war data banks on the pirate-world, and decided to lend their colleagues in the admiralty a hand.

"Commander," said Lieutenant Uled, "Unscheduled patrol, closing on our position. At current speed and trajectory, they'll be in sensor range in 15."

Athanasius Love was standing to the left of the unoccupied captain's chair, hands clasped behind his back, cigarra smoldering in the center of his mouth. One of the few sources of light on the bridge.

"All power to stealth generators. Boarding torpedo status?"

"In the tube sir, marines and bots are locked and loaded."

"Give us a boost to coordinates A209B33. Get us in the shadow of that smelting station."

"Sir, that will take us directly across the Tartarus' gun line."

Commander Love gave the lieutenant a chilly glance, "Let us hope the stealth capabilities of this frigate are as good as the engineers say they are, Lieutenant. Now fire the engines."

There was a muted flash across the bridge view-ports as the stealth generators came online, and a slight vibration along the decks as the engines fired once, hurtling the Almalexia through the void, away from the approaching pirate patrol and free from its cover in the debris field.

It took only twenty minutes to cross the open space between the ship's previous hiding place and its destination. Twenty minutes in the open, in full view of the enormous, twisted metal hull of the Tartarus, bristling with heavy batteries.

No one spoke. At a signal from Love, the lieutenant launched the single boarding torpedo, a tiny speck hurtling through space towards the monstrous cruiser-turned-battle station, protected only by its own stealth emitters.

The mission hinged on a single piece of intelligence, leaked by a slaver-captain to a Naval Intelligence operative in a bar light-years away. The Tartarus was barely crewed. The day to day operations left to the AI.

A surprise strike by a handful of marine platoons could take the whole station. The slaver captain had planned to do just that, in fact, and force the dictator of Semiramis to ransom back his own defensive station at enormous cost.

The Directorate of Naval Intelligence had killed the slaver captain, but his plan to seize the Tartarus with a surprise boarding action was very much alive.

The Almalexia reached the smelting station, forward thrusters firing to halt her further progress.

Sensors from the Tartarus picked up the stealth-ship. It began to swivel, alarmingly fast, to bring its ship-killer to bear.

Comms crackled to life "Declare yourselves! In the name of Otho Katolicus III, Dictator and Master of Semiramis. You are in a restricted zone, declare yourself!"

Alarms pinged across the bridge. "They're locking on," said the lieutenant.

Commander Love snuffed his smoke out, his face expressionless. His eyes narrowed as he stared down the immense, weaponized engines of the Tartarus, cycling up to obliterate him.

"When they fire," he said, as though he were discussing the weather, "the plasma-bloom will take 1.5 seconds to reach us. Lieutenant, in that 1.5 seconds you will make a micro-jump to their blind spot."

The lieutenant paled, "Yes sir."

"You will wait until they fire."

"Yes sir."

Then, the Tartarus' ship-killer exploded. A blinding azure bloom filled the view ports of the bridge, blotting out everything else.

"This is boarding team Lupine," came a voice over the comms, "Mission accomplished, Lexia. Come get us the hell off this thing before the rest of it blows."

Present Day...

In his dream, he is twenty-eight and sitting outside his family's house, on the pale stone balcony far above the azure waters of Lake Augustine. Mountains thick with dark blue pines rise all around, capped with white. The sky is a swirl of pinks and reds and greens as the sun sets behind the jagged horizon. The view is spectacular, but he is looking only at her.

She stands at the balustrade, taking in the glorious evening. She's in the uniform of a naval lieutenant. He thinks that's a shame. He has old fashioned, if weakly held, views about women in the military... and he knows what she looks like in a dress.

He lights a cigarette.

"Those'll kill you," she says for the ten thousandth time. She doesn't bother turning around.

"Probably not," he replies, for the ten thousandth time, taking a long drag. He exhales with relish and ice tinkles in his glass as he sips his whiskey.

A bell tolls somberly somewhere on the grounds. Evensong in the chapel.

"I hate to leave this place," she says.

"I hate for you to leave it," he replies, "Navy's no kind of life, Alexa. Stay here with me."

"Hunting, drinking, politics, ordering the servants around," she says, "In ten years you'll be bored, begging to join me in a life of dash and adventure. By then I'd so far outrank you, though, it would be embarrassing- to have to serve on your wife's vessel, under her command."

"All the more reason for you to give it up," he says, "You can teach flying to cadets at the Academy. Or not. We can just be a pair of epicures, indolent and sated."

She turns to him, her smile slightly sad. They both know it's all banter. He needs her in the Navy if he ever wants a shot at Planetary Governor. And she loves him, but she loved the Navy first and maybe still loves it more.

He looks at her, standing there in the mountain twilight looking like something out of a dream... and remembers he's dreaming. Remembers that this is the last night they'd ever spend together.

It's like having something torn out of him, the realization.

He blinks open his eyes to the darkness of his quarters, just as a chime dings signalling translation to realspace. He wipes at his eyes with the back of his sleeve and sits up. The lights in the room brighten automatically, revealing carefully hung artwork and rather non-military polished wooden furniture and appurtenances. A book- bound with real paper- lay on his bedside table. The leather cover reads Paradise Lost in archaic script.

He is lighting a cigarette as Friendly comes in to pour his coffee.

"Pleasant dreams, sir?" asked the automatron in its clipped, Albion accent.

He lets out a short laugh, only a little bitter. "Sort of, Friendly, sort of. How far out are we?"

"We'll be docking with the Apollyon in less than two hours, sir."

"You'd better get my uniform ready then. I'll have raptor eggs for breakfast I think."

"Very good sir."
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Vekta Prime Orbital, Cresswell Residence
127-7-11
19:45


The evening had dawned. The interview that had been the centerpiece of his day had passed, and James had somewhat mixed emotions and feelings about how the process had went. He had decided to retire to the family quarters aboard the behemoth orbital station. Concluding his deployment on the UNSF Winchester, he was now in limbo. If he didn’t get awarded a place on the Apollyon then he would have to look at other avenues. A deployment on a ship was a high probability and he wouldn’t even rule out a captainship of a small vessel if he didn’t get assigned to the Apollyon.

He often referred to the family home on the station as the families ‘quarters’. That was James’s modesty kicking in. While most residences on the station were small apartment style units, the Cresswell residence had been formed by merging many of these units together, forming a unit large enough to house the entire extended Cresswell family if needed. Currently it was only James residing here. The Cresswell family mostly saw themselves above the industrial grime of Vekta Prime, and so this residence was mostly left deserted. Only family members on business ever came here to stay. Normally the residence would have hired help. Human, not robotic. Just a touch of old class. The human touch always made things feel more important. Anyone could build a robot to serve. Since the residence hadn’t been used in a long time and this was only an overnight stay, James didn’t see the need for such pampering. If he had failed his interview he would be on a vessel back to New Terra and return to the family headquarters.

James was trying anything he could think of to distract himself from thinking about the interview. It was all too easy to start overthinking these things after all. It had started by watching programmes on the net. It started out as documentaries but very quickly turned into reality programmes. Trash really. But james was fascinated by it. The way people treated other people. His mind couldn’t quite comprehend it. It did have the desired effect however, and time did indeed pass as his brain began to feel numb. Add a few glasses of wine towards the end and time just seemed to fly now.

Time did start to eventually drag. There was only so much trash a person could take in via their retinas before they couldn’t take it no more. James was approaching that limit. As his mind lost focus on what he watching his mind began to once more drift back into that zone of thinking about the interview again. A fair piece of time had passed now and he had heard nothing. The clock had passed 7pm and he was beginning to think that maybe he was not going to hear anything at all. Now his mind had completely succumbed to thinking about the interview. A deep analysis of the situation was starting to begin. Many people had applied for nearly every position on that ship. It was going to be a tough competition. James knew he wanted a spot on the senior team and he wouldn’t have said no to a captainship if by some divine miracle his heritage enabled him to be offered the position. Hell, with his deployments under his belt as XO, he was surely due a captainship by now. But there were many other well qualified alternative candidates. James was by no means the most qualified person in the Union to be on the ship.

It took almost another hour before anything happened. At this point James was starting to come to the realisation that he had in all likelihood failed. He was cut off from his current train of thought when the front door to the residence opened. He was startled by the sudden intrusion. He wasn’t expecting anyone coming today. He had not been informed of any other member of the Cresswell family to arrive. He thought they were all out of the system and elsewhere. James sat up in his seat, placing the glass of wine he had currently been drinking on the side table, peering to the side of his chair to see who exactly had entered the residence.

In the doorway, stood his father; Gregory Creswell. Admiral Gregory Cresswell to be more precise. His artic silver hair was smartly parted to the right, as he took his white and black peaked cap off and placed it on the entrance table by the door. His father stood quite tall compared to most his age. His face had wrinkles, but rather than adding on age to his face, it only added experience.His white adrials uniform was perfectly pressed, present without a single crease. Nothing that James wasn’t expecting to see in his father. ’Your best always’ as he always said. With his father now inside and taking a moment to relax, James finally conjured up a greeting some sorts.

“Father, I wasn’t expecting you here?” His voice, laced with genuine surprise. James rose to his feet to properly address his father, who only gave a mek smile in return. It was clear he was tired. That had started to show more and more as of late.

“No, you weren’t. But given the circumstances I figured I would come and speak to you in person.” Gregory straightened his back, righting his posture, taking slightly longer than it perhaps should have to get into the right position.His father's words lingered in James’s mind for a moment. There were several important matters within the Cresswell family currently. James’s application to the Apollyon was one of the more less important things going on. “Better to speak to in person than over a comms channel”

“Well… Since you are here, I am guessing it is about the Grand Admiral-ship” James openly pondered aloud. He wouldn’t have thought his father would come in person and tell him about the Apollyon interview. It much easier to get some administrative clerk to tell him.

“Actually no, that is not what i came to discuss with you. They offered the position to me. Of course” Gregory started, walking over to one of the bar stools that occupied the bar area in the reception room. Once there he would start pouring himself some Albion Whiskey in a glass. “However given my current condition I declined.” He would take the whole glass down in a single swig before slamming the glass onto the bar counter. Some things never changed. “Beaufort was offered it in my stead. Not a bad choice. He can lead the admiralty for a much longer period than I could. I am taking his old position at Home Fleet”

“Aboard the Terra Nova?” James asked as he joined his father at the bar, bringing his glass of wine across. Once he had arrived, his father had already opened the wine bottle and held it out to top up James’s glass.

“Yep. I am going to be doing that until i can’t carry on and am forced to retire. Which is most likely going to be in a year or so, possibly less.” Gregory carried on, filling James’s glass with wine and then moving on to pouring himself a second whiskey.

“I am sorry. Father. For… your condition” James didn’t know what to say really. The whole family had been trying to work through the news that the life extension therapies that most people got now, had been rejected by his father body. The first course had promised decent results, however come the second dosage, the signs of rejection had started to surface. No longer on the therapies, it was now case of easing him through to the end. But his father was most certainly not one for giving up. His grandfather had died in office, and his father was just as adamant that he was going to do the same.

“There is nothing to be sorry for” His then took another huge swig of whiskey, downing the glass once more in a single stroke. Putting his glass down he would smile somewhat slyly. “I have had a good life. I will retire soon and spend a year or so relaxing most likely. I can dedicate my time to carrying on my collection of old Earth artefacts. If they can get me to actually retire.”

“Of course. I just know how much you wanted to be Grand Admiral and how much it meant to you as the head of the family.” His father had always been one about status and pride. He wanted to make sure that under his watch the family name did not drag or fall. Mostly to appease his father, who was the first serving Cresswell in the Navy, all the way back when the Union was formed. William Cresswell, his Grandfather, was the first Grand Admiral of the Union Navy. His career was legendary, helping to deal with pirates in the beginning days of the Union, back when there wasn’t much of a fleet. His guidance and direction had formed the Navy into what it was today. While his name had now been embedded into textbooks and naval tradition, even with two ships bearing the Cresswell name over the years. He had passed away at 126, still in office.

James’s father had been born quite late. He was in his late 90’s now. Though life extension therapies and augmentations were starting to fail. So he now had little time left. He had done his best to try and emulate his father's career. And if the therapies had worked and not of been rejected, there was no doubt that he would have become Grand Admiral too. Still… Gregory Cresswell was still a name with a lot of weight of its own, stepping out of the shadow of his father. Gregory Creswell had made his name as a mighty captain and admiral. He was a shrewd commanding officer, using deft and diplomacy to get the right outcome for the a ever expanding Union. He had been part of many task forces over the years. He had designed and oversaw Operation Meerkat as an admiral, along with several other fleet projects as time passed. His recent posting at Home Fleet was more symbolic than anything. It was in core space. Close to home if something ever happened. Given his current condition. He was going to be fondly remembered too.

Next in line was James. Who as of right now, didn’t exactly think he had much of a career. He had served on many ships as a Comms specialist, before making to the bridge crew. A few more deployments and he had made it to XO as a comms officer. The next logical step was a captain-ship. However the chance to work aboard the Unions first ever dreadnought was an opportunity that James could not pass up.

“Besides…” Gregory carried on “I actually came to tell you in person about the Apollyon” James’s heart sunk slightly. Was this going to be rejection. “If it was my way you would be captain”

“But there are far more better qualified people” James cut him short. He had a feeling where this was going

“Better? You sell yourself short. Look at all those commendations on your chest” Gregory motioned towards his sons uniform “You are more than qualified. You demonstrated during your XO deployments you have more than what it takes to command of a vessel. However, the Admiralty has warmed to a certain person. Not a bad person. Actually wish she was my daughter… the two you combined would cement the family in the history books for at least the next millennium”

“Oh come on, you and grandfather William have already done that… So i am not on the Apollyon then?” James asked, bracing himself for what was coming.

“I never said that. I just said you aren’t captain. You are afterall a Lieutenant. A Lieutenant-Commander technically. The next step up for you is Captain. We have decided to place you as the communications officer aboard the Apollyon. As far as i am lead to believe, asides from Captain there is no other Lieutenant-Commanders on the senior staff, making you the second highest ranking person onboard.”

“Well i can’t believe that” James smiled for a second, taking in what his father said.This was actually good news.

“The ship doesn’t technically have a XO like normal ships, given the size of the thing, but you are the second highest ranking officer on the ship. So you know. The Cresswell name lives on” He began to pour a third whiskey, the last one of the night for him. “Do well here, learn from Maganza and you will have your own ship soon enough. And if Maganza decided to take a break from her seat like your previous captain did… Take the chair and run with it. Show the universe that you have that Cresswell spirit” He raised his glass to celebrate and James did the same, tapping their glasses together before taking a drink each. “To the Cresswell name living on”

“Yeah. I can’t believe this still. It feels almost unreal for me. Maganza. Why do i know that name?” James pondered for a moment before his father cut him short.

“Mostly because she has earned pretty much the same number of commendations as you and is sort of a big deal in the Navy. I worked with her several times across my career. Remember Meerkat?” Gregory asked as he put the whiskey away in the drinks cupboard.

“Yeah, that wasn’t fun. It was the only time we got to work together.” James said, almost reminiscing.

“Yeah, well she was there too. She is very good. You could learn alot from her and vice versa. Between the two of you, there isn’t anything you couldn’t do. That is why myself and Beaufort put you together. It is very hard to find a group of people who gel well together. With the Comms desk being the one that can be done from almost anywhere, you will pretty much be working view closely with the captain. Pretty much the XO in all but name. I have something for you too. Something you can wear from now on” He pulled out of his jacket pocket a golden pin. And handed it to James.

The pin was old, that was obvious on the first glance. It was a large badge. A gold circle with the first logo of the Union navy in the middle. He recognised the badge right away. It was his Grandfather's badge from when he was grand admiral. The name had worn on it slightly but the Creswell part was still visible at least. His father had worn it on his uniform with every mission or deployment he had done. Every photograph they had of his father, the badge was on display. James somewhat reluctantly took the badge, somewhat astonished that his father was giving it up. It usually symbolised who was in charge of the family.

“I can’t take this. You are still serving. You should still wear it” His father forced it into his hand however, forcing him to take it.

“I don’t need it anymore” His father motioned before smiling and getting up off the stool “Wear it always and make it proud. It has been through many a things that badge. They don’t even make them like that anymore. It could be the only one left that isn’t in some kind of a museum. Also, The Senior staff meet up is at 12:00 tomorrow. Though given the whole size of the ship and the amount of Comms, Sensor and Electronic Warfare equipment on board you might want to get their earlier and familiarise yourself. Plus you will need to get used to the Comms department. Afterall, you are leading them” James looked perplexed for a second as his father walked over to his belongs by the door and got suited up to leave.

“Think of it this way” Gregory continued. “The ship has over 16,000 members. Nearly each senior staff position is like a captainship of a whole department. This isn’t like a frigate or destroyer where one or two people can do the role.”

“That is true. I will get there as early as i can” James smiled and would wave towards his father has the door opened.

“I mailed you a copy of the crew list and the dossiers on the senior staff. You never got that from me. OK?” His father smiled and then walked out “Good luck son” Was his final words as the door closed behind him, leaving James alone.

