Richard Smith was standing in line with several other officers just like himself waiting for reassignment. Reassignment was one of those things that Richard hated the most; the waiting was the worst part of it. You had to stand in line and wait your turn all while doing nothing. It reminded him too much of his high school days of trying to get to class while crammed in a hallway that was two sizes too small. The fact that there wasn’t much one could do while waiting made for an excruciatingly boring situation. Sure, you could sit down but that also meant you lost your place in line and nobody wanted to do that. So you simply stood in line all while looking forward hoping that the line would move faster. Sure you could access the Galactic Internet and check your email and access a web site or two on your tablet but even that got boring after the first half hour of just standing there.
Richard turned to one of the officers in front of him and asked him how long he’d been waiting. He shrugged his shoulders in response and that told Richard one thing; he had been waiting for too long. If the waiting was bad, the fact that you were nervous about where you’d be posted next made the ordeal all that much more… enjoyable. The only saving grace was the fact that you weren’t the only one enjoying your time while waiting.
Richard looked to the right of him and saw a female officer; the only female officer for several feet in any direction. Women were usually not assigned by this particular department of BuPers since this particular department handed out assignments for ships and a majority of shipboard personnel were men. He kept thinking that that must have made for a very awkward situation for her, what with being the only woman among a sea of men that more than likely haven’t seen a good looking woman for several light-years.
It was true, not many women chose to serve onboard ship due to cramped conditions and for the longest time it was a man’s job to serve onboard warships. But that was changed in the last couple of months, BuPers was assigning more women to ships due to the need for just about anyone onboard a ship since they needed all the people they could get aboard warships.
In the past most women were assigned to serve in the Space Forces in other ways; usually in Medical, the sciences, R&D, military bases, and space stations. Then there were the women who actively chose to be onboard ship, those were few and far between. It didn’t help any that the often all male crew of a ship tended to make life difficult for women and those women who did succeed, they were better for it because they had to prove that they were good enough to serve onboard a ship. This in turn made for some of the best officers the Space Forces had to offer which was the reason why most of captains in the fleet were female. More than half of all fleet captains were female and more than a third of the admirals in the fleet were as well.
It was said that Admiral Megan Kimery had the worst “trial by fire” but now she was an admiral and for a lot of women in the Space Forces she was a role model of sorts even though she flatly had said that she was just performing her duties to the best of her ability. That didn’t change anything, she was still a role model but there were rumors that she hated being thought of as being one. She felt that if you wanted to serve, you served because you wanted to serve not because someone told you that you could be like her.
Prior to his time for reassignment, Richard had been the Executive Officer on a frigate. It was a small, cramped, horribly underpowered ship, but as far as Richard was concerned, it was his ship. He had spent almost three years proudly serving as XO under the command of Captain James “Jim” Treudore. However, now it was time for him to be reassigned since that ship had been sent to the scrap yard a week ago.
His ship had been badly damaged in a small skirmish that occurred between the Human Federation and a pirate fleet. His ship had been part of a fleet of more than a hundred ships but that didn’t at all stop his ship from nearly being blown out from under his very feet. Thanks to the skills of himself and his former captain, all of his crewmates survived and were able to be saved by the other ships in the fleet.
Now came the waiting. Reassignment was a situation that every officer hated. It was a time in an officer’s career in which they had no control over what direction their career would go.
Richard tried to talk to some of his fellow officers around him but found that many of them were either too tired or angry to talk. All of them wanted to get out of there and he didn’t at all blame them for he, himself, wanted to get out of there… fast. Sure, he had a few incidents of small talk that consisted of some grousing about having to wait, hating their past post, hoping for a better post, or wanting to leave altogether. None of those things could really be helped since he was in the thick of it along with the rest of them; unhappy and miserable. The ensigns and chief petty officers sitting at the front of the lines, behind their desks like little tin gods, were certainly taking their sweet time in processing.