James walked over to his tablet, pulling his mail up and seeing the information he had sent over, gave a smile. He would spend the rest of the night reading all the information that his father had sent him, before falling asleep in the early hours.




UNSF Apollyon Hyper Dock
127-7-12
08:00


So the day had finally come. He had decided to take his father's advice and arrive aboard the Apollyon early. There was plenty of work to do even before any other crew members arrive. His father had kindly lent him his private yacht for the journey to the Apollyon. Just to keep up impressions. It had the family crest on it and was truly a work of luxury and sophistication. Somehow his father had gotten marble flooring in space. His father and grandfather had enjoyed all the luxuries in life. Something that while James was getting more used to, still wasn’t entirely comfortable with. He understood the whole pride factor that went having and showing office power and wealth. But for James, results were more important than pride. His father most likely believe them same, but still didn’t mind flaunting the whole family success in front of everyone.

They had approached the Apollyon quite slowly. James was in the observation bay of the yacht. Unlike most modern ships, his father prefered windows instead of holoscreens relaying images. The Apollyon was surely a mighty ship. Bigger than anything that James had ever seen. Infact it was almost as big as some space stations he had visited. He couldn’t even begin to imagine how a ship of this size even started to be constructed. Or for that matter how much time it took to build.

The yachts pilot would come over the comms channel as they approached even closer. “Sir, I have hailed the ship and I have have let them know that Cresswell is coming aboard. They have given us clearance to land in the Rear Corvette Bay” James acknowledged her and carried on looking at the beast that was in front of him. This place had a bay to hold corvettes? Makes sense given the size, but it was still astonishing. The Union had nothing like this currently. Everything was state of the art here. It was beautiful. He could only imagine what kind of sensors, comms and electronic warfare equipment he would find inside the ship.

The heavy corvette bay blast doors began to open as they approached, the tiny ship disappearing into the gargantuan opening that had just appeared. Landing inside James stood up and began to disembark the vessel, thanking the pilot as he left. Before he left the airlock, he would take a second to make sure that his uniform was all pristine and in tiptop shape. His ribbons and badge from his father last night were resting on the one side, while his name tag was on the right. Given his father's advice he had decided to have the tag changed from LT. to LCDR. Afterall he had earned it. Only one more step to Captain. Leaving the airlock and walking down the ramp, James began to look around. Everything was still under some form of construction it seemed. Everything was very industrial. A ship of this size, and for this purpose, had little use for aesthetics after all.

This was it. He was here on the Apollyon.

Michi stood a little way beyond the ramp’s end, glossy boots planted slightly apart and arms braced behind her back. Not at attention, precisely, but not at a civilian slouch, either. Under the harsh boat-bay lights her silver hair blazed, stark against the space-black of her uniform and the scarcely-lighter shade of her skin.

Gold gleamed from the rings on her cuffs and the tabs at her shoulders, the insignia of a full ship Captain in the Union Navy, whilst streams of ribbon bars danced across her chest in lieu of the jewel-dripping medals they represented. Her eyes were warm, but calculating, and her lips twitched into a polite smile as Lieutenant Commander Cresswell emerged into the Apollyon’s cavernous corvette bay, taking his first steps aboard the stupendous dreadnought.

“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Commander.” Her voice was clear and carrying, cutting through the background hum of the drones as they swirled in a continual ballet of construction, leaving Cresswell, Maganza and the two lonely, ornately lovely yachts in the corvette bay as islands of calm amid the frenzy.

“Pleasure to be aboard.” James replied as he finished walking down the yachts ramp. So stood in front of him was Captain Michi Maganza. “You must be Captain Maganza” He said out mainly out of politeness. He would stand to attention and salute after he finished speaking. “My father has said a lot of positive things regarding you and your capabilities.”

Michi returned the salute with an easy grace. “In the flesh,” she grinned, a flash of white, there and gone in an instant. Despite the smile and the warm twinkle in her eyes, there was something a lot colder and more analytical lurking in the depths of her gaze, hidden to most. Assessing, gauging, evaluating. His quick resort to familial connection was noted - whether that was a crutch to be knocked away or a pedestal fit for aspiration was something she’d study further, in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Indeed, the young man in front of her was monumentally well-connected; in some ways, the premier family of the Union Navy. That she’d got the captaincy, rather than him...well, perhaps that said something about his ability - Maganzas were as wealthy and well-heeled as any of the other finest families of the Union, of course, but they’d focused, historically, on land, on shipping and on investments, not the Navy. Or maybe it was simply the age difference; not enough seasoning on Cresswell’s part, not for so critical a command.

Well. The latter was rectifiable, the first…

That said, Admiral Beaufort - hell, all of Fleet Command - had to know the importance of the Apollyon, and surely no amount of family clout would derail that.

“Your father...that would be Gregory - Fleet Admiral Cresswell, now, yes? Home Fleet flag and all.” She didn’t wait for his response, her lace already flashing a picture of the man before her eyes and providing a readout of similarities based on his physical profile, as well as a sub-analysis of his personnel jacket. The correlations were clear, even if it hadn’t been spelled out in black and white in his file. “Interesting man. CO on more than a few of m’previous operations.”

Michi’s gaze flickered back to the yacht, over James’ shoulder. “Nemesis - the ship’s ATLAS AI - will handle your luggage and get your pilot squared away, but I thought I should at least see you to your quarters, along with Comms and Astrogation.” It sounded like pleasant conversation, but there was a subtle undercurrent of certainty; this was how the universe was going to be, without resorting to anything as obvious as orders.

At the last word, she turned smartly on one heel and began to glide across the boat-bay floor, making a beeline for a set of doors in the near distance, a path obediently clearing itself for her through the humming drones. “How is your father, by the way? Full of fire and vigour?”

“Yeah…” His father. Now this could get dicey. He hadn’t picked up on the undertone of the conversation. He was too busy admiring the surroundings and taking everything in to realise. Now he was faced with a choice: either be honest and reveal his father’s health issues, or lie and pretend everything was fine. “Well, I think he is still somewhat dismayed at the Grand Admiral appointment. He had been working towards it most of his life to emulate the career of his father. So I guess he has some things to work through.” He hadn’t lied. While his father had put on a brave face, James suspected he was torn up over the appointment. He had just decided to leave out the fact that his health was fleeting to the point where he had less than a few years left. “He had plenty of positive things to say about you and your abilities” He complimented her. They were going to be working together closely, so he had to get comfortable. He just didn’t feel qualified to speak about Cresswell family affairs.

“Hell of a thing, being dismayed over getting Home Fleet flag,” she chuckled lightly. “Still, Admiral Beaufort won’t hold it forever, and then y’father will have his chance again. I wouldn’t presume to speak for our exalted lords and masters in the Admiralty, but perhaps that’s why he didn’t get it this time round; rotating Fleet Command COs brings different perspectives to the board, and there have been a fair few Cresswells in the big chair.” She nodded once, decisively. “Good to know the Admiral had a few nice words.” In her heart of hearts, Michi would have preferred that James heard about her competence through the grapevine, or perhaps had studied her record and previous actions himself before passing judgement.

Once again, family. The name. An armour and a millstone both, it was looking like - on first impression, at least.

Time to change the subject, give him some ease from a topic that was clearly - if bafflingly - causing some...discomfort. Fortunately, they’d crossed the expanse of boat bay and were now at the bank of maglifts, glowing a soothing blue as they recognized crew and came to full readiness. Michi’s pod appeared quickly, opening invitingly. “You’ve not got a lace, have you?” she asked - purely rhetorical; he was a nonentity in the digital sphere of the Apollyon, interfacing with it through crude physical media. No fire, no glitter and shimmy, no constellation of programmes twisted with organic thought until to find one from the other was an exercise in futility.

She nodded to the controls, glimmering invitingly close by. “You can use voice commands, or even physical keys in an emergency. Fairly self-explanatory, Mr. Cresswell; we’re headed for the Bridge.” So saying, Michi stepped confidently, almost jauntily into the waiting metal arms of the pod, which closed quickly about her and then accelerated off with a softly-crackling thrum.

Time to see if he could adapt to the - relatively - new technology that was an almost-ubiquitous part of the Apollyon. There were a lot of new toys aboard the dreadnought, things that were twenty or thirty years from general deployment, at least.

James would follow behind her and listened carefully to her words. He would walk into the metallic pods next to her. Unlike most other people, James hadn’t undergone any cybernetic procedures. It would have made his life significantly easier as a communications officer. However he prefered being able to disconnect from everything and escaping technology. Otherwise work would always follow him around. The pod would close behind him as he turned around, feeling somewhat claustrophobic. He had always prefered ladders and stairs more. “Bridge please” The pod chimed in acknowledgement of his request and then set off in a smooth manner.

Those brief moments in the lift gave him a second to compose himself slightly. He straightened himself and let out a sigh. This was going to take an awful amount of getting used to. He was used to smaller ships with smaller crews. A second chime signalled that he had arrived at the bridge. Exiting the pod he took a second to look around. It seemed the lifts came out just outside the bridge and not actually in it. That made sense. Made it easier to lock down the bridge incase of a breach. He walked over to the bridge door. Well, more like doors, one after another opening before eventually revealing the bridge.

It was impressive. The bridge seemed to be modelled after a CIC more than a traditional bridge. Most bridges would have a observation bay, protruding from front with large reinforced bay windows. No windows here however. Given the shortness of their trip James had concluded that they couldn’t of moved far. So this must have been deep within the ship. He noticed the captains chair at the end of the table on the first glance. As he started glancing around a second time he started to pick up on the smaller details. The emitters in the ceiling, ground and walls.

“This is some sort of holodeck then?” He summarised as he took a few more steps forward. “The amount of communications and sensor equipment this place is filled with is going to take an awful lot of time to get used to.” He then would let out a exhale of breath “Going to be a good challenge though. Compared to my other deployments.”

“Well deduced, Lieutenant Commander, it is indeed,” Michi replied, allowing a bit of approval to bleed into her tone. “I do hope you don’t suffer from vertigo.” As she rose from the Captain’s elevated chair, its little podium overlooking the main holotank, the emitters burst into glorious life. For others, she might have brought the emulation up slowly, sweeping it in from the far corners, spreading it like an empress’ train behind her until it swallowed the bridge entire. Such a spectacle would satisfy her own petty desire for theatre, and also serve as handy buffer time to give their brains a chance to adapt, to process and understand.

Not now, though; she dropped them into it dead. One moment, a metal cocoon, the next - near-orbit space, the starscrapers of Vekta sharp and clear and very, very close, the myriad small vessels flashing in the abundant sunlight, the bright points of light that were drone welders, at work on the outer hull.

“In an ideal world,” she continued, watching him closely, “Your department would have already arrived aboard, and you’d have had chance to run some drills and work some of the kinks out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case that obtains. You and I are the only living things - living organic things, I should say - aboard this ship at the moment. That said-” she nodded her head at the bank of comms consoles “-feel free to do a bit of testing, get a feel for this place. I’m sure we’ll be spending plenty of time here soon enough, but if there’s something obvious that needs fixing, then I need you to tell me now, whilst we’ve still got the yard dogs on tap.”

“Comms equipment is a little funny” He stated as he walked over to the comms desk, looking down at the holographic projection below. He did not suffer from vertigo however the sensation of walking in outer space did take some getting used to. “It is highly sensitive and for the most part it takes almost a full year to get a ships comms to work fluidly. A ship of this size though. I don’t know how long it will take.” James took a few second to load up the comms deck holoscreens and boot up the newly minted software within. “Feels weird being in something so brand new. I am used to being near equipment that has been used so much it is almost falling apart.” He began to cycle through the consoles before stopping when the screen displayed something that caught his attention, a smirk adorning his lips. “This place has Quantum Entanglement Communications? I had heard the tech was being rolled out, but I thought the network hadn’t been completed yet”

“It isn’t,” Michi replied with a catlike smile. “We have a dedicated ansible link to the hub back at Fleet Command, though. Top priority, from what I understand; they weren’t about to send us into the black with a comms lag.” She rose from her chair and padded over to him, supremely at ease in the cradle of the projection.

“I appreciate it takes time to turn a department into a smoothly-oiled machine, Mr. Cresswell, but I invite you to consider the physical component of your job. Comms flows into EW and Astrogation-” she began, indicating the banks of consoles on either side of the main panel he was sat in front of “-which is good, solid placement if ever I saw it. Tactical’s above and behind you, however - excellent from my position up there over the tank; I can see everything, but does it work from an operational perspective? Consider the following,” her voice had subtly taken on a lecturer’s rising and falling cadence, a shifting meter that called for attention.

“We are in the middle of a battle. Tactical is working gunnery, as it should, Astrogation is following the manoeuvre plan I’ve commanded, and you are managing communications. We have Marine attack shuttles inbound on one enemy vessel, and you’re involved in coordinating their run and liaising between ground-pounders and navy. There are also allied forces approaching sunward and you’re our liaison contact. Damage Control - also under you, since you’re the closest thing I have to an organic XO - is fighting fires and battle-damage across seven decks in four different sectors and your department is reassigning crew parameters and providing alternate routes to critical stations with the help of the AI. Given that - very rough, I admit - scenario, is the Comms station in the right place physically to interface effectively with Tactical, with Astrogation and with Command?” Her eyes were dark, her gaze sharply analytical, every scrap of her evaluating and testing.

“That’s the sort of thing I need you to think about now, Lieutenant Commander. Not so much the software, impressive and new though it is.”

“The department is physically positioned correctly.” James started. He had picked up on her tone, avoiding looking directly at Michi. He recognised that tone and approach. She was probing him, trying to see how he reacted, what his responses would be. “They wouldn’t put me here if it wouldn’t work in a combat scenario.” He took a second to look around the bridge, glancing at all the various panels. “This isn’t my first deployment. Sure i haven’t been on a ship of this size, but I know all the ins and outs. I am not going to let 16,000 crew members down.” He would stare at the holoscreen in front of him absently for a moment “I get that most people look at me and think I have used my name to advance my career. I just want to point out that my family name hasn’t helped me advance. I am a perfectly capable officer in my own right. And no matter what happens i am going to do the best i can to serve this crew and not let you down.” James let out a small sigh, lowering his head. “Sorry if it sounds like a rant. I am just used to having to give this speech on each deployment I do. Most people think I am either a stuck up entitled bastard or an incompetent twit who has been given everything on a silver platter. I just wanted to assure you that this wasn’t the case.”

“Enough, Lieutenant-Commander!” Michi’s voice was low - she almost never raised it in anger or rebuke - but sharp, and it crackled round the deserted bridge like a summer storm.

“A fine speech, but entirely the wrong end of the stick.” She reeled off a list of his medals and commendations with a flourish, steady gaze not leaving him as the litany echoed around the room. “Not the sort of record I would expect to see from an idiot, no matter how monumentally well-connected. It may surprise you to learn, Lieutenant-Commander, that I do have some appreciation for your position.” Her voice was still scalpel-sharp, colder than liquid helium. “The Navy might not be what people think of when they consider the Maganza bailiwick, but I still belong to one of the so-called finest families of the Union. With all the advantages - and disadvantages - that carries.” A deadly, loaded pause.

“I asked you to consider the position of your duty station precisely because you are an experienced communications officer. Nothing else. The Apollyon was designed by our finest minds, yes, but on occasion real experience may defy theoretical convention, and, almost uniquely, we are currently in a position to do something about any shortcomings in design, before we find ourselves in a suboptimal situation out there.” Another pause, this one less-charged. “If you are content with it, Lieutenant-Commander,” Michi continued, her tone much more normal, “Then we’ll say no more on the matter. But I advise you not to consider everything through the lens of your antecedents, nonetheless.”

“The positioning is perfectly fine. Nothing needs changing” James felt somewhat awkward for what he had said and decided to change the subject “Well let us see what else we have here...” He began going through the consoles again working from screen to screen. “The ship only has a single comm point for the Quantum Network. Makes sense. According to the panels it is behind that door over there.” He pointed across the bridge to a single door. Getting up from his seat he walked across and walked through the door he had previously mentioned. The room on the other side was a fairly small room. Holo-emitters decorated the walls and floor much like the bridge. A single small elevated platform was in the centre of the room.

“I am guessing you stand in the middle and it will project your image to them and vice versa. Almost as if you are standing there talking in person.” He walked around the room inspecting the emitters “Only two people can activate the system: Myself and you, given that it is a restricted comms channel. Gives you a place to have a private conversation too.”

“Indeed, although I think - I haven’t followed all the connections yet - it can ping a couple of other secure terminals - my office, for example. Strictly as secondary relays, though.” Michi paused, leaning on the sturdy blast door housing that had - until so recently - covered the entanglement room.

Hopefully, Cresswell would consider her words again later, in the echoing privacy of his own head. He was undoubtedly competent, but there was a glaring weakness in his own psyche, even Michi could see that.

“Anything else you’d like to see, Lieutenant-Commander, before we wend our merry way to your quarters?” She kept her tone light and warm; the correction had been served, and all was well. Michi was a great believer in praising in public, and punishing in private - or as private as it could be, on a ship with an omnipresent AI.