Looking to that single female officer, he noticed that she was looking at her chronometer and then he quickly looked away, trying to not look like he had been staring at her. He was able to get a good look at her in profile so that if he ever met her again, unlikely as that sounded, he would have an idea of what she looked like; and damn, did she look like someone he would want to remember. Just as he looked away from her, she looked at him. Immediately he looked at the floor trying to look as innocent as possible.
Fifteen minutes later he was finally at the front of the line. “Next…,” was what he heard from the ensign behind the desk. Yes, little tin god indeed. Why aren’t you aboard a ship like the rest of us that are in the trenches? Richard thought. He stepped forward in front of the desk. The ensign asked for his name, rank, and serial number. Richard gave the required information and then was asked to give his thumbprint for final verification. He was quickly handed a sealed envelope and then heard “Next…” and had to step aside for the next person in line. Richard stared at the envelope and feared what was inside for inside was his future.
To say that he was nervous was a statement that could’ve been awarded the Understatement of the Year award. His hands shook as he tore the envelope open. He quickly pulled the piece of paper out of the envelope and began to read it.
“From Admiral Matthew Heston, Admiral of the Home Fleet, Human Federation Space Forces, to Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith, Human Federation Space Forces, Fifth Day, Fifth Month, Year Two Thousand Three Hundred and Fifteen” it read at the top of the paper. He re-read that line again for he could’ve sworn that he had read that line wrong. Wait, he thought, did I get promoted? He went on reading the paper.
“Lieutenant Commander: You are hereby ordered to proceed aboard the Human Federation Ship Valiant, there to take upon yourself the duties and responsibilities of Tactical Officer in the service of the Human Federation and her Constitution. Fail not at your duties. By order of Admiral of the Fleet, William Seacrest, Human Federation Space Forces, for the President of the Human Federation.” Below that was the admiral’s signature, along with where and when Richard had to report. He had to read the letter again just to make sure that he was reading it right.
“Holy shit!” he whispered under his breath. I can’t believe this! “How the hell did I get this position?” he spoke out loud to no one in particular. It had to be the next best position to being the XO of a ship. The very safety of the ship depended upon his orders and it was his orders that determined whether or not they would all live or die onboard the ship in a firefight.
As he was reading his orders on the way out to the main corridor, the same female officer that he’d been, sort of eyeing, was walking out beside him. He looked to her and innocently asked where she had been posted. She shrugged her shoulders and mentioned something about the HFS Valiant and walked off. He stopped and stared at her back as she left and then it dawned on him, that was the same ship he was posted to and if she was on it, he would definitely want to get to know her.
Later that evening Richard walked into the officer’s club on the base. As he was taking off his coat he shivered as the rain that was on it found its way down his collar. He had been walking for quite a while on the grounds of the base looking for something to do and with the fact that it was raining, cold rain at that, just about anything sounded interesting to Richard.
It was true that Richard had been dying for a drink for the last time he had a good stiff drink was more than a year ago, so a visit to the officer’s club sounded like more of a good idea by the minute. The last ship he’d been posted on had a bar for officers to attend but it was so small and so sparsely stocked, to call it bar was being extremely generous. Occasionally he would get the ship’s doctor to open up with the medicinal brandy, but those times were few and far between. There’d been days on that ship when he would’ve gotten into a brawl just for a drink. He had known very few men, and fewer women, that had.
Richard found a place at the bar and plunked himself down on the stool. He yelled for the bartender but got no response but he didn’t fault him for it since he could barely hear himself over the combination of loud talking and loud music; that is, if you could call it music. That night’s “entertainment” consisted of some obscure local band that had a singer that sounded more like a bag of cats and every time she hit a high note Richard could swear his ears had started bleeding. The drummer was bad too, he couldn’t keep a beat worth a damn and the guy who was playing the electric guitar had no damn business playing it. A couple shouts of “Get off stage!” rang out from the crowd. Boos, hisses, and catcalls accompanied them as the officers there hurled more abuse onto the band. It was so hard to get a good group to play in one of these places for officers tended to be the worst critics.