“I think that i have seen everything i need to see for now. I am going to have to spend the next few days going over the whole department and making sure everything is working correctly. It will also take some time to go over the crew assignments and all the rest” He smiled somewhat weakly as carried on. “Do you know when the rest of the senior staff are coming aboard?” He asked.

“Over the next twelve hours or so,” Michi replied. “Staggered, due to prior commitments and distance, of course. Which reminds me - dinner at nineteen-hundred. Senior staff only; it’ll be a good chance to begin to break the ice. M’steward knows how to lay on a decent spread, and we have the advantage of Apollyon’s more...unique...systems. I’ll have Nemesis alert you nearer the time - it’ll either be my quarters or my yacht, depending if we manage to make the cubage modifications or not.”

“That is great. It gives me the rest of the day to get my quarters organised and start to the task of getting up to speed with the comms systems that a ship of the size has. Going to be a monumental undertaking. I will contact you if I need anything.”

“Excellent.” Michi smiled like a cat, and dropped back into the captain’s chair, quickly surrounded by a haze of holographic terminals, screens and hard-light interfaces. “Dismissed, Lieutenant-Commander Cresswell.”



It took a while, however he eventually found his way to his quarters after asking for directions. There was no way he was going to remember the layout of the ship during his deployment here. At least everything was signposted. His quarters were located fairly close to the bridge. The comms department was usually close to the bridge so it did make sense for his quarters to be closeby. The room was split into two parts; a sleeping area and a work area. The sleeping area had a double bed, mirror and a few storage compartments. It was nice, nicer than most other ships he had been on. The work area had a desk filled with monitors and computers and the walls on both sides of the room was full of monitors, all of them currently offline.

James took a seat at his desk and with a slow sigh began to boot up the systems one by one. It was going to take a while to bring the ships systems online. But he wanted to power up every sub-system he could before everyone arrived. The whole discussion with Michi had rattled his brain somewhat. He knew he had issues with his family and his status. Always having something to prove. He was just insecure about how people reacted to his family connections. He had met plenty of people like Michi who didn’t care for his status. There was however many others who reacted in a more hostile way to it. And he disliked the confrontations.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Therealslayer
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Therealslayer Cage Jr.

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Terra Dyson
96th Bulwark Lancer Division Barracks
0750 hours







Max entered her captain’s office of her division's barracks on Terra Dyson, nervously fiddling with her uniform. The office is spacious; large windows overlooked the busy trade and military station. Everything was placed in an orderly fashion, everything looked so clean it almost seemed like the office was never used.

Nevertheless, her Captain sat behind his large desk, his dull blue eyes overlooked a 3D map that hung in the air in front of him just slightly above his desk. He was reclined back in his chair, somewhat relaxed when he motioned the soldier to enter with his hand. His name tag read ‘Jones’.

“Sheppard,” The man greeted. He was bulky but balding, which he covered with a beret. Sure, he could get hair implants but that was for fancy pants who needed to make a good impression he thought - and he was way past caring about how he looked. Bunch of limp dicks if you ask me.

“Sir,” Max entered further into the room and stood at attention, motionless, giving the impression that she was calm.

“At ease Max,” Jones nodded at the seat in front of him, “I don’t think this should be so formal.”

“Right,” Max stood by the chair in front of the Captain’s desk. She considered sitting down, but she felt way too jittery to sit still.

Jones chuckled, “Sit.” He instructed firmly, though there was a hint of jest in his tone. As he stood up, the map disappeared and he walked to a very beautiful cabinet in the left corner of the room. He opened the double glass doors and clutched a bottle of Bourbon and two glasses. He turned and watched his soldier heed his instruction and finally sat down.

“You know,” Jones placed a glass right in front of her and poured it halfway knowing the woman could handle her liquor, “I’ve had to say goodbye to thousands of soldiers in my day and none of them I missed.” He paused as he then poured himself a glass and took a sip. He grimaced slightly as the amber liquid burned his throat, “Until now.”

Maxine remained quiet as she took a sip of her drink, then another. Liquid courage was aptly named - she was sad to leave too, but she couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Goodbyes sucked ass, she thought. “Way to make this easier, Cap.”

He sunk back into his seat and reclined backward and then propped his legs up on the edge of the otherwise spotless desk. “You know me, I’m the sentimental type.”

Max took another sip, and instead of the sharp sting, it went down smoothly. She hadn’t had bourbon of this quality in a really long time. “Damn, top shelf?”

“It’s only fitting that a damn good soldier would be served damn good Bourbon,” Jones explained proudly as he raised his glass towards her before tipping it back into his mouth once more.

Max shook her head, her cheeks getting a slightly rosy tint from the compliment. “Speak for yourself, sir.”

“As humble as they come,” he shook his head and chuckled. He then narrowed his eyes at her and added: “Or just a smartass.”

“Both,” she winked at him with a wide grin.

A few quiet moments passed before Jones cleared his throat, “In all seriousness, Sheppard, I’m proud of the work you’ve done and who you’ve to become a soldier. You’ll be a great lead,” Jones took another sip of his drink and added with a tiny smirk, “you’d better not embarrass me.”

“You’ve seen me sing Rebel Yell when I was wasted off my ass - don’t think I could top that.”

Jones let out a loud laugh at the memory, he remembered he had to drag her off stage long after the song had ended. “Don’t sell yourself short, I’m sure you could.”

Instead of taking offense, Max narrowed her eyes and asked with a smirk: “is that a challenge?”

Jones sighed deeply, “God help us all.”

They continued to reminisce about the past few years and Jones gave Max some advice on going forward in her career, which she appreciated deeply. When Maxine joined, she already had a protective brother and father and now she had about a dozen of them. She never complained about it though, her fellow soldiers were like her extended family, and as much as it pained her to leave - her family will grow that much bigger again.

Max and Jones finished both of their drinks, feeling the effects of the strong spirit they had drunk while talking. They stood up at the same time and they shared a brief handshake before the much taller man pulled Max in for a hug, which she returned in full.

“I’ll miss you kid,” the man spoke with a softer tone, emotions running high between the two.

“Nah, you’ll find some other young soldier to harass constantly.”

“And I’m sure your superiors will enjoy when you purposely clog their cabin toilet.”

They both pulled back from the hug, smiling as tears shone in both their eyes. “You remember that?”

“I remember the 1000 push ups I made you do because of it,” he chuckled. "Took you nearly 3 hours."

Max grimaced at the memory, she could almost feel the ache in her arms and chest again. “I block it out of my memory as much as I can.” Sam joked. Once their laughter died down, she looked down awkwardly as a lump began to form in her throat. She really hated goodbyes, probably because they always made her cry and much to her embarrassment, even when they didn’t involve her directly. “Take care Cap, and don't be a stranger.” Max managed to say before she left Jones’ office. She heard a dry chuckle and a deep sigh.

Not only did she hate this, she’d have to do it again with her squad. Ugh, come on, get it together Max. You’ll see them again. Maybe. Wow, you’re a big help. And now you’re talking to yourself, moron. Max quickly dried her tears and made her way through the dull grey corridors, arguing with herself.

Ms. Sheppard, you have just received a message from the Apollyon, it reads classified intel. There’s also an attached file.

“Read it,” Max instructed.

It reads: Captain Sheppard-

Maxine interrupted the VI, “Repeat that would you?” She asked with a grin.

Captain Sheppard?

“Go on,” Max chuckled, still not used to the new title.

Attached is the list of soldiers selected to be part of the Apollyon's Lancer division. Please review their files and notify us if there’s anything you would like to change -

Max interrupted the VI once more, “read me the names, Jon.”

Specialist Mia Davies, of the 33rd Sentinel Lancer Division.

Corporal Axel Sheppard, of the 78th Gambit Lancer Division.


As soon as Max heard the familiar name, all sounds had slowly faded out and she missed the rest of the list spoken by her VI entirely. She stopped in her tracks and almost bumped into an officer that passed her and gave her a dirty look.

What the hell? Why didn’t he tell me?
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Mercenary Lord
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Mercenary Lord Attempted Polymath

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Vekta Prime Orbital - Life-Sector - 0800


GalNet. The wonderful world online, which let you talk to anyone within ten light-seconds near instantaneously. It wasn’t great if you needed to get a message to New Terra from VPO, but that was what the wormholes were for.

According to the Veritiso Net-Sector, GalNet was a replacement for something ancient, back during the time of Earth. Few had any idea what that old network was like, but the theory was it probably had to be something similar to GalNet, just lower-tech.

Tark found himself agreeing with that logic, as he flicked his hand across the screen. Stupid screens. They could engineer wormholes, gravity controllers, and keffen Dreadnoughts, but still no holograms.

“Movie ‘holos’ don’t count! They’re not actually suspended in the air!” Who was he talking to?

“Nobody said they counted, deadbrain.” Ah, yes. One of Veritiso’s regulars. “Don’t let all that indignation fry your lace.” So many arrogant, I-know-better-than-you slagheaps, who liked to drag on anyone who couldn’t keep up with their enormous craniums. Usually he preferred the MNL people--they were interesting, friendly, and enthusiastic, three things he liked in life--but they’d asked him to hop to this sector of the net for research purposes about a month ago.

When he’d first joined MNL Online, he had lurked heavily. Then he had started to talk, and then help with the KnowLibe developments. Now it seemed like everyone in MNLO knew him, and knew that he was useful. So when a pair of developers approached him about an “Ancient History” Library for the MNL, he had decided that it sounded interesting, and hopped on board. Now he was here, being shit on by Veritso dicks who thought last-year’s tech was the end of times itself, which was a real irony if you thought about it properly.

Of course, there was no way in Hell he was going to risk getting his brain hacked by some freeloader running a DIY mindjacker. Most of the neural laces nowadays claimed EMP-hardening and Closed-Circuit operating systems, but it only took one flaw in the security of those ‘State of the Art’ NLs to give some wannabe overlord with an army of slobbering, mindjacked minions.

The offline neural laces were considered obsolete, but Tark, like the rest of the MNL community, didn’t feel the need to upgrade just because someone else told him to. The only reason he’d gotten a NL to begin with was to stay competitive in the marketplace. Damn cyborgs taking all the jobs.

And with the size of the MNL community--ten years ago it had been a thriving market, and still was...sort of--there was still plenty of work to be done. Besides, he liked the feeling of swiping a card over the MNL scanport, and then remembering all of the information contained inside.

Knowing he could draw diagrams from scratch, being able to recite perfectly the precise breakdown procedure of a pearl dissolving in vinegar...there was nothing like it. So he helped keep the MNL world afloat. He’d even started programming his own KnowLibe about spacecraft dynamics. The small stuff, not the behemoths, those were so new Ted was surprised anyone had any idea how they work--

A blip on the screen caught his attention. Someone from the ground was hailing him? Ted idly opened the message faster than he would have admitted to anyone else: he was antsy about finding out if he’d gotten the job. The interviewer had been interesting, if not professional, and as much as he was normally cool and collected, the Apollyon was something he really wanted to get in on.

The message was an invitation to a private Net-Sector, heavily encrypted. That was new. The name identifier was next to useless, but the tag identifier was ‘ancient history’. Tark hesitated for a moment before shrugging and accepting the invitation. Then he accepted the request for vocal communication.

“Ah, that was swift. I suppose I should be glad you decided to trust an unverified heavily encrypted signal.” The elitist voice which came from the other side did not give Tark a good feeling. “Welcome to the Net-Sector for the Apollyon’s Historical Aggregation System - Biological and Electronic Experimental Network.”

Tark snorted. “HAS-BEEN? That’s your acronym?” Could these dry military-types actually have a sense of humor?

The voice huffed. “Just so. HAS-BEEN -- or HAS, abbreviated-- is a project currently under the direction of Admiral Cresswell, attempting to discern the nature of humanity’s lost past. Due to the Apollyon’s mission objectives, the ship will be more likely to come across information than other methods of information aggregation. You have been chosen after some observation of your work developing Modular Neural Lace Libraries. That, coupled with your status as head navigator and controls specialist of the Apollyon--”

“Wait, I did it?” Tark interrupted, loudly to cut off the speaker. “I’m in? I haven’t heard anything about it since I applied.”

Another huff. Tark had in his mind the image of a stuffy old man on the other end of the line. “Mr. Dendallo, consider THIS to be your formal job offer. You have been in our database since your interview last week. As to why you’ve not been informed, I know not. Regardless, you are in, and you were also selected for this program. You, along with several other high-ranking ship officers and historians, have been given a secondary objective during the Apollyon’s voyage. Anywhere you go, you will be looking for hints and whispers of what came before. Old Earth. Markings on walls which could point the way. Ancient satellites which might be reverse engineered.”

Tark pursed his lips. Put like that, it sounded like an adventure. “Am I going to get to meet these other people?”

“That is up to you. We have sent this invitation to head officers and specialists of the Apollyon. Though this mission is not top secret, we are taking care to avoid making a fanfare of it. Captain Maganza will be informed, of course, but we do not expect her to lead this expedition as well as captain the ship.”

“Am I in charge, then?” Tark asked. “First come, first serve?”

The voice laughed. “Yes, but not for that reason. Your experience with systems engineering leaves you with the proper tools to lead this team, and perhaps understand whatever you come across. However, this will be a mostly collaborative effort, and your leadership position will be more ceremonial than official.”

Tark shrugged. Seemed fair: he probably couldn’t do the whole thing by himself, anyway. “So, uh…” he said, scratching his cheek. “Do I get to board the ship then, or something? Should I be packing?”

“You are to report to the Build-Sector, door A-14 in three hours. From there, you and other officers and specialists will board together. I suggest eating beforehand, as you may not have time for it in the near future.” The line cut off, leaving Tark staring at the blank screen in front of him. He breathed out heavily, caught his reflection in a mirror, and chuckled. “What just happened?”

Did it matter? Tark sighed and stood, stepping over to his closet to start packing. It didn’t take very long: his personal effects were almost entirely digital: books, software, currency, etc. His clothes were physical, of course; he also had an impressive set of KnowLibes on hand. He’d be bringing those. Communicator, Lace Upkeep Kit, various other items. It all fit into a duffel bag.

He’d miss this place. Tark had grown fond of VPO during his time there. It was rough, it was unrefined, but it was a hotbed for art and science. He loved that. It couldn’t last forever, Ted. He shook his head, opened the door, and stepped out into the hall.

Apollyon Docks → Apollyon Bridge - 1200


Boarding the Apollyon was easy. He stepped up to the ferry craft, flashed his ID, and they were off. Apparently being on the bridge crew had a few neat perks.

The spacecraft was huge. Bigger than huge, really: it was positively titanic. No wonder everyone else and their mothers called it a spaceship. Spacecraft was the proper term, but the thing was so utterly...massive. Structurally reinforced to the teeth, armed with state of the art GNC soft/hardware--he hoped--and bristling with enough guns to shut down the entire VPO station in a single volley.

Tark whistled. Definitely impressive, if it could launch without ripping itself to pieces. He thought back to the man who had interviewed him. The gruff, crude man with a twinkle in his eye. If he expected Tark to make this thing swerve through a debris field, he had another thing coming. “Although this junkheap is so reinforced for movement, it could probably just punch through anything short of a planet,” he muttered, stepping off of the ferry with a wave to the pilot. “Thanks, matho. Have a good one.”

Once inside, Tark quickly became aware that he was utterly lost. Where was he supposed to go on a spacecraft the size of an entire city? “Hey, AI!” He called out, shrugging. “Any chance I can get an assist here? My tiny human brain is too small to understand where to go.”

No sooner had he said that, a comms ping was made on the highest priority. Signed ‘Nemesis, ATLAS-class ship intelligence of Apollyon’ with the note ‘I wasn’t sure whether you were a real person’.
I can honestly say I am shocked to see someone with one of those implants. Log onto my VR-net and we can get this tour squared away.

Tark raised an eyebrow. Sorry my brain isn’t an open book for your, man. Robot. Whatever. He sighed, pulling out one of the KnowLibes he constantly kept with him. NetConnect 3, a staple for today’s day and age.

Holding the small chip between index and thumb, he ran it down the back of his head, almost like a comb for his hair. A shiver went down his spine as something unlocked inside of him. That would be the MNL being rewritten. Sure enough, a moment later a HUD popped into view. “Logging in now,” he said, though he was sure the AI--Nemesis?--would be able to see that as well. “Are Always-On Neural Laces that common around here? Hardly a quarter of my colleagues use these things on VPO.”

"Speaking of colleagues," he said. "Would you be able to patch me through to the commanding officer? Tell 'em I'm on board now? Actually, wait," he mused. “I can just tell her myself, can’t I? Wanna patch me through?”

“Maganza here.” Crisp and clear, rich with her mellifluous tones, it hummed pleasingly in the seventh-sense noosphere of the laces. Perhaps sensibly, Michi had left the message traffic as voice-only, not pulling them deeper into the network for a full-sensation conference. Tark still had to navigate the ship, after all. “You’re - ah, the navigator. Chief Specialist Dendallo, yes? Welcome aboard the Apollyon. Hope the trip was a pleasant one.” There was a faint air of distraction, somehow, to the crackling thought-speed transmissions.

“I see you’re still down at the boat bays. Meet me on the bridge in ten; Nemesis will deal with your personal effects and have them squared away in jig time. I look forward to meeting you in person, Mr. Dendallo.”

Tark started. “Jesus Christmas,” he hissed, before shaking his head twice. He’d forgotten what it was like to have the world connected to his brain. “I, uh...yeah. Will do, Captain. Looking forward to meeting y’all as well.” He glanced down at his comms unit. Pretty new model, but he’d torn it apart once or twice. “All right, Nemesister. How do I get to the bridge?”

A short while later, Tark was on his way to the bridge. He had no idea which way that was, given that he was currently hurtling along at breakneck speed inside a tiny pod, crushed between layers and layers of inflated padding. Nemesis had called it a TransLift. It reminded Tark of home, except this pod was a hell of a lot more comfortable than the jerky, out-of-date pods they used on VPO.

He was eventually spit out just a stone’s throw from the bridge. He picked himself up, dusted himself off, and entered the bridge.

“Captain Maganza?” he asked cautiously. It struck him that he had no idea what this person looked like.

The bridge was, in its current state, vast and dim and cool, the walls gently-curving and darkly-gleaming metal. Thin lights gleamed along walkways and around constellations of consoles - the displays dark and in some cases still vacuum-sealed - but the general impression was of a particularly gloomy cathedral. Or sepulchre.

Tark’s call was loud in the silence, even the normal background purr of machinery absent here. Michi had tracked the navigator’s progress through the ship the moment she’d become aware of his presence aboard, and had known the moment he’d stepped across the threshold. As if the opening of the complex, interlocking blast doors that protected the armoured cocoon wasn’t clue enough.

Dismissing the swarm of glimmering displays that had been vying for her attention, she rose from the captain’s isolated and splendid chair on its little promontory overlooking the main holotank, and made her way down to the main level and the unsure man awaiting her pleasure.

Michi used the time to study him - as he was undoubtedly doing also - her pace measured and unhurried. Tall - by which Michi meant taller than her, although in fairness that encompassed a great many people - and slightly stretched to her eyes, a touch underweight for his height and ideal build.

Her eyes danced over the rest of his form, dispassionately, noting the slightly-bulbous nose - ‘Possible fighting injury?’ - the lack of overt musculature and, her eyes caught by a rhythmic, obviously-habitual flickering movement of his fingers, the spreading spiderwork of scar tissue curling angry tendrils around his left hand. ‘Curious.

As she approached, the little imp of vanity which had been a boon companion to her throughout her life had her exercise her command of the bridge systems, bringing up the holoprojectors in a sweeping train that spread and flowed out behind her, metal and glass and carpet all melting away to crystal-clarity, Vekta nearspace brought into the very heart of the stupendous dreadnought, starscrapers seeming centimetres from their feet and the planet rolling away to the terminator-lines further below.

A post shuttle trundled by, close enough to the sensors for anyone on the bridge to read its hullplates, but Michi simply stood there, unconcerned. She’d had enough experience of holographic environments to be unfazed, even before the Apollyon and all its shiny, shiny toys.

“In the flesh, Mr. Dendallo,” she announced with a smile, bright and white against her chocolate skin. Tilting her head and half-turning, keeping both the bridge and Tark in view, she asked: “What do you think?”

When the floor melted away, Tark started momentarily, but anyone would have. A projected image emitter bridge! Tetherpoint had done something like this a while back, but nothing of this magnitude.

"Call me Tark, Cap'n," he said, eyes flitting between the ships passing by, and the planets below. VPO was nearby as well. "Or, uh...Ted. My initials. We'll be working together for a while, might as well be friendly about it, eh?" He touched two fingers to his head and saluted lazily. "Happy to be here, and..." he trailed off, stepping toward where the wall had been moments ago.

Something was bugging him. With a start, Tark realized that he'd forgotten to turn off the Online module. He pulled the chip out again, flipping its tiny switch before running the chip back over his head. His thoughts blurred for a moment, like falling into a microsleep, before they snapped back into focus, even clearer than before.

"PIE tech..." he said thoughtfully. In this circumstance, PIE was used primarily for its safety, but it ran the risk of the external sensors being destroyed and leaving the crew blind. Even one or two sensors down on smaller crafts was enough. "The amount of sensors you'd need just to make a room this big look this good...I'm gonna guess fifty, maybe fifty-five with the higher end stuff." Noise was a bitch: even a tiny bit of sensor noise could build up horribly over time.

"Risky, but with enough backups, you'd be okay." He added a mental note to his MNL to ask the AI about it later. "Cap'n Mags," he turned to the dark-skinned woman. "This is a fine piece of kit we have here. I'm assuming that the largest, most expensive spacecraft in the fleet will have enough armor and redundancy to keep us online in all but the largest of catastrophes. I have some concerns, of course, but I'm sure Nemesis will be able to handle them."

She twitched. “Maganza, please, if you’re going to use my surname.” No need for anything more, not now - her tone had cooled considerably, mirroring her displeasure at the shortening, although she did her level best to return it to more usual, warmer tones as his initial comments washed over her.

“That’s the idea, yes,” she agreed amiably. “Backups of backups, redundancy on redundancy. And - importantly, I hope you’ll agree - also keeping us safe. Sensors can be replaced, people - despite what Nemesis would say - are a little more difficult.”

I am a WARSHIP. I wasn’t just built to fight -I was built to win. And as much as it begrudges me to admit it, I require you…people -to do just that. The AI chimed in through internal speakers.

Michi smiled, poison-sweet. “It has its little quirks,” she remarked lightly, scalpel-precise. She knew, even if Tark did not, that the AI only cared about the twenty senior officers necessary to its own avowed function - and, possibly, only insofar as they allowed it to carry out said function. “But I’m sure we can iron those out, in time. Thank you, Nemesis, for your...incisive...commentary.”

Most unusually, she paused for a moment as she returned her attention to Tark, as though searching for the right words. “I’m given to understand you hold a license for fighters and corvettes?” The implied question, one of ‘What are you doing piloting a dreadnought?’ hung delicately in the air, unsaid.

“Among other things,” Tark said, tilting his head to one side and scratching his chin. “All due respect, Captain, but I don’t even know your first name. To be honest, I didn’t know I had gotten this position until just a few hours ago. And really, I wasn’t even informed by powers that be, unless you count a stuffy guy in the relic-hunting business.”

Then the unspoken words clicked. “Oh, yes. Right. Well, I said as much to the man who interviewed me. He launched into a tirade about how he made the Armada fly like a bird. I’ll reiterate, just in case I’m among sensible people now: piloting a ship like this is almost entirely up to the AI. I can--and will--help where I can. But you heard Nemesis: it’s a warship, and it’s probably a lot better at being a warship than I will ever be. I firmly believe that spacecraft navigation in this day and age is an AI job, except in times of great duress, or when stupid decisions need to be made.”

He’d been scratching the scars on his hand. With a grimace, he put his hand down again. “I’m qualified to pilot anything that is small enough to be piloted by a single pilot. I’m sure that I’ll pick up the tools of the trade as we go. Besides, I’m not just here for navigation.” He looked his commanding office up and down with an appraising twist of his mouth. “I’ve also been put in charge of the relic-hunting arm of this mission. Just found that out hours ago, too. Furthermore, I have plenty of experience with systems engineering, modification, control theory, orbital dynamics, regular dynamics...I’ve done a lot of stuff, that’s all I’m saying. I’ll find a way to be useful, nay--” He held up one finger. “...Essential.” Probably.

He wasn’t a huge fan of having to prove himself almost immediately, but in fairness to the captain, he’d been the only person to apply for the job. She had a right to put him through some paces.

Michi closed her eyes and her lips moved silently for a few moments. “Tell me,” she began, in tones of much-martyred patience, “This interviewer. Graying, goatee, scars, looks a bit battered?”

“Try, very battered.” Tark said. “Though he had gone through two-thousand fighter pilot applications the day I met him, wouldn’t blame him for being frazzled. Cool guy. I invited him to go drinking with me and my ex-colleagues, but the dhar matho said he wasn’t allowed to.”

Then it made sense. “You know this man.” It wasn’t a question.

“Change and decay!” Michi spat the words like bullets, each one a burst of anger. “I’ll-” kill him. Michi cut herself off, but the unsaid words were clear enough. She took a deep, deep breath, space-black uniform straining, and let it out in a long, low sigh. “Yes, he and I are old friends, which is why I’m frankly surprised he turned you down for that drink. He also happens to be the senior uniformed officer of this entire Navy. Grand Admiral James Beaufort, to you and me.” Wry amusement touched her lips for a moment. “Why, who did he say he was?”

“Said to call him the Interlocutor. It was either that or matho, and that’s impolite to say to someone you’re being interviewed by.” Commanding officer of the entire Navy? “Why the hell was he not wearing any identification?”

“He undoubtedly learned a great deal more about you during the course of that interview than he might have done had he been dripping braid and medals, don’t you think?” A nod. “Many of the applicants are - or were, I should say, as the positions have been filled - from Navy personnel in any case. People are more circumspect in front of overt authority, and as far as the Fleet’s concerned, Admiral Beaufort is God.”

“Right. Well, I wouldn’t have known his rank anyway. Given that I know nothing about the military, except an encyclopedic knowledge of all spacecraft built and used by the fleet.” Humble brag, very humble. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m neck deep in all sorts of mysterious happenings as well. You aren’t alone there, Maga...all right, what’s your actual name?” Tark knew he probably shouldn’t be this forward with anyone outranking him, but damn it, they were about to be on this ship until they all died, and he didn’t even know what his rank was anyway.

“Who do you speak more freely to? Even if you don’t know the rank?” Michi asked rhetorically, spreading her hands in a theatrical gesture. “A relatively anonymous uniform, or one bedecked in jewels and gold? The Admiral knows the value of a bit of camouflage.” She frowned at Tark’s next admission, and a certain sharpness crept back into her poise and bearing. “Mysterious happenings, you say?” her gaze intensified, the military mask coming to the fore again. “I don’t like mysterious, not when it pertains to my ship and my crew. I wish I had more time, but…” she shook her head, silver braids gleaming. “Have a report on my desk about your brand of mysteries once we’re underway, unless they’re of a truly urgent nature.”

She twitched, again, at Tark’s casual disregard for the basic military courtesies. Yes, allowances had to be made for brilliance, but still…”It’s Michi, Chief Specialist.” She subtly stressed the rank, as a reminder - as though he could have forgotten! - that they were a warship’s crew, and there were some standards to that. “On duty, Captain will usually suffice. Off-hours, use your judgement. And speaking of off-hours - dinner at nineteen hundred, with the rest of the senior staff. Good chance to break the ice a bit. It’ll be either in the Captain’s quarters or on Haven - m’yacht, we’re using it as the captain’s gig - depending on whether we can get the cubage arrangements squared away. The shipnet’ll notify you, one way or the other.”

“Sounds like a plan, cap’n. I’ll see you at seven p.m.” That just about wrapped it up, didn’t it? They would have plenty of time to chat there. He turned to go.

Something stopped him. Maybe it was the abrasion in her voice. Maybe it was the sudden realization that he was actually in the military now. “Captain,” he said, taking care to follow what she’d told him. “I wanted to make something apparent now, while I still have the benefit of the doubt.”

This was going to be weird. “I, uh...I don’t know anything about the military. My grandfather served a long time ago, but that’s about it. If I act out of place, or unprofessional, it’s because it’s all I know. Tetherpoint was very lax about protocols: if it got the job done, then it didn’t matter.”

Now the awkward part. “I can tell you’re a bit miffed about me being here. I’m told I was the only one to apply for the job. I can’t change that. But, y’see, well...you could help me, if you’d be willing.” He said so softly, not wanting to alert anyone else in the room. “I understand it’s a bit much to ask, but I doubt anyone else would be willing to, or able to, help me.”

Tark straightened, putting a hand on his neck. “I’m askin’ for a mentorship, or something. If you’re willing.”

Michi sighed, seeming to deflate. “It’s not you, as such,” she murmured. “Although your lack of military experience is worrying.” Blunt and uncompromising, but the truth nonetheless. They were a warship - the biggest and best the Union had ever produced, yes, and the ruin and envy of most of the local powers, but still just one warship. There wasn’t much room for civilian sensibilities - for any sort of civilian coddling - aboard.

“The Apollyon is my ship, and that means I should know everything about her. Admiral Beaufort - or one of the handful of people powerful enough to pull his strings - is playing games, and I don’t like it. That’s the source of my irritation, not your existence, or indeed your presence aboard.”

Michi perched herself on one of the nearby consoles and regarded Tark over steepled fingers, dark eyes unreadable. “At least you’ve seen the shortcoming. And it is a shortcoming, I’m afraid, on a warship. That you want to do something about it, though…that I can work with!” A fanged smile, perhaps the first truly real one she’d used, as different from the polite professional ones as the blazing sun from the pale moon.

Her lace started to reach for his, then, but the protocols died a-borning; instead of the burning digital flare that had marked him earlier, he was, suddenly and abruptly, a grey null, a nonentity instead of the expected person. Confusion reigned for long seconds in Michi’s mind, a storm of thoughts arguing at cross-purposes; she’d been glad to find another bridge officer with a proper lace, not clinging to archaic sensibilities like Cresswell, and now…

“You’re modular?” a shake of her head, disbelief at such an archaic piece of kit, practically an anachronism aboard the gleaming new Apollyon. “My, what a ship of oddities we’re building. Crank up your network nodes, or whatever it is you need to do; I have some light reading to get you started,” she commented with an evil grin. “The Navy Regulations and Code of Conduct, current edition - aka The Book. It covers some of the real basics, since it’s for enlisted as well as officers - dress, saluting, that sort of thing - and we’ll go over some of the more advanced aspects face-to-face.” A pause, head tipped slightly to one side, eyes considering his form. “You have a sport, Tark?”

Tark sighed. “Do you mean an exercise program or something to watch on the holonet?” Getting tired of everyone having a fit about my life choices. He raised a hand in admonishment, saying “And with all due respect, Michi, I know enough about neural laces to want to stay safe. The modular scene isn’t as archaic as you might think.”

He pulled the network chip out again and combed his head with it, lighting up the world around him once more. “Okay, hit me, Cap’n.”

“Exercise program, although if you happen to follow the yacht races on holo that’s a bonus. Swimming, Orlei boxing, skyfighting, zee-gee ribbon dancing, Albionese Extreme Morris, anything?” Even as she was speaking in the real world, in the numinous digital empyrean packets of code were flashing from her to Tark, a hypercompressed transfer of the complete Navy Regulations, annotated edition (Officer). A weighty tome, even in digital form, but a useful primer. Mind-bendingly dull, in places, but that was part and parcel of the deal.

“Trust me, Tark,” Michi continued lightly, “I might have thought you archaic had I not met Comms before you. No lace at all. Still, I’ve no indication he’s anything less than competent - and the same goes for you - so all judgements are suspended. If you miss something important because you’re blind to the shipnet, though…” she tailed off suggestively, and shook her head. “Don’t let it happen.”

It was a little like getting hit by two buses at the same time. The incoming file was dense. Tark winced at the load, though he still heard the captain’s words. They were frankly...hurtful. “If you’re not a fan of my form, Captain, I’m sure there are plenty of other fine specimens on board.” Ah, dhar: that probably was going to bite him in the ass.

The download finished, but Tark continued, “There wasn’t a ton of time for me to work out with my most recent employment, unfortunately. I used to be into climbing and the training that went with it, but for the past few years my primary method of exercise has been swirling around the shipyards, trying to keep everything from falling apart. Of course, if you have any suggestions about beefing me up, I’m happy to hear them.”

The smile vanished from Michi’s face and her posture tightened. “Dendallo, you are so far from my type I couldn’t see it with every telescope in the Union. Let me be quite clear about this, before it develops into the sort of misunderstanding the holos call ‘amusing’.” Her voice hadn’t risen from its deadly, measured tones, but she cast a quick glance around at the bridge. Nobody nearby, but it was hardly private.

Not the place, or the time. “See the CMO when she comes aboard and gets herself settled. You’re not in bad shape but you could be better - and I need my officers at their best. Multi-gee swimming, perhaps.” Michi’s own favoured sport, aside from yachting. “Study the Book. I will see you at nineteen-hundred for the officer’s dinner, and again at oh-nine-thirty in my office tomorrow. Dismissed, Chief Specialist Dendallo. You may salute.”

A massive grin spread slowly across Tark’s face. He saluted, but said quietly, so no one else could hear: “Michi, Is it professional to tell subordinates--who truly have only a professional interest in you--that you will never, ever sleep with them?" The smile grew. "I'll have to check the book y'all use and get back to you. And meet with the CMO. And start exercising to your standards. And keep my network on at all times. You are the captain, after all."

Michi arched one sardonic eyebrow, her voice pitched just as low and quiet. “To clarify situations of ambiguity, and to avoid any suggestion of fraternization? Entirely appropriate.” Conflicting pressures - rage and embarrassment, in the main - boiled inside Michi, reaching quite impressive levels inside her svelte frame. She was damn sure she hadn’t misread the situation; his words had been clear enough, as had his gaze. Still, he’d been bright enough to keep his voice down; open undermining of her authority had to be broken, and quickly, lest the rot spread.