He looked up and motioned for the bartender and coughed as he did so for he swore he breathed in a cloud of smoke in doing so. Only within the past five years had smoking tobacco come back into high fashion. The cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke that hung in the air was thick and acrid. Just seeing in the bar was difficult for the smoke had formed a fog bank near the ceiling and with every puff of a cigarette the cloud of smoke became that much bigger and more annoying. Richard had to keep wiping his eyes for they were watery and they were stinging like none other. Richard could barely breathe but he was determined to get that drink that he’d been wanting for so damn long.
When the bartender came he ordered a glass of the finest whiskey they had on the shelf, on the rocks. It wasn’t the best whiskey but it was whiskey and that was all he cared about. He picked the glass up and took a small sip of the amber-colored liquid and smiled as the whiskey burned its way down his throat. He reveled in the taste of the whiskey and let out a small sigh as he took another sip. Perhaps it’s not bad whiskey after all, he thought. He could’ve sworn it had tasted like Jack Daniels but being that there were so many brands of whiskey these days it was downright hard to determine one brand from another and only a whiskey connoisseur knew the difference and Richard was far from being a connoisseur, he just liked whiskey.
He put his glass down and asked for another and as he turned to the bartender to ask for it he quickly realized that the officer sitting next to him was the same woman that he had seen in line at the depot he had just left half an hour ago. “Hey,” already feeling the whiskey start to relax him, “didn’t I see you earlier?”
She looked at him, at least this time he wasn’t regarded like something that crawled out of one of the more disreputable gutters on Bounty Moon. “Yeah,” she pointed at him while she took a sip of the glass of wine that she had. “I remember you. You were waiting in line along with the rest of us poor saps for our reassignments. I told you that I was posted to the Valiant, right?”
Richard nodded his head. “Yep, that’s me.”
“Yeah, I thought I remembered you. I don’t forget people that easily.” The woman reached up and waved her hand to waft off some of the smoke that had settled between the two of them.
Richard still had enough of his wits about him so that he wouldn’t say anything too stupid. “Small universe.” She looked at him and gave that kind of look that asked what he was talking about. “I’ve been posted to the Valiant as well.”
“Really?” she asked as she walked away from the bar and motioned for him to follow her. “What post did you get?” she asked as she stepped away from the bar. As Richard followed the woman he got a chance to get a better look at her and damn, did he enjoy the sight! It looked like some of the other guys in the bar were enjoying the sight of her too. The farther he got away from the bar the better the air and the visibility became. It seemed that most of the smoking was being done at the bar but getting away from the bar also meant getting closer to the screeching bag of cats that was “singing” on the stage. Thankfully, whoever this woman was, led him to a table in a far corner of the bar which was as far away from the bar and the stage as you could get without being outside in the pouring rain. At least it was much quieter than the rest of the bar was but that was an overstatement and Richard could still feel like his ears wanted to bleed.
Richard looked at her as she walked in front of him and he determined that she couldn’t have looked more than twenty-five years of age and as far as Richard was concerned, she was one very hot woman. She wasn’t thin by any standards but she wasn’t overweight either, if you asked Richard she was just about perfect in his mind. She had curves and she more than nicely filled out the female officer’s service uniform’s standard-issue skirt that fell to about two inches above the knee. His eyes dropped to below her skirt and found that her legs had the signs of a woman that worked out often and the standard-issue white tights made for a clean outline against the dark floor of the bar. The standard-issue black high-heeled shoes made her look even taller than she already was; which by Richard’s estimations was almost 1.83 meters tall. His eyes went up as he scanned the woman from head to toe and he once again found that she filled out the uniform nicely. Oh, and that hint of perfume she was wearing was damn near intoxicating even over all the tobacco smoke.
Once at the table that the woman had led him to, she motioned for him to sit down across the table from him. She climbed up onto the chair and crossed her legs and as she had done that Richard couldn’t help but to stare as she had done that. She had such a sexy figure that he had to practically tear his eyes away from her as she asked. “Like I asked before, what position did you get? What’s your name? My name’s Rachel, Lieutenant Commander Rachel McFarland.”
Richard paused for a moment while drinking in the sight of her. “Sorry,” he coughed as he gasped for breath, “my name’s Richard, Richard Smith. As for what I got, I got about what I was hoping for. I got the posting for a Tac Officer. How about you?”