Tark liked this one. There was a matho in there somewhere. She played the part that was expected of her, but he sensed that something else was hiding in there. If he could just...get to it. Preferably before she didn't threw him in the brig for his tongue. Or whatever people do in the Navy, he thought.

"Permission to sit down at my station and look around, Captain?” He continued softly, “And maybe not give you the idea that I'm somehow trying to hit on my commanding officer, or have any reason to want to?"

“To Astrogation with you, Chief Specialist,” Michi managed, tone dead-level and only her eyes - bright with pressurised fury - giving lie to the calm evident in the rest of her. “At the double.”

“Yes, Captain.” Tark said again, the smile vanishing from his face--time to get to work. He looked over to his seat. It was nice; not as nice as the captain’s seat, but why would it be? She was in charge, after all.

He sat, mulling over the controls there as his fingers started to tap. He hadn’t expected such a laundry list of things to do right off the bat, but it was really his own fault. Familiarize himself here. Read the codes. Probably apologize to the captain before dinner, using his newfound codes-knowledge to help him. Go visit the CMO. Probably sign himself up for some psych evaluations now, while he had the time.

“I could just ask for help,” he muttered, before tuning in to the network around him. He dove into MNL Online, pinging the central hub: Does anyone know a good KnowLibe for Naval Code of Conduct? Preferably free.
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Vekta Prime Orbital
0900


By the time her shuttle had docked at the station Octavia was seriously considering the logic of her decision to travel standard class. Her previous journey had been unremarkable and annoyance free and she had been lulled into a false belief that this journey would be too.
She could not have been more wrong, it almost seemed as though the universe had conspired to ensure that she had the journey from hell. If it wasn’t the passengers in the seats in front and behind her, someone save her from small children, it was the near constant whine of the engines and the distinct lack of air conditioning. It seemed she had somehow managed to pick the oldest shuttle in existence.

After escaping the deathtrap she had successfully navigated the mass of humanity in between her and her destination. She had learned from her last visit and went with the flow rather than battle against it. It was rather like quicksand she had thought, the more you fought the deeper you became trapped. Though it was times like this when she missed her old lab the most. Just her, surrounded by her equipment, and the wonderful silence that came with being alone. She was not, by any means, incapable of being social as she would make a very poor doctor otherwise but that didn’t mean she liked too much hustle and bustle. This station was in her her mind so far beyond what she was used to in terms of the sheer amount of people. Honestly, how anyone managed to thrive in this chaos was beyond her.

Customs had thankfully again been a simple matter and she had then begun the search for somewhere to buy a coffee. There were plenty of kiosks and cafe’s to be found but she had one place in particular in mind. She had waited for her shuttle home there and discovered that they did very reasonable coffee. It was tucked into a corner close to the shuttlebay and though relatively small it managed not to appear cramped even when full of customers. Clearly she was not the only person seeking somewhere to wait that was somewhat quietier than the promenade.

Though it was busy she was able to slide into a small table right next to the window with a good view of the space outside. She carefully tucked her bag under the table, you could never be too careful after all, and then ordered a latte heavy on the caramel. She felt that she deserved the extra sugar after the morning she had had. She had at least an hour to wait for the shuttle to the ship, her shuttle had also been delayed on top of everything else and so she had missed the previous one. Her bright red hair had managed to come loose from it’s braid and she did her best to neaten it without a mirror. How she could have forgotten something as simple as a hand mirror was beyond her but it had somehow not made it onto her packing list.

When Marco woke up, he almost missed the calming sound of Sephie in his ears. Keyword is almost. “Sephie, are you finally dead? Maybe I’m dead?” He remarked sarcastically as he rose up from the couch. Sephie seemingly didn’t care to answer. After carefully glancing around, he finally noticed that he wasn’t in his bed. He could only guess why that was, so he decided that his best option was to check out the bedroom and see for himself if there was a reason.

As soon as he stepped inside, it became quite obvious why he didn’t sleep in his bed last night. There was a large collection of beer bottles around the bed, an a pair of woman’s underwear sitting on the ruined sheets. There was a broken chair seemingly thrown into the corner, and the room was in a general state of chaos. “Sephie, fill me in dear. What on earth happened here last night.” *You held a celebratory party last night. I cannot say any further information.* “Wait, what? Why not?” If an AI could laugh, he imagined it would let out the same sound Sephie did. *You specifically forbid me to tell you any details once you wake up. You also forbid me from waking you up. FYI, you still have two hours until the shuttle launches.*

Some of his memories started to return to him as he packed the small amount of clothes he had on him into the luggage. Only god knows why he thought it would be a good idea to get drunk and invite girls to his room the night before he sails out. While it certainly sounds sane on paper, he should’ve known himself better to absolutely waste himself. Despite the hangover induced migraine and the messiness of his room, Marco managed to pack up and clean his apartment in under an hour. Just for good measures he left a large tip as he left his apartment for hopefully the last time, and then headed for the shuttle bay.

One downside of having to clean up your mess in the morning is that you cannot make yourself coffee. And everybody knows that a day started without coffee is going to be a hard fought day. So naturally, he headed towards a small coffee shop that was relatively close to the shuttle bay, one that he had been visiting on a regular basis the last few weeks whenever he found himself in the same predicament as this morning. And though he had gotten used to staying on a space station in this time, he never fully managed to understand one thing: why it takes so goddamn long to brew a coffee when we have the technology to immerse ourselves in a realistic VR or build giant spacefaring ships.

Nevertheless, when he finally received his order of decaf coffee, he began searching for a seat to take. It was a busy day: there were a lot of people around, most of which he assumed were here to board the Apollyon like him. After inspecting the nearby area, he finally found an empty seat to his liking: one next to a window and already half occupied by a good looking woman. He took a quick sip from his coffee only to burn his tongue, and then he grabbed his luggage and made his way to the seat. Upon closer inspection, he noticed something that surprised him: the woman was also bearing the passcard of Apollyon ship staff. He walked up to the empty seat and sat down, placing his luggage by his side. “Ah, what a day to be alive, isn’t it?” He glanced out the window before looking at Octavia. “I think we’re going to the same place. Dr Rodriguez, head of Xenobiology on Apollyon.” He extended his arm for a handshake.

Octavia glanced up at the man who had slid into the seat opposite and raised her eyebrows slightly at his introduction. The man looked as far from what she was used to seeing in a Xenobiologist as it was possible to be. She had in the past worked with several and they had all been thin, pale and bespectacled. In other words men used who rarely saw the outside of a labratory. But this man was dark of skin and big with it, bringing to mind the space adventurers from the trashy novels she so often read. But then hadn’t she been told often enough that she didn’t look like a doctor never mind one with as many PH’ds as her. A mane of red hair and large bust apparantly did not go with a brain in many peoples minds.

“You have clearly had a very different day from mine.” She remarked drily before accepting his hand to shake. Her grip was firm and confident. “Dr Marco Rodriguez? Your theory on extraterrestrial lifeform evolution patterns was exceptional.”
Octavia was impressed, clearly only the best was good enough for the Apollyon if they had secured him. She had a casual interest in Xenobiology and had kept up with his work where she could.

“Dr Haas Head of Medical and Psychology, a pleasure.” Her large grey eyes regarded him steadily, unable to prevent her mind automatically noticing and logging his mannerisms. He seemed a little worse for wear if the tightness around his eyes was any indication and she privately wondered if he was the type to burn the candle at both ends. Not that she could really comment given her tendency to get caught up in her work to the point of forgetting to eat.

“Ah, Dr Haas!” He quickly compared the woman to the mental image he had about a boring and mediocre looking woman and then quickly threw it out in favor of the new one. “You’re lucky! I was expecting to sit beside some uninteresting character whom I’ve never heard of before, but I have actually read your thesis.” He stops to bring up the name of the piece in head. It seemed kind of simple, but Marco liked the straightforwardness of it. “‘The effects of Isolation and Deep space on the Human Condition’ was it? Interesting read.”

He took a sip from his coffee which was now sitting at a drinkable temperature. It was bitter, but it was just the thing he needed to start a day. he reached into his pocket to pull out his trusty flask and unscrewed the top. He glanced over at Octavia as he poured some whisky into his own cup and then extended his hand towards her. “Some Whisky with the latte? Or are you more discreet with your morning beverage?”

Octavia eyed the flask dubiously for a moment before shaking her head and placing a hand over the top of her cup.

“I prefer my whiskey undiluted thank you.” She didn’t comment on his drinking first thing in the morning, she had known many others who did the same, but she preferred straight caffeine first thing. “Besides I don’t think my digestion would thank me later if I mixed this with Whiskey.” She indicated the description on the branded cup, caramel latte heavy on the caramel. “I find sugar and caffeine are just the thing to get my brain going.”

She took several sips from her rapidly cooling drink before she nodded towards the shuttlebay.
“So have you seen our illustrious new home yet? I have heard it is top of the line and rather large even for it’s class. Not that ships are really my area of course, I’m more curious as to it’s medical facilities.” She smiled then, her first real smile and it seemed to light up her whole face. “After all I’m going to be spending a lot of time there. I somehow doubt being the ships shrink is going to make me popular with the crew.”

Marco shrug and took a sip from his flask before putting it away. “If you think you’re not going to be famous, you should see how people react when I take mandatory genetic samples from them. I don’t think many of the men will like the idea of giving up some of their sperm first thing once I’m aboard, but they’ll thank me when I regrow them an arm or an organ from a transplant body.” He smiled and the took a deep sip from the decaf, enjoying the slight alcoholic taste given to it by the whisky.

“But I hope your expectations come true, for both our sakes. If we’re going on a trip as long as I think we are, I’m gonna need a lab that can process all the samples that I collect.” Past the window the dustbowl of Vekta Prime was crawling by, and as he examined the ravines running across its scarred surface, Marco remembered his childhood on the planet. “And believe you me, I’ll make sure those machines won’t be collecting dust.”

He turned his attention back at Octavia, and tried his damned hardest to keep a professional attitude and stop himself from occasionally peeking at her well endowed bust. It was a task much harder than he expected it to be, so he tried to steer his attention by striking up a new conversation theme. Not that the new ship’s capabilities weren’t interesting, but he found it redundant to make guesses when they will be seeing it soon anyways. He checked his clock and noted that they still had some time left.

“So, I am correct when I assume you’re be this ship medic too, right? Seeing how we’ll be working together in the coming years, we should skip the small talk before we end up discussing the weather. Why don’t you tell me something about yourself until we board the shuttle?” Marco smiled at Octavia and then finished the remainder of his coffee with one quick sip. “I’ll return the favor once we board said shuttle.”

Octavia was speechless for a moment, she had expected to have to make an effort and talk about such inane topics as she ships possible characteristics or the journey here or even the view. She despised people’s apparent inability to get to a point without first having to perform a ridiculous amount of time talking about nothing. She smiled again, twice in such a short time must be her new record, she thought drily. This man certainly had his charm chief of which was his directness,

“By all means let’s skip the brainless chatter. You’ll discover early on in our working together that I have little patience for it. I prefer to be direct whenever possible and I’m assuming that won’t be a problem for you?”

She finished her now cold coffee wincing at the last mouthful which was pretty much nothing but sugar, before thinking on what he had asked for.

“Something about me? What would you like to know?”

Marco leaned back and stroke his short and scruffy beard. What *would* he like to know? The question eluded him, since he wished to know a broad range of things. Part of these were really only important to woo Ms Octavia into bed one day, but others were more important when it came to work relation. Since Marco is just as much a biologist or doctor as anyone else with a similar line of work, he’d need to know how much Dr Hass knew about her own field of expertise so they’d avoid weird events.

“For starters, we could talk about what you expect for your department. If we know what we each do, there’ll be less tension between our groups in case we overlap. Common biology and medical examinations can be surprisingly interlocked at times.”

Octavia pursed her lips and nodded thoughtfully. “True, the amount of times Dr Greer complained about my department he might as well as lived in my lab.
“As I see it my department sees to the wellbeing of the crew whereas yours deals with collection and analysis of our surroundings. Of course if the crew becomes infected by something then I am sure we will definitely need to work together to find the cause. But on a day to day basis I don’t see us hindering each others work overmuch. In short, I heal people and you study.fascinating new species.”

Octavia found herself enjoying the conversation and was pleasantly surprised to find she was looking forward to working with him. He was attractive and intelligent a combination she found was surprisingly rare.

Marco kept on smiling during Octavia’s speech. He applied to the job expecting nothing at all, but meeting someone like her first thing on the job was just simply fascinating. “Terrific Dr Hass. You cannot even fathom how little expectations I had regarding the medical department given the nature of my last job. I've always hated when our CEO decided that big pharma could finish our job, only to send back a failed genetic strain months later proclaiming that we were wrong. I've never been a fan of people who proclaim knowledge based on titles instead of experience, but I see that you are not one of those people.” He raised his empty cup as a sign of respect. “I think you’re next latte is going to be on me.”

Thought sound doesn’t travel in space, visual clues are more than enough for most people. And the sight of the incoming shuttle was something that Marco had been expecting for some time. He looked out the window and followed the blocky grey silhouette with his eyes until it disappeared out of sight. He turned back to Octavia and leaned forward, putting on a more serious face. “I have just one more question Ms Octavia.” He knew he was pushing it by calling the doctor Octavia, but it seemed like the woman liked him well enough. And he wasn’t a man to turn down such a perfect chance. he pulled out his communicator from his jacket, and put it on the table between them. “I must ask for your communicator code. Unless you have some implants that I cannot see, in which case that’ll do too.”

Octavia was taken aback at his use of her first name but found that she didn’t mind him using it. She normally preferred to keep things formal but there was something about this man that made her feel more at ease. She would have to be careful, he was all too easy to relax around, and she didn’t want that to interfere with her work. She was, after all, possibly going to be his psychologist as well. Though if that ever came up she would have to admit that she would be tempted to request he see someone else so as not to present a possible conflict of interest.

But for now she saw no harm in furthering a friendship, she took his communicator and entered her code before handing it back.
“This doesn’t mean you can comm me all hours of the night after you have had a drink.” She said with a small smile before picking up her bag.
“I think our shuttle may have just arrived. Shall we?”

“Oh yes, definitely. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had quite enough of this station already. The sooner I can rid myself of these crowded hallways the better.” Marco stood up and grabbed his luggage. There was nothing left on this station for him, and he won’t miss his stay here. The sooner he can delve deep into his new lab and living quarters, the better. *Sephie, mark Dr Haas’s number as important.* The AI didn’t answer, but he received a postive ping as the new number was added to his contact list.




The shuttle that had docked to take them aboard the Apollyon was clearly of military design. There was little sign of any intention to make the ride comfortable, and the polymer walls radiated the decision to make it cheap and useful. There was a crowd of people going onboard, some alone and some chatting with presumably new acquaintances. Marco and Octavia was the latter.

Marco slumped down on one of the crude seats, and put his luggage between his legs. He turned his attention towards Octavia, with a faint smile on his face. “I think I owe you some answers. Or rather, you have the option to ask me questions.” He stopped realizing how that sounded to someone who didn’t know him already. “Rest assured, I usually don’t like questions, but I enjoy your company.”

Octavia eyed the seat with distaste, it was doubtful that a shuttle this cheap was overly concerned with cleanliness. After brushing off imaginary dirt she sat next to him putting her bag underneath her seat. She smiled slightly at the compliment and couldn’t deny a small amount of pleasure knowing he was enjoying her company. The man really was too charming for his own good.

“You wouldn’t like my psych sessions then. Sometimes asking questions is the only way to get someone to tell you what’s wrong.” She grimaced remembering a few of her more difficult patients. “And even then it can still be like pulling teeth. Or at least how I imagined they used to pull teeth before we had nanites.”

She tapped her lips thoughtfully, a habit she had never managed to break, as she pondered what she might ask him.

“Do you make a habit of flirting with all of your female coworkers?” Her tone was light and only half serious but there was a nugget of curiosity too. Octavia was not in the habit of flirting and her relaxed banter with him was not typical behaviour for her. His answer would tell her more about him, perhaps more than he realised.

“Only with the pretty ones.” Marco grinned as he responded in a similarly half serious tone. “Rest assured, I take utmost pride in my work. I wouldn’t dare slow down my research with idle chatting, and you already know that I am not a fan of small talk. But seeing how we aren’t technically employed until we set foot aboard the ship, I don’t have any burning responsibilities that require my attention.” He crossed his arms and leaned his back against the wall of the shuttle. “Do you always probe men that show the slightest interest in talking about things other than the weather?”

Shifting in her seat, why were these things so bloody uncomfortable, she nodded. “Pretty much, downside of being a psychologist I suppose, I’m hardwired to analyse everyone. But I especially do so when the man in question is charming and knows it.”

The whine of the engines filled the silence after her comment as the shuttle took off from the station. Octavia was glad the journey was a short one, as the way this tin can rattled around she wasn’t sure she would survive anything longer.

Marco smirked at the remark. This is going to be a walk in the park if Dr Haas thinks he’s charming. Of course, someone who is experienced in the ways of the human psyche might not be prone to simple tricks, but he was sure that she’d yield soon enough. If this was a sign for the upcoming trip, then it was gonna be one hell of an experience.

“Sephie, how long until we arrive?” Ever since he had gotten out of bed, the AI seemed awfully quiet. He very much enjoyed the silence in his head. With all the chaos going on around him, Sephie was just too much for everyday use. Thank goodness, soon he’ll be able to utilise the ship’s lab facilities where he can escape the hordes of imbecile soldiers that will infest the ship, and have some quiet time. There Sephie will be a godsend assistant. *Few minutes until arrival. Cannot give you complete calculations at present time.*

Thank god this trip will come to an end soon. The rattling of the seats and the hum of the engine formed into a cacophony that made his hangover even worse. His began to spin and he felt like he was about to pass out. He glanced over at Octavia and saw that she was in a similar position. Well, not quite the same since she clearly didn’t have a hangover, but you could see on her face that she wasn’t exactly enjoying herself either.
“What a bucket of bolts. You’d think they’d make shuttles that were less like a rollercoaster with the tech they have, but it seems like they don’t care enough. I hope that won’t be the mentality once we are aboard this ship, or I’ll fasttrack back home.”

Octavia glanced at him in concern he really didn’t look well but then she figured travelling with a hangover was unpleasant. She was tempted to tell him as much but decided against it. No doubt he was already regretting it so didn’t need her adding to that.

“Believe me if the ship was going to be like this I never would have applied.” She said drily. “I think we should be fine though given how much I think the Navy has spent on the Apollyon. I’m hoping they have decent showers, I need one after being stuck in public transport shuttles from Albion.”

Octavia grimaced as she said this, thinking of how how generally grimy and tired she was feeling. A hot shower would be perfect right about now though of course that would depend on whether she was expected to see the Captain for briefing first. She was assuming that her arrival was timed before the rest of her department staff but for all she knew they could all be waiting on her.

“Once we’re both settled and have our respective departments how we want them I would welcome a proper talk over drinks? Though that depends on whether you’re bothered about my habit of probing?” She said wryly.

Marco replied with a glance that could’ve meant anything. Right now it meant that Marco was putting on a show for Octavia to see. She asked him for drinks, but to truly achieve the required results, he would make it seem like he is reluctant to do so. Not much, but enough that she won’t think it was too easy. Not like he saw Dr Haas as someone who would shy away from easy to get man, but Marco had a reputation to uphold.

“We’ll see once we’ve hit the docks. I have to see what assortment of idiots I got for subordinates, make something out of them, and then I’ll have to inspect the labs.” He hummed and then turned towards Octavia. “Once I’m done with that, we’ll see if we can find a decent place on the ship. I’ve a hunch this is going to be the canteen, but maybe they have bars. And just in case-” Marco tapped twice on his flask. “I’ve got backup if they don’t serve the drinks we’re looking for.”

The truth was that a respectable portion of Marco’s luggage was also alcohol that he wanted to keep for special occasions. Well, maybe some won’t make it past the first week, or day, but things like the aged scotch whisky will make it further than any other bottled beverage before.You could say that Marco was making history in more than one area. Hopefully he’ll be remembered for things other than “bringing bottled alcohol to the farthest point in human history”. He had no doubt that given time he will make some incredible scientific discovery using the samples he collects from xeno worlds, but he wasn’t so sure that he wouldn’t anger the entirety of the military staff before that. Either way, having a drink right around now sounded great.

The shuttle was in flight for several more minutes, during which Marco and Octavia didn’t converse much more. Not necessarily because they didn’t want to, but the discomfort of the travel made both of them anxious to finally get out of the chairs and have stable ground below their feet again. Marco was feeling especially bad, as the rattling and noises made his headache absolutely unbearable.

There was an audible thud when the shuttle touched down and it’s landing gears engaged the magnetic locks. The engines spooled down and the rattling of the seats died down and was replaced by the noise of dozens of people getting up from their seats and reaching for their luggage. Some of these people will be their colleagues in the coming months or years, and some of them they will never meet. But at present time they all shared one thing: an anxious look at the shuttle door as it slowly lowered, awaiting the sight that would greet them beyond the layers of polymer and steel.

The sight that greeted them wasn’t that much different than Vekta Prime Orbital, people moving from the shuttles arriving and departing, forming several organised lines towards different directions. There was something about the entire thing though that was most definitely lacking in the orbital station. Whereas the orbital was chaos, people moving independently through the deluge of the crowd, here it all seemed strangely organised, precise, almost machine-like even.
No sooner had this revelation dawned upon the two visitors, a voice, firm and commanding entered their mind through their implants. Small, robotic drones about the size of a toy quad-copter were hovering with loud speakers uttering the same message that was playing inside the heads of those without implants, the implant filtering the speaker to make the experience just a bit more pleasant and personalised.

I am the ship intelligence. Follow indicated directions to your destination. Those of you un-augmented will receive an avatar to guide you shortly. Please maintain orderly lines.
Not long after that, a fleet of additional drones appeared, each splitting off to people the AI undoubtedly tagged for them as distinctly lacking an implant-based IFF. A cacophony of robotic voices erupted as they each addressed the person they were meant for. One such drone was hovering about an arm’s length away from Octavia.
“[/b]Dr Octavia Haas - please confirm.[/b]”
Octavia appreciated the precision of the organised masses around her, it was a well oiled machine made up of military personnel and Artificial Intelligence. She was still looking around when one of the drones whizzing around the cavernous space suddenly stopped beside her. She managed not to jump in startlement, maintaining her composure, it wouldn’t do for people to see their chief physician as easily startled.
It was the first time she found herself regretting choosing not to have any augmentations, and she hoped it was the last time as well.

“I am Dr Octavia Haas.” She replied evenly.

Marco wasn’t impressed by the sudden intrusion of a synthetic voice in his head. He had just gotten rid of the irritation that was the shuttle ride, and now he had to bear with another loud voice in his head. He swiftly muted his augment and addressed his AI. “Sephie, take over for me. My head is killing me, I’d rather you tell me the important tidbits. Your voice only makes me slightly nauseous.” He massaged his temple with both his hands and looked around the hangar. The fleet of drones hovering above were more than annoying for him: the chaos of them zooming around the place felt like a busy airport from up close.

Some of the drones flew to some people, asking for their names from a speaker. Surely, they were the people without implants. Sephie interrupted his thoughts with a brief summary. *The ship AI tells you to follow the directions. I advise we do so.*

A light on the drone turned from red to green.
Dr Haas - Head of Medical: CONFIRMED. I am Nemesis, ATLAS-class ship intelligence of the UNSF Apollyon. Follow this drone to reach your destination. You will be briefed along the way.” The drone replied, then turned towards the direction of one of the lines snaking along the bay, towards one of the several doorways leading out of it, which were left wide open, bipedal utility bots on either side, motioning people to move along. Despite the impressive degree of coordination, the line was moving along at a leisurely walking pace.
Simultaneously, the AI noticed that a commercial-grade VI was acting as a relay between it and Dr Rodriguez, but didn’t mind it whatsoever. Refraining from using voice communication in favour of much more bandwidth-effective methods, the AI delivered instructions directly to the VI with complex data like highlighting pathways and objects of interest with information displayable if Dr Rodriguez looked at them. The AI directed Rodriguez to a different line which was going in the same direction, but through a different door out of the bay.

Surprisingly, given how much of her work involved sophisticated technology, Octavia had never managed to become completely comfortable with things such as AI. There was just something about them that unnerved her somehow and this was the main reason she had avoided augmentations. She didn’t want to become similar to something she wasn’t comfortable with. As a Psychologist, and a damned good one according to many, she understood that this was a mild phobia of sorts and easily remedied yet she had never felt the need to do anything about it. Human beings were more interesting because of their foilables she had decided a long time ago.

“Thank you Nemesis.” She said somewhat stiltedly.

She glanced at Marco, having noted that he seemed to be headed elsewhere, and nodded in farewell. She had noticed too Marco’s seeming reluctance at her offer of drinks. She assumed he was either playing hard to get or simply wanting to keep his options open either way she would leave it up to him.

“Thanks for the company. Enjoy your new living space.” She said before turning and walking towards the door following the colored line.

“So.” She said to the drone next to her. “What do I need to know?”

[h1][center]Octavia Haas[/h1][/center]

We are approaching one of the ship’s many Mag-Translifts. These are arrayed at key locations throughout the ship. You will step inside the single-person capsule and be carried to your destination in moments. You may experience motion, but it will be dampered to the point where your organic fluids will hardly even move around. However, should you experience nausea, try not to vacate your bowels until after you arrive.” The flying drone chirped as it led Octavia along the line, through the doors and towards the mentioned translift where the queue of people was disappearing into.
Each time a person neared it, a scanner would quickly highlight them and a pod would appear a few seconds after, the person would climb in, the pod closing around them and away they would go.
When it’s your turn, Dr Haas” The drone began as they were getting nearer to the translift “Hold onto the railings within and remember: Up and down is relative. I am informed your monkey brain ought to be better than most.

Octavia listened intently, her mind naturally absorbing the information like a sponge, she was a very intelligent person and appreciated on an intellectual level the precise, clinical way that the AI explained things. That was the one thing she did admire about them, the delivering of information without any wasted communication or emotions to clutter it up.
She eyed the Mag-Translifts dubiously, she didn’t doubt they functioned properly but still would have preferred a more....standard means of travel. But in a ship as large as the Apollyon she supposed this sort of thing was essential.

The scanner highlighted her figure and then a pod appeared open and waiting. She was just about to step in when she caught the AI’s last words. She raised an eyebrow, Monkey Brain?, whilst she supposed it was accurate in comparison to a machine it was still somewhat insulting.

“I should think so.” She said firmly before stepping into the pod without any further hesitation. She would be damned if she was stopped by something as simple as a transport device.

As the doors of the pod closed, the walls around filled like a soft air bag, the material almost seeming to adapt to the user’s shape, alternating between giving in and supporting simultaneously and to varying degrees as the pod likely travelled to its destination. Otherwise, motion was indiscernible aside from slight shifting around in the material. Arrival was signalled simply by it deflating and receding back into the walls and the doors opening at a completely new location.
Another drone, similar to the one from the hangar bay, dutifully hovered a few steps away from the translift.
Congratulations on completing your first of many rides on the TransLift. You have now arrived at your work station, Medical Bay three of six. MedBay 3 sits at the stern of the Apollyon, starboard side, opposite MedBay 6, both of which are of similar size and capacity, the largest of the comparably diminished facilities of MedBays 1, 2, 4 and 5 which are situated in areas more likely to sustain fire in an engagement. Would you like a tour of the facilities of MedBay 3 before continuing?
Lights were lighting up and dimming in sequence, effectively creating a snaking, lit path towards a hall from where the TransLift terminal had been, in all likelihood leading directly to the medical bay.

Octavia was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the ride had been, she had expected to feel vertigo, nausea and perhaps even a little claustrophobia. Yet the ride had been so smooth and the interior of the pod so comfortable that she had almost forgotten she was moving at all. It was with great relief that Octavia realised getting used to them would not be a chore.

She absorbed the information regarding the medbay’s and nodded at the AI’s question.
“Yes Please.” She said eager to see where she would be spending most of her time.

The drone pivoted forward, almost as if to simulate a nod, then turned towards the path lit up by lights, traversing the hallway at an even enough pace for the doctor to keep up at a comfortable walk. Now there would be the odd person visible here and there, going to their destinations and there was already a small queue forming behind them at the TransLift terminal. Other drones were darting through the air, signalling to one another. A spitting image of the same degree of coordination seen on the bay area earlier, likely a template followed throughout the vessel.
Finally, the drone arrived at a set of double doors, larger than most, with the words ‘Medical Bay 3’ written on the doors themselves as well as above them. The drone neared a door console and pinged its scanner against it in a quick successive strobe pattern, which caused the doors to part and reveal the way to the medbay proper. The drone then dutifully hovered in front of the door, turning back to the doctor.
Time to calibrate your biometrics to this facility, given that you have no implants for ID. Step in front of the scanner and look directly at the lens. You will see indications on the screen to turn your head in different directions. Follow these prompts. This calibration will need to be repeated every three months.

“I am familiar with such devices.” Octavia said.”I will set the appropriate reminder for three month intervals.”

She then stepped in front of the scanner and looked at the screen ensuring she remained still unless prompted otherwise by instructions on the screen.

The console blinked twice. “And you’re set. Let’s have a review of the facilities.

Octavia stepped back and nodded once firmly. “Indeed. I am curious to see what marvels this ship has in store. Lead on Nemesis.”

The drone swerved into the room, which was quite dimly lit, revealing only the silhouettes of larger shapes within, likely as a means to reserve power. “Immediate left, we have the main bread and butter of the facility: the Full-Spectrum Scanner or FSS.” just as the drone had introduced the module, it would flicker to life, screens and lights lighting as well as the ambient lights dimming to be replaced by the standard, harder lighting of the room. This revealed a large, horizontal tube that opened to reveal a bed within a semi-tube fit for a single person. “MRI, X-Ray, CAT, whether it be surface or deep, this machine will do it all. Readouts of the scans will appear on any number of connected systems within this facility, data protection rights falling solely under your authority as the resident doctor. You will have assistant staff as well, of course, but none with your level of clearance, especially as department head.
The drone moved on as the next machine lit up. This one had an adjustable recliner, operating table or whatever other shape it needed to be for the job at hand, large lights above capable of any spectrum of light including that outside of human vision and an attached array of machine arms hanging above which would neatly tuck away into cabinets mounted into the ceiling, where a wide range of tools lay to swap and mix and match. “Operating theatre. Seen it before I’m sure, ubiquitous part of the job. Lots of precision machine hands to handle squishy organic bits, ours is fitted with localised miniature suspension fields so organs can be held in that instead of having to work around them the whole time when you’re fixing your organic counterparts. Quite handy and expensive from what I’m told.
The next machine to light up formed a series of transparent tanks that were presently empty, connected to more intricate machines that effectively formed pillars of them from the floor to the ceiling, the tanks themselves easily ample enough to fit a person within.
The treatment tanks. Here, wards can be placed in suspended animation for more intensive or prolonged treatment while a liquid can allow medical nanites to do their work much more effectively, carry nutrients as well as prevent infection. You have three of these in this bay, but they work on a rota system similar to the TransLift so wards may be passed between the MedBays as well as kept in containment in between checkups.
The drone had gotten to the end of the room, then swerved the light to the right side, which prompted the next set of machines to light up.
Physiotherapy. Various exercise machines, treadmills, weights and equipment needed to allow organics recovery as well as check-up of their physical condition. Self-explanatory. Oh, and we can rotate the machines and equipment of this module to different configurations of exercise equipment, to conserve space but allow more facilities.” The drone didn’t take long at this section.
And finally” It began “-your head office.” It had indeed have Dr Octavia Haas written on the door that opened to a smaller, self-contained section of the medical bay.
Blast doors, the entire room module is NCB-hardened and is capable of functioning within space as well as making independent atmospheric entry. In short, this is your lifeboat as well as station. It sits currently undecorated, the furnishings will be left to your discretion. Nanites are on standby. Should you require further assistance, say my name. I am always watching, unless you ask me to engage privacy mode.

The drone paused, waiting for any potential questions or clarification.

Octavia studied each piece of equipment as they passed it on their tour and was very impressed and pleased with the facilities. In particular the treatment tanks would be incredibly useful and she wished she had had them on some of her former postings.
The operating theatre was akin to those she had used previously as was the FSS though both were, by the looks of them, top of the line and equipped with all the extras. When they reached her office Octavia listened with growing astonishment as the AI explained the office’s design and capabilities. She was used to having to know where the escape pods were on previous ships and she had never had her own personal lifeboat before. She hoped she would never have need to use it but knowing it was there was reassuring.
“Thank you Nemesis. That was most informative. “Octavia had only two questions that she needed answering now but she was sure she would have more once she began using the equipment etc.
“What is the status of the status of the blood stores, specifically blood from each crew member? And I am assuming the mandatory physical examinations for all new crew have not been performed yet?”

We maintain reserves of unperishable concentrate which can create an emulsion that can act as a carrier of nutrients and oxygen. Synthetic blood - a stop-gap measure. However, this is still not a substitute for actual blood, which we will need to monitor supply and demand for. Accurate keeping of records is paramount for your department, because my systems work on information YOU provide me with.” The drone began “Once we’re fully staffed, your first task will be to run a ship-wide screening of blood tests and preliminary psychological evaluation of the staff to establish our baseline. You will be expected to keep records of staff up to date and notify discrepancies in this baseline.” The drone left a hanging pause, waiting to see if there were further questions.

I hope I needn’t press the importance of your tasks on a war ship. Ready to see your quarters?

“I am fully aware of the importance on my role aboard any vessel but especially that of a war ship.” Octavia did not point out that from her understanding they weren’t currently at war since the Apollyon was indeed fitted out like a war ship, regardless of what their mission was.

“I have already prepared a detailed list of priority tasks that need to be performed immediately. You needn’t be concerned Nemesis. This isn’t my first posting aboard a war ship. Now I think seeing my quarters would be appropriate thank you.”