“Well then, congratulations are in order,” she exclaimed. She smiled with a smile that made her look that much prettier. “You definitely are going to have your hands full keeping the enemy at bay. I was assigned on that ship as well; I’m the ship’s new Chief Cyber Security Officer.”
Richard’s jaw practically hit the table with that statement and he had hoped that she hadn’t noticed. He was amazed. How the hell does a woman as hot as this chick is get a position like that? Damn, I’d think she’d get something like communication officer, but Chief Cyber Security Officer? I’m sorry, but most women like her aren’t much into computers.
“What?” Rachel asked.
“I… don’t want to be rude, condescending, sexist, or insulting but how did someone…” Rachel interrupted him. “How did this natural blond become the Chief Cyber Security Officer of a ship?”
Richard coughed. If asked, he could say that the smoke was still getting to him. He could see it already, drummed out of the service on account of a sexual harassment charge. “Uh… you said it,” he shook his head, “I didn’t.” He looked about as nonchalantly as possible and tried to appear innocent as he could.
“Hey,” Rachel leaned forward closer to Richard and put her hand on Richard’s hand that was resting on the table with his glass in his grip. “Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “I get that kind of reaction a lot.” She smiled and Richard caught a glimpse of her perfectly white teeth that were probably whiter than his on account that he drank more than his fair share of coffee. “I may be okay looking, but I’m also highly intelligent. I’ve got a master’s degree in computer science and an associate’s in artificial intelligence theory. I’ve been directly involved in some of the computer system upgrades that are being deployed throughout the fleet and was directly involved in engineering the new encryption protocols that the entire fleet uses to communicate with. And let me tell you, that encryption protocol hasn’t been cracked by the enemy yet!”
“You don’t sound too happy about that.” Richard could sense a bit of resentment in her voice as she talked about herself. Richard couldn’t for the life of him wrap his mind around the idea of being resentful of the talent and knowledge that she possessed. Not many people had the kind of intelligence needed for her line of work. “It’s almost as if you resent being who you are and that doesn’t make much sense. What’s up girl, spill it; you can’t hide it from me.” Richard had a gift for reading people and that really came in handy in determining what his commanding officers really wanted from him, something that he felt helped him a lot in rising through the ranks as fast as he had done so. It was as if he knew what his commanders wanted before they told him.
Rachel blushed. “What are you? Psychic?”
Richard laughed and shook his head. “No, I’m just good at reading people.”
Rachel put her glass down and looked at the table. “There’s a lot of advantages to being intelligent but I can tell you that there are just as many disadvantages too.” Richard waved his hand and motioned for more. “Well, I’ve noticed that the more intelligent you are the more people seem to want to avoid you. It’s like people are intimidated by me once they know who I am and what I do. And it’s not just a woman thing either, I’ve talked to men that I’ve worked with and they have the same issue, people just don’t like approaching people like me.” She shook her head. “The people who seem to be the most intimidated are men. I’ve not had a boyfriend in years and it’s definitely not from a lack of trying. I’ve often thought of not telling anyone about what I do and to withhold my rank and position.”
“Well, I can say that I’m not intimidated by you.” Rachel looked at him and her face brightened. “Hey, you don’t get to be where I am as well by being dumb. I was first in my class at Annapolis and I rose through the ranks faster than any other officer has ever done so before. Fleet Command is saying already that once I hit the rank of captain I could have any command I want,” he shrugged his shoulders, “they’d just give it to me. All I have to do is ask. I don’t know how much of that is a load of bullshit, and maybe most of it is.”
“So you were a geek too?”
Richard laughed. “Yep, I was one too.”
“Sounds like the both of us have something in common.” Rachel picked her glass of wine up, sipped it, and as she put it back down on the table she smiled. “Say, do you want to blow this dump and go have something to eat?” She pointed to the bowl of pretzels. “Let’s get something a lot better than this crap.”