The drone swerved around, pointing the direction to the same Translift that brought them there. “Enter the Translift and I will ensure it arrives near your quarters. Follow the lit paths. The door will open when it reads your biometrics now that you’ve been calibrated. On the bed, you’ll find your personal data assistant or PDA. In lieu of an implant, I’ve already arranged for you to fulfill most day-to-day functions wirelessly from the device, including operation of the Translift. It responds to several inputs, including voice command so in future, you may simply say what your destination is and use any
TransLift to get there.

The voice paused. “The drone remains here. This concludes your induction. You were markedly less terrible than most organics, Dr Haas.” The drone then flew off into one of the other hallways, where a portion of the wall opened and the drone docked into place and disappeared into the wall.

Octavia nodded her understanding and watched as the drone disappeared into a wall. She began walking back to the translift and wondered as she did so if she would ever get used to Artificial Intelligence. It would be a new challenge adapting to all the sophisticated technology on board. But then from the sounds of it she wasn’t the only one who needed to adapt. Nemesis would have to work on his approach to the organics if things were to run smoothly. Still as long as he was professional and performed as programmed she would accept a few...foilables. She pondered on this as she travelled to her quarters.

[h1][center]Marco Rodriguez[/h1][/center]

It didn’t take long for Marco to realise that his destination was different from that of his colleagues. The shining line hinted across the floor by his implant led him astray from the group leaving the shuttle, towards a door some distance away. As he scanned around the group with his eyes to see if anyone was heading the same direction as him, he saw Octavia nod towards him. He replied with a motion of his hand, somewhere between a wave and flicking something off one’s clothes. Marco followed Octavia with his eyes for some time, gazing at areas he wouldn’t have dared looked at in the company of the doctor. “I wish all psychiatrists looked this good.” He murmured to himself and scratched his scruffy beard. A particularly rebellious piece of hair pricked his finger which abruptly ended his fantasises about Octavia. “Damn, I need a shave.”

He approached the gate in question slowly, his grip firm on the handle of his luggage. He was never treated differently before when docking on a spaceship, and as much as he was a fan of being acknowledged, who knew what was the reason for his separation from the group. Once in front of the door, he took one final glance at the shuttle before turning off silent mode and re-establishing direct comms with the ship AI. He sent a ping via open channel back to the AI, anxiously waiting a response. He wasn’t in a good mood, and extra procedures surely wouldn’t help with that.

Nice of you to join, Dr Rodriguez. We have much to discuss to prepare you for your new role. I don’t care much for containment breaches, but I am regretfully designed to function at a diminished capacity should my organic crew be wiped out.” The data-stream of the ship’s network now connecting with the implant, Rodriguez’ sight was augmented with notifications directing towards the nearest TransLift terminal, complete with a speedometer and estimated time of arrival, as well as a simple indicator of how many people were queuing, updated in real-time.
We’re approaching a TransLift terminal. These are used to get to various parts of the ship quickly and easily. They are also your best chance for survival in the event of unexpected decompression. The entire TransLift grid is one of my most hardened sections.

Marco frowned at the AI’s greeting. Doesn’t care much about a containment breach? Goes to show, the AI tells that to the worst person possible. And what is up with it’s attitude? He’ll have to dwelve deeper into that once he has time. For now, folowing it’s guidance was more than enough.

He passed through the doorway and followed the route to the nearest TransLift according to the interface. It wasn’t a short walk, but it was enough to ask a few questions. And ask he did. You can hardly contain the curiosity of a thinker after all. “So, I believe you know my name already, but do you care to introduce yourself? Or are such formalities above your synthetic mind?”

Already have. In the shuttle bays when you arrived, same as everyone else. I am Nemesis, ATLAS-class intelligence of the UNSF Apollyon. It isn’t essential information, which is why I haven’t overridden your Sephie-intelligence when you had it filter it, organic.

“I see.” Marco nod and stored the information in his head. If Nemesis wanted to lecture him then it can try for eternity. All that mattered was its name, nothing else. Though he had to admit, an AI named *Nemesis* was quite unsettling. He still remembered the wars against the two rogue AIs, and his innate love of biology only further raised the question of ship security with such an AI on it. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem like it was a problem. Yet.

It wasn’t a long walk from there to the TransLift terminal. Marco was half expecting to see someone, but the ship was still mostly empty and there was no-one in front of the terminal. He guessed that the less essential crew members will be boarding at a later date, but he didn’t bother to ask the AI. The less snarky remarks aimed at his hungover head, the better. As he approached the terminal a lift came by and the capsule opened up for him. He raised an eyebrow as he examined the thick gelatin like material that was covering the inside.

The pods are designed for comfort over looks. The smart material inflates to negate as much of the motion as possible while you get to your destination. I have taken the liberty of elevating your clearance to the necessary level and plotting this pod to take you to your station, but in future, you may use your implant to fulfill this function.
Nemesis chimed in right as Marco was examining the interior of the pod.

“Right, I’ll keep that in mind.” Marco said as he stepped into the pod. The touch of the material was comforting as it shaped itself to conform to his body. It was a strangely arousing feel, as if his body was floating in fluid. Then the doors closed and the TransLift began its journey towards Marco’s station. His muscles tensed up as his body tried to protect his organs from the G forces. But he felt barely anything. The gel slushed around gently as the lift travelled at mind blowing speeds through the ship. To Marco, it was both heaven and hell. The gel was incredibly comfortable and it made him kinda sleepy. On the other hand, every slight movement he felt made his inner ear scream to his brain, which was too hungover to process the information, resulting in a promop nausea. Then the door opened without any warning as the translift stopped. Marco walked out of the capsule with shaking legs, holding back his nausea by the sheer power of will. Then and there he promised to NEVER drink again before using the TransLift.

A quadcopter drone arrived at the TransLift terminal a short while after Marco stumbled out of it, carrying a bag. “Your vital readout is indicating you’re just about to empty your bowels. Please be considerate of containment procedures and do so in the bag provided, Dr Rodriguez.
The xenobiology complex was just ahead, its entrance unmistakable against the hallways spanning on either end of the TransLift terminal. “When ready, please proceed to the biometrics scanner to be calibrated. Follow the on-screen prompts. This will not take long. As you have an implant already, you needn’t repeat calibration, your implant will update the database automatically when you report for your duties.
The biometrics scanner was highlighted in orange by the augmented reality displays.

Marco forced down his lunch and straightened out his back as he took a few deep breaths. That was awfully close to being a display of his innards on his first work day. Just then he spotted the drone carrying a white plastic bag. He frowned and lashed out, grabbing the bag from the drone. He placed his hand into as if he was searching for a second. Then he pulled it out, flipping a birdie towards the drone’s camera. No AI will mock him for his drinking problems. “Worry about the containment of your attitude and not my breakfast. I’ve had worse rides than this.”

Marco walks up to the authenticator, brushing past the drone. The terminal is lit up in orange, showing that it is awaiting calibration. Marco’s implant reacts and the orange turns into a soothing yellow. After following several instructions, such as facial recognition and voice calibration, the color changes once again, now a fine green. The panel pings his implant to signal that the calibration is complete. “Alright Nemesis, any more authentication I need to do, or can I finally see the facility?”

Biometric tag: Dr Rodriguez. Containment protocols: Default.
A series of blast doors opened, revealing what was effectively a large-scale airlock mechanism, with one large door for groups and one small door for individuals. Inside the airlock chambers, one could see very visible Focused Anti-Personnel Microwave Emitters forming an array -the final line of defence in the event of a containment breach.

This is the primary airlock to gain access to level 0. This level is dedicated to administration, data analysis and implementation. The doors are on a timed lock, should an override be necessary, your clearance level alone is sufficient. Otherwise, direct authorisation from me is required. Lethal counter-measures are in place to prevent a breach in the form of focused anti-personnel microwave emitters, designed to contain threats from both within and without. Step inside the airlock please.
An array of scanners ran the length of the room from both above and from the sides.

Marco listened to Nemesis as he approached the airlock. He had suspected that the weird emitters were for security reasons, but he was surprised to hear that they were decontamination too. Such fine machinery. But its name, that was something else. In his head he placed the initals of the machine together, letting go of a small laugh soon after. “The FAPME? Oh boy, who came up with that name.” He crunched a tear under his still working eye, and then stepped into the airlock.

I never asked, but personally, I consider it quite fitting. The winding crescendo leading to an explosive, messy finish. Neutralises organic threats, but their stench… not so much.” Nemesis replied in a tone that could almost be described as sarcastic -or at least as sarcastic as a machine intelligence can be. Scanners ran down the length and width of the room, the red beams turning green at the end of their sweep to signal the all-clear. The door behind Marco had closed and several nozzles hissed gas into the chamber that formed droplets on any fabric or surface it contacted. Unlike water or rain though, there was no sensation of wetness, the droplets weren’t absorbed by- or soaking anything. Once sufficiently dispersed, the nozzles stopped and from somewhere underneath the floor, a low, metallic hum could be heard, brief but intense which caused the droplets to be immediately shaken off into rivers that pooled into built-in gutters on the floor, which sealed as soon as the room returned to normal. The entire process took no less than a minute.
That concludes initial contamination screening. As site head, you’re only expected to pass this check and access the administration level, but subsequent levels have further steps and passes, each level more sterile than the last.” Nemesis added and the doors to the facility proper, had now opened.

Welcome to your office, Dr Rodriguez.
The room revealed a handful of monitors, haptic interfaces as well as standard keyboards, multiple redundancies for both controls and storage. This room housed the server banks of the entire facility and its digital file storage. A catwalk above led to a series of meeting rooms and there was a room next to them with a plague reading ‘Dr. M Rodriguez - Site Director’. The catwalk allowed a commanding view of all the work on the main area, opening directly from the doctor’s own office. The upper level even had a dedicated cafeteria, just so staff didn’t have to go back and forth between decontamination airlocks.

Marco whistled as he entered the room, impressed by the size and functionality of the area. “Nice hardware.” He walked past the lines of computers, and headed towards the catwalk. The plaque of his office called for him like magnetic currents guide the whales. Or something along those lines anyways. He stopped in front of the cafeteria for a second, examining the interior: small but comfy. He could already see himself sipping decaf coffee inside early in the morning.

But the main attraction was definitely his own dedicated office. He had offices before, but never ones that said “Site Director”. That was a big step up from the usual group leader status that he enjoyed in previous labs. Of course, this time he would be in control of a lab with many, many more people than in his previous jobs. As he approached the office he became really excited. His expectations were low for the interior design, but the significance of his own private room next to the cafeteria was more than enough. He stopped in front of the door and examined the plaque carefully. A small grin appeared on his face as he read the content letter by letter. “Okay, Nemesis, show me what’s behind the door.”

The doors opened, revealing the sparsely furnished interior - an L-shaped desk with a recliner, a haptic interface and a projector for conversations of a personal nature, no doubt fitted with top-grade hardening against data mining. An array of screens, taking feed from various parts of the facility, set upon an adjoining wall. And finally, one wall with a high-quality display that was built to emulate the glass panes of a terrestrial office, capable of projecting high-definition views of landscapes and realistic sound ambience with a wide selection of biomes - or to be used for displaying whatever else. The entire room had been networked within its own secure server cluster, allowing for any devices to move holographic project representations between themselves seamlessly via implant input or by hand gestures. The desk’s haptic interface could also be used for 3D modelling of prototypes, which its occupant could use to review anything the site was working on.

The first thing that Marco noticed was the size of the room. He expected something much smaller on a military ship, but the office he just entered was huge compared to his expectations. As he walked in, the panels around the room came to life and lit it up in a cool white glow. The very air seemed motionless as the systems of the room booted up and connected to his augments seamlessly. Marco was truly fascinated for the first time since he arrived on the Apollyon. “Wow, I’m impressed.” As he walked to the chair in front of his computer, he examined the haptic systems installed. High quality gear from the looks of things, not easely tapped. Those will come in extremely handy. Marco sat down in the chair and took a 360 degrees turn on it before settling towards the direction of the entrance. “Gotta say Nemesis, I expected less for an accomodation. But now, let me enjoy my home for the unforeseeable future by taking a quick nap. Ping me if you need my genius somehwere.” With that, Marco leaned back in the chair, folded his arms and closed his eyes to fullify his promise.



@Virani
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by jakeb1993
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jakeb1993

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UNSF Apollyon Comms Deck
127-7-12

12:00



It had been a few hours since James had come away from the captain, and he was finally starting to get up to speed with the ships colossal amount of communications and sensor equipment. There was an awful lot of it. Every room on the ship had sensors reading back to the central processors here in the comms room. Despite the amount of data that arrived here, the department didn’t have a large complement of staff. Most of the space was reserved for data banks and tech stacks to hold the incalculable amounts of data it the ship needed to work with. It wouldn’t have surprised him if the ships AI lived somewhere in here too.

Comms looked very similar to the bridge. It retained that classic bridge style, just with significantly more holo-screens and monitors. Even though holo-screens were the new norm, any area with large scale displays still mixed in some plasma monitors. Simply-put they were less energy hungry to run, so in a power down situation the department could run, monitors only. It was the best of both worlds afterall. The ship had a significantly more prominent hum to it now the communications equipment had been activated. James was currently sitting down at his command desk which was located in roughly the same place where Captain Maganza sat on the bridge, but the sleek captains chair had been replaced with a large encompassing desk. He had all of of his holo-screens open, forming a wall between him and the rest of the world.

He was currently testing the long range communications of the Apollyon after managing to configure the three main long range sensor suites aboard the ship. The wrenchmonkees who had built the ship had no idea how to calibrate sensor and comms equipment at all. Short range gravidar arrays were fairly easy to tune and James had written a small program to configure them. Magnetometric arrays were somewhat harder. They are significantly more temperamental to deal with. They tended to feedback if you set their tolerances too high. He had given them a rough configuration for now, enough to help guide astronavigation without sending them into a moon.

He couldn’t help but remember the words he had with his father last night over drinks. While now wasn’t the time to be thinking about his father's health. Looking down at his uniform he ran his fingers over the Cresswell badge given to him by his father. His father had always worn it, constantly. It was always his father with the badge. But now James had it, and it made him feel uneasy. It almost felt like to a degree that his father was gone. No longer on this mortal plane. Why, wearing the badge should have made him feel full of pride and confidence, though he couldn’t help but feel sad. Distraught was probably a better word to describe it.

Escaping from his current train of thoughts, he shut down all of the holo-screens around him, no longer able to concentrate on anything productive. There was a moment where he debated about possibly going to the bridge and getting comfortable there, but decided against it. He was just going to sit here and ponder for a while. His focus would return to him soon.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Lurking Krog
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Lurking Krog Caffeinated Lurker.

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Vekta Prime Orbital
127-7-12
10:00


There he was, lying in a hospital bed waiting for the nurse to adjust his medication again. You could see on his face how painful it was having the nanites going through and attacking the cancer cells. He had been getting this treatment for near on three months now, the progress slow and only prolonging his life some. The cancerous cells were still spreading faster than what the treatment could compensate for. They could, of course, introduce more nanites, or have the other ones work faster but that even had its risks. What really determined it was his choice to further the treatment. He knew years ago that this had a really high chance to occur, such as the life of a Navy reactor core engineer. He turned his head slightly to look at her with a small smile through the pain.

“You are looking well Jessica. Are your new augmentations functioning well?”

She nods and walks over to him taking his hand with her bare metal one. “They are. I haven't decided if I wanted to use their standard synth-skin though. It looks too fake to me.”

“You could always improve a design or make your own. L… li..... like you did with that small robotic dog when you were eight.” He chuckles for a moment before it turns into a series of coughs. The coughing lasted for almost a minute before subsiding. He looks up at her face his own expression being solemn and tired. “It's getting close you know. I know it isn't something you want to hear, but I can't lie to you. Here…” he shifts slightly picking up a small chain with a series of tags on it. “Take this. You will have much more use of this than I will.”

As she takes the chain from his hand his arm falls as though from exhaustion...

Jessica jolts awake in the small hotel room she had rented while on Vekta Prime for the interview. It had been awhile since she had that dream/memory occur. Then again then last time it occurred she was working on the synth-skin testing it's resistance to corrosive material. Last night after the events of the interview and what occurred after she was reviewing the material components trying to figure out a possible new solution for better corrosion resistance. She slowly gets out of bed heading to the coffee pot first to prepare the first pot of the day, she felt she was going to need quite a bit of it today. Once the coffee was started she went to the refresher to continue her morning ritual. When she returned to the coffee pot, hair still drying, she poured a cup of coffee and started to read through her new notes from last night's research.

Halfway through her review of the notes when her comm unit chimed. She picked up the device and placed it in her ear.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Ms. Ghaller?” a woman's voice asked in a rather professional tone.

“Speaking…”

“I am with the UNSF and I am calling to inform you that you are required to report at the UNSF Apollyon today before 18:00. You have been selected to fill the role of Core Specialist. Do you have any questions for me?” the last part spoken as though she had little time and it was meant to be only a courtesy.

A few seconds of silence passed as Jessica stood there speechless. “Mrs. Ghaller are you there?”

“Yes, I am here. No, I don't have any questions for you.”