Richard nodded his head and got up from his chair and Rachel followed him out of the bar. Once outside, the cool night air and the pouring rain hit Richard. After being in that loud, smoky bar it was a welcome thing; he could finally breathe without having the urge to cough his brains out. When he looked to Rachel it seemed like she was relieved as well.
“Damn,” Rachel breathed, “I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I could barely breathe.” Richard nodded his head in agreement. “So where to?” she asked as she stood under the awning that was just above the door to the club. Richard shrugged his shoulders. “Alright then, I’ll choose.” As Richard walked off beside her he felt her arm come around him.
The two of them found themselves in a small diner just outside the walls of the base. The two of them didn’t want to go far for it was raining, more like pouring. The planet on which the base was on was a tropical world known for raining most of the time, that and being hot and humid. Richard couldn’t for the life of him think how this planet was a good planet to settle on. On one side of the coin it rained a lot and on the other side it was so hot and humid it made the planet damn near inhospitable. But then again, there really weren’t that many good planets out there and most of the time you had to just take what you could find and settle with it.
Once inside the diner Richard closed his umbrella and set it beside the door. The fact that it had a Space Forces emblem on it Richard thought it would be safe from somebody taking it; it was Space Forces property after all.
“Thanks for holding the umbrella,” Rachel said as Richard put the soaked umbrella on the floor. “I can’t believe how hard it’s raining. It felt like a freakin’ monsoon out there!” Richard smiled. He really didn’t mind having to share the umbrella with her, having a beautiful woman huddled up close to him trying to keep dry under his umbrella more than made up for the inconvenience. Having her fairly ample chest up close against his side and his arm around her shoulders made for the walk to the diner a most pleasing event.
The two of them walked to a table towards the back of the diner and all the while other people watched as the two walked by. Richard didn’t really see why the people were looking at the two of them for the town was a base town, meaning a town that primarily consisted of the military base. If it wasn’t for the base the small town would blow away in the high tropical winds that were another characteristic of the waterlogged planet.
Once at the table Richard unbuttoned his uniform tunic and hung it on a hook that was near the table that the two were sitting at. Rachel had done the same. When he looked back at her he was in for a big surprise. If there was one thing that the uniform jacket was very good at, it was that it covered up everything. If Richard thought that Rachel looked good with the jacket on, she looked a hell of a lot better with it off. It made him wish he could see a lot more.
There she was in his sight, in all of her feminine glory; well, at least as much as he could see with the uniform on. The uniform blouse clung to all the right places and defined her curves very nicely. Her chest was fully viewable now and Richard’s face reddened as he drank in her looks. He simply couldn’t imagine a woman better looking than she was. The fact that the lighting in the diner was a lot better than in the bar helped to bring out many of her beautiful facial features. Meanwhile Rachel smiled; she knew what he was doing, she had seen a few looks like that before.
“Richard?” she asked. “Are you going to take a seat?”
“Uh… sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Rachel began to laugh. “Not a problem, just as long as you don’t do that all the time.” Richard’s face turned red at the thought that she noticed him undressing her with his eyes. “Anyways, now that we are somewhere quiet… why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”
“What do you want to know about me?”
“You know… Where you were born, where you grew up, where you went to the academy? That kind of stuff.”
Richard breathed in. It seemed like this woman was genuinely interested in him. It had been a long time since Richard had an Honest-to-God girlfriend. Being in the service made it hard to have a steady relationship for you really didn’t have any idea where you could be and long-distance relationships were hard to keep. The fact that the regulations tended to frown deeply upon fraternizing with officers of the opposite gender made it even harder to have a serious relationship. The fact that there were so few women that served onboard ship made it nearly impossible as well for the average space going officer. However, it was known throughout the fleet that some captains and XOs looked the other way, just as long as the relationship didn’t interfere with your duties. If it was one thing that Richard had hoped for, it was that the captain and XO of his new ship would look the other way and he was damn sure that he would keep their relationship (if it were to become one) from interfering with their duties. It helped that she was of one line of service and he was of another.
Richard looked at her and took a breath. “I was born and raised in the Alpha Centauri Colony Cluster, specifically cluster B. I graduated at the top of my class from the Annapolis Naval Academy.”