“Congratulations and best of travels then.” The other end of the line clicked leaving Jessica in silence. Through the next few minutes, she processed what she was told and then started to gather what belongings she had as well as finishing dressing.
I did it, I really did it. I can barely believe it but it is happening.

Vekta Prime Orbital, Apollyon docks / Apollyon Reactor Core.
14:00


The public transports were cramped with personnel going to the massive dreadnought. It didn't help that the transports seemed to shake with the slightest movement, whether it's own or another vehicle passing by to closely. Jessica gripped the metal coffee cup she had tightly each time the transport shifted and creaked.

The worst was when it came into land on the docks where it seemed several people were already making their way to their parts of the ship. Her knuckles went a shade lighter when the transport touched down and seemed like it was going to fall apart.

The old civilian transport, a T-76 Gallia, groaned as it landed in the rear hanger, it’s landing gears creaking as the full weight of its 750-ton hull rested on their hydraulics. The Type-76 Gallia was originally made and patented by Econ Heavy Industries, a reliable transport that was originally built for hauling massive amounts of cargo, and with its huge Class 8 Hyperlane Slip-Manifold, it was capable of crossing massive distances at much quicker intervals.

It was the workhorse of the early trade industry and autonomous merchants, way before the Union even existed. Though nowadays, these 2-century old space hulks are used as short distance civilian transports, moving people to and fro on the day to day, having their original Manifolds swapped for the smaller Class 4, to increase their internal space for additional passengers.

This ship was only a twelfth of the size of the rear hanger in comparison, and considering that it could fit two cruisers, the sheer scale of the place really hit hard. As Jessica took the metal steps down from the ship’s exits doors, she could see that there were 7 other transports, all offloading people in the hundreds. It was a wonder how many more of these transports were on the way.

The hanger crew were ushering people to the exits, all crammed together shoulder to shoulder. But despite all of the chaotic noise of zero-g thrusters and talking people, a maintenance droid made its way through the crowd and towards her, stopping her in her tracks. “There you are, human.” The droid stated. “You are Core Specialist Jessica Ghaller. I am here to escort you to the main power plant, under the orders of the resident AI, ATLAS.”

She had been looking for where she needed to go trying to get someone from the hanger crew to give her better directions than just a finger pointing in a general direction. She had not noticed the droid until it impeded her progress and started to address her. Jessica looked at the droid curiously before she grabbed the small luggage bag she had. “Lead on then. I am eager to see the main power plant and I am sure the resident AI has a lot of information to share.” She brushed a few stray hairs out of her face as she followed the droid through the crowd.

The machine quickly ushered her through the crowd and into the hallways, leading her to the TransLifts. The TransLift room was filled with people lining up and waiting for their lifts to arrive. The lines were dwindling quickly, so the wait would be short. “A magnetized capsule will take you where you need to go.” The droid said. “Now if you will excuse me, I have others to direct.” Before Jessica could say anything, the droid had vanished into the crowd.

She stepped into the capsule as the droid left. While trying to relax some, she adjusted the luggage bag to fit in the capsule with her. Jessica closed her eyes hoping it would help with whatever motion sickness may occur. I wonder how they accommodated for human frailty for transportation like this. She started to work through a few variables before the capsule had stopped and opened to let her out. A quick glance around the area was her first reaction to get an idea of where she was.

It was, of course, another TransLift room, but clearly lit holographic signs along the walls stated that she was now in the Engineering Deck. Stepping outside of the room and into the main corridor, more signs and holographic lines stretched along the walls, guiding people to their relative areas. One of the signs stood out to her, labeled “Power Core”.

Jessica followed the signs leading to the power core taking another sip of the still somewhat warm coffee in the mug she had. Upon her arrival at the power core, she set the luggage bag while looking over the massive room that was the main power core. She, as well as many others, trained studied and dreamed of being able to work with one of these cores.

“As much as it displeases me that your presence is even necessary aboard this ship…” A deep, aggressive male voice echoed throughout the room. “I guess I have to welcome you… you are Jessica Ghaller. The Core Specialist for this vessel. My name is Nemesis, an ATLAS variant AI.”

The people in the room were looking around the area, some trying to determine where the audio was coming from, while others were trying to see who this Jessica Ghaller even was. “I recommend you look around the facility before you get acquainted with your fellow meatbags. You will also be receiving your standard issued gear from Captain Michi Maganza. You will have to meet with her at the earliest convenience.”

“I was going to look through this facility first before going to acquaint myself with anyone. I didn't get this certification to simply make friends, I did it so I could work with this magnificent thing.” She gestures to the Core. And you could use an adjustment to your social etiquette protocols.
“I will meet with the captain after I finish looking through this facility.”

Leaving her baggage behind Jessica made her way to the massive sphere in the middle of the room staring at it in fascinated wonder. A few other people look at her curiously for a moment before moving on. With a deep breath, Jessica turned away from the core to go to the main instrument panel to familiarize herself with it. “Is there anything non-standard I should, correction, I am allowed to know about this core Nemesis?”

“Currently, by the orders of the Design Bureau, Core internals are to be classified, unless an emergency occurs. As far as the Design Bureau is concerned, your purpose is to maintain the outer containment shell of the core as well as the system’s power draw levels and heat management to prevent catastrophic failure. Attempting to investigate the internal structure and components of the core outside of an emergency situation will be considered a breach of contract, and your Design Bureau issued Core Specialist Certification will be nullified.”

“Which was covered multiple times during their certification program. I'll take your answer as a no then. Anything else I should know about this area?” She looks over the power output display, then moves to the coolant levels, and finally the fuel levels while awaiting a response.

“Everything in this room is to the specifications of the Design Bureau, which you were taught during your certification program. Any more silly questions, human?” The AI responded, clearly tired of the conversation.

“Only where my quarters are and where can I find the captain.” She didn't expect much for living quarters and the previous questions asked were to see if there were any modifications someone made last minute or made without permission. It wasn't hard to guess that not everyone followed specifications, though when dealing with the Design Bureau you did not try to bypass their rules. To do that was to end any chance of working with them.

“You may find the Captain on the Bridge, or in her quarters, on the same deck. Your ‘quarters’ is one of the TransLift capsules.”

Dad wasn't kidding when he said it was limited living space. Didn't think it would be that limited. “Right, thank you, Nemesis.” Jessica stepped away from the control panel and made her way back to the luggage bag she left at the entrance to the reactor core. She didn't know what she was going to do with this now but she would figure it out.

The walk back to the TransLift room was quick. She waited for a capsule to open, climbing in when it did. I guess this will be home for the rest of my life. It could be worse, I could have been killed by that gunman that appeared after my interview.

When the capsule opened again she was in another TransLift room similar to the last one, though the signs read differently. Jessica followed the signs leading to the bridge, keeping her luggage with her for fear of losing it, to a series of four doors. When she peered through the doors she saw a few people there looking over the equipment.

“Is Captain Michi here?”

Even had Michi managed to miss the Core Specialist’s entrance, the sound of the many-leaved blast doors opening and shutting loud over the muted susurrus of Bridge conversation, Nemesis’ alert would have pinged her in a nanosecond, handily tagging the figure on the threshold. Waving away some of the hovering myriad of displays - everything from supply loading rates in the forward holds to current powerplant loads to expected crew manifests - that had surrounded her elevated, thronelike chair in a loose and wavering sphere of turquoise light, Michi rose in a whisper of smart material, her uniform’s space-black fabric smoothly shifting and sliding with her lithe musculature.

Not a crease marred the perfect lines, or twisted the ribbons and gold braid of rank and reward, even as she descended the curving stairs at a rapid, efficient clip, eyes locked upon the new arrival. Studying, evaluating, assessing with cool dispassion.

“Michi Maganza,” she said by way of greeting, raking eyes up and down Jessica’s form with a sharp, quick nod. Despite its rapidity, she missed very little, a soldier’s glance that drew in every scrap of information and processed it just as quickly. “Specialist Ghaller, I see. Good to have you aboard to massage the reactor. You may now salute.”

The luggage bag she was carrying dropped to the floor as Jessica fumbled a salute. She waited a second before picking the bag up and looking over Michi taking in as much in detail as she could. The silver-white hair against the dark mahogany skin color seemed a bit unusual to her but with this day and age, anything was possible. She was an example of it to a degree with three cybernetic appendages, one artificial eye, and to top it all real looking, and feeling synth-flesh.

Another sharp nod, as quick and fierce as the first - Michi was juggling twenty things, keeping her plates spinning with sheer determination, processing and storing information as fast as her neural lace and darting eyes could manage it, greedily suckling at the font of knowledge. “Good. With me, if you please, Specialist. There are matters of your expertise and your role aboard my ship I wish to discuss with you.”

A swift about-face and Michi was striding confidently towards another bank of lifts, her gait practically crackling with energy as she strode between banks of consoles and holographic projections, confident and self-assured.

At least, on the outside.

“We’ll use my office,” she said pleasantly as she swept briskly through the Bridge. “Nothing to worry about, I’ve been meeting all my senior staff as they arrive - and as time permits, of course. You’re not up on jankers, but as nice as m’bridge is, it’s not the right place for a chat.”

Certainly not the right place to hand over sensitive matters - and when it came to the dreadnought’s power systems, very little wasn’t sensitive in some manner.

Jessica trailed a few paces behind the Captain. “Understood Captain, I know the Bureau likes to keep a lot of the knowledge about the cores secret.”

Michi pulsed the request to Nemesis before even arriving at the lifts; the pods were, therefore, ready and waiting by the time her immaculately-booted feet set down, whisking her off to the palatial (for a warship) captain’s quarters and the bubble of emitter-studded battleplate that made up her office. Practically an anachronism in the modern age of always-accessible information, of holosuites and lightspeed conferences, but some Navy traditions were worth preserving.

Michi arrived before her subordinate, having just enough time to tune the emitters to a spectacular nebula so that the desk and chairs floated amid a sea of searing, silent flame.

Having stepped into yet another pod to be moved to yet another part of the ship, the few seconds it took to get there left her time to contemplate on the things Captain Michi may wish to discuss. Figuring that the Captain would probably wish to avoid meaningless conversation, she mentally prepared for such and kept a mental reminder that Nemesis had said Maganza would provide standard gear for her.

Just as the pod opened the emitters in the office had changed the appearance of the room to a marvelous nebula. Jessica couldn't help but gaze at the display in astonishment. It was completely unexpected and a bit outside of the normal for someone to put on a display like this unless it was a close friend. The reason for having come here was temporarily forgotten that is until the Captain stepped into the field of view “Oh right, you wished to discuss a few things about the Core. Please excuse my bewilderment I was expecting a more bland office setting than this.”

“I’d go bananas inside of an hour if all I had to look at was curving battleplate,” Michi admitted cheerfully, settling herself behind the desk. “Have a seat, do,” she added, waving a hand at the chairs arrayed in front of it. “It’s one of my more well-known little quirks - in the Service, at any rate, which is undoubtedly why this office, and my quarters in general, have emitters in the first place. Admiral Beaufort regards them as fripperies, of course, but then he’s always been a fan of unnecessary privation.” A faint, fond smile for a moment, quickly wiped away by the military veneer.

“Now. There are two things I wish to discuss with you, Specialist. First, I would like a comprehensive stress-test exercise from you and your department. I’m aware our draw capacity from the reactor is effectively infinite, but I’m equally sure the power grid can’t handle that much energy. I have the builder’s specs, of course - but although I’m not an engineer m’self, I do know them. I want to find out what tolerances we’re actually working with, not so much what the book and the schematics say we’ve got. How much power can we shunt to the thermal beam batteries in an emergency, for example, without melting the main bus and throwing every transformer from here to the aft boat bay, that sort of thing. Understood?”

Jessica took a seat and listened intently as the Captain began explaining the first thing she wanted to be done. An actual test of the system made sense as no one wanted to have parts of the electrical system burning up in a critical situation.

“Can do, just need to know when to do it.”

“As soon as possible, naturally.” Michi paused, and then explained, gesturing airily with long, elegant fingers. “Yes, it’d be something of an embarrassment if you actually do melt half the power grid and we had to limp back into the slips being towed by tugs, but I’d far rather you did it here and now, with the finest shipyard in the Union right next door standing by to make good the damage, than in some godforsaken system at the back end of beyond ten thousand light-years from the nearest friendly welding torch.” A shrug and a lopsided grin. “Better to be embarrassed now and alive further down the line than prideful and dead, in my opinion. Just let me know when your department’s ready; might have to juggle some of the other shakedown tasks I’ve assigned. Not your problem, though - Nemesis, Cresswell - the comms officer - and I will sort out schedules.” Happy she’d made her point, Michi leaned forwards, her more relaxed posture tightening once more and the vague half-smile vanishing.

More sound thoughts, though I doubt we would be thousands of light years from a welding torch. I'm sure we have some available. The thought was there but withheld to not risk upsetting the Captain and start off on the wrong foot. She noticed how quick the Captain went to and how long she held her serious demeanor, furthering Jessica's decision to maintain silence and listen.

“Secondly - and more importantly - I have some vital equipment for you.” One-handed, Michi reached below her desk and produced, magician-like, a small box which, to the augmented eye, thrummed with thousands of defensive programs, a spiny and poisonous mine ready to go off - and go off spectacularly - at the slightest unauthorized touch.

Slender fingers dipped through the haze and danced a flickering fandango over its dull metal surfaces even as her lace broadcast complex access codes on a tight-beam channel. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the box unfolded, segments raising from the whole and clicking outwards.

All it needs to complete the effect,’ thought Michi, an imp of mischief dancing irreverently in her brain, ‘Is some dry ice vapour spilling out.’ With the ease of long practice, she kept her face stone-like, impassive, even as she reached in and lifted the Device out.

It was heavy, heavier than it looked, a dull metal vambrace and gauntlet festooned with a boil of slender pipes and sullenly-glowing power cores, a labyrinthian design that tugged at the eyes and the brain alike. The cores pulsed, rhythmically, brightening and darkening as if to some unknowable heartbeat, the light casting uneasy shadows across the metal, whilst the centrepiece of the Device, standing proud, glared like a baleful eye at the universe.

“Your hand, Specialist Ghaller?” Michi said expectantly even as she half-turned the gauntlet, ready to receive Jessica’s hand, its inner lining gleaming with circuitry and other, arcane things.

She reached out towards the gauntlet looking over it while doing so. Curiosity pushed even more now wanting to know what the purpose of such a thing was. As Jessica's long slender finger slide into the gauntlet, she waited. Waited to see what was going to happen.

In the event, all that occurred was a faint, electrical tingle as the Device woke from somnolence, a tiny and almost unnoticeable prick at the end of one finger as it sampled Jessica’s DNA. The glow brightened for a few moments and then settled down, and it all looked much the same as it had before - no new access pathways, no secret codes, no unusual abilities made themselves immediately manifest.

A flick of Michi’s hand summoned a scrolling projection of a thousand parameters, blurring past as the gauntlet self-reported its status, running rapid internal diagnostics and checking the myriad of sensors with which it monitored its wearer.

“Excellent.” A smile as sharp as a knife and twice as quick flickered across the captain’s impassive face as the scrolling list chimed sweetly and burst into gleaming pixels that merged with the nebula’s background splendour. “That stays on, Specialist. When you’re at work, when you’re off duty, when you’re in the shower, when you’re sleeping, when you’re dancing, when you’re making the beast with two backs...I don’t care. You keep it on, regardless of what anyone else says - I will know if you don’t, believe me, and you don’t want to experience what I’ll do to you if I find you’ve disobeyed.” That knife-like smile - if it was a smile - again, pearly white teeth gleaming and a hard light in her eyes. “I trust we’re clear on this?”

So it was a monitoring device. Keeping it on should be simple enough. She didn't really dance, would probably spend more time on duty than off and the time off would be spent sleeping, showering with it on might be slightly irritating for awhile until finally growing a custom to it being there, and making the beast with two backs… that was probably a reference to an activity of sorts. More probably a reference that people made she didn't understand. Still, she mouthed it silently to herself trying to puzzle out the meaning of phrase before dropping the train of thought to continue the conversation with the captain.

“Yes Captain, it won't be an issue. Anything else you need of me before I return to the Core?”

Michi pursed her lips in consideration, a slight frisson of surprise running through her. It was a rare person who simply accepted a new piece of equipment without at least enquiring what it was for, all the more so given the gauntlet’s onerous usage requirement. Still, it meant less work for her…

“Only t’let you know that I dine with my officers and their departments on a semi-regular basis. Chance to mingle, chat, head off some problems at the pass, that sort of thing. You’ll be notified in advance, of course, but I thought I’d let you - and by extension your part of the crew - know it’s coming. Mess undress; nothing too formal. Save that for special occasions and dignitaries. Oh, and don’t tinker with your new glove; it’s covered by the same clauses and tampering penalties as the core itself.” A bright, beaming smile and a nod. “I think that’s all for the moment. Nice to have met you, let me know if you have any difficulties. Dismissed, Miss Ghaller.”

“Thank you, mam’. If I have any issues you'll be first to know.” After standing and before leaving she salutes again. The trip back to the Core was uneventful after it, however, was busy as Jessica began getting familiar with the other people that work with her in the Core.
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