Rachel smiled. “So you’re a ‘spacer’ huh?” After she had said it, she wished she hadn’t. It was way too late to take that comment back now.
Richard cringed, he really hated that word. The term was primarily a derogatory term used to describe people who lived in space as versus on a planet. People who lived in space tended to stick together and only other “spacers” really had any right calling him that.
Richard replied feeling really annoyed. “I’d thank you to not call me that again. That’s just as bad as me calling you a dago or a mick.”
“Ouch!” Rachel looked at the table, she knew that she was wrong in calling him that but she thought that he would’ve taken that in jest (she hadn’t meant to offend him); but it was apparent that he had taken offense to that. “Sorry, I should’ve probably thought about it before I just blurted it out.” A second later she looked back up and exclaimed, “Hey, you just called me a mick! What the hell?!”
Richard shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, one for one.”
Rachel thought about it for a moment and she too shrugged her shoulders. “Alright, you got me on that one. It’s only fair that since I called you something derogatory that you call me something derogatory in return.”
“So what about you?” Richard asked. “Mind telling me a little about yourself? That is, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, I was born and raised on Earth in a little town in Wyoming on the North American continent. Let me tell you, as soon as I was financially able to I escaped that planet as fast as I could and went to Mars. I couldn’t stand being there.” Richard looked inquisitively at her. “Don’t get me wrong, Earth is beautiful and all but I had to get away from my parents.” She paused with a pained expression on her face. “I loved my mom dearly but my father was another story; he was way too over-protective. He had the idea that I couldn’t do anything right and that I’d fail at everything I attempted. So I went and joined the Space Forces to prove him wrong and he said that I’d fail at that too.”
Richard paused after seeing the pained expression on her face. The way it scrunched up her face was very unflattering for her. She had a beautiful face which consisted of eyes that had the most beautiful shade of blue he had ever seen; they were an exotic shade of blue that was as blue as ice surrounded with eye shadow that brought out her beautiful eyes. She wore only some mascara. Her jaw was narrow and her lips were a soft red without much hint of lipstick. Her hair was blond in color but even though it was cut to regulation length she still wore it in a fashionable way. Combine the fact that to him she had a very attractive body, a beautiful face, and a wonderful and warm personality she had to be the most attractive woman Richard had ever met.
“Well, if you ask me it doesn’t look like you failed, not in the least. You should be proud of the fact that you proved him wrong. You should go back to Earth and rub the fact that you are successful, very successful I might add, in his face. You know, put him in his place and all. Take him down a few notches.”
Rachel slowly nodded her head. “You know, you’re right.” She looked up. “You are right.” Richard nodded. “All this time I’ve been avoiding the idea of going back to Earth simply because I’d have to see him and his smug superiority but now that I look at it, like you’ve said, I should go back home and walk right into that house and prove that he was wrong about me.”
“What will you two have?” a waitress asked as she approached the table that the two of them were sitting at.
Richard spoke up first. “I’ll have the chicken parmesan with pasta and I’ll have an unsweetened iced tea to drink.” Next was Rachel’s turn. “I’ll have the chicken stir-fry and unsweetened iced tea as well.” The waitress nodded her head and walked off.
Richard turned back to her. “Now that sounds like a plan.” Richard paused as the waitress came back and placed two glasses in front of the two and filled them with iced tea. Richard took a hold of his glass and took a sip of it as he looked back up at her. “Besides being from earth and having an asshole for a father, is there anything else? How’s your mother? Do you have any siblings? What made you go into the profession that you are in?”
“Well, let me think,” Rachel replied as she thought about her mother. “My mom, Leslie, was very supportive of me going into the military. She felt that it was a good career move. She knew that I was frustrated with the small town life of where I had grown up. There wasn’t much as far as jobs in the town I was in. You either worked in the small hotel that was there, the grocery store, the pet shop, the computer store, or the small airport that was there. I had worked in the computer store for years while going to college and that was where I had gained a fascination with tech.” Richard nodded his head. “I remember having a fascination with tech from a very young age. I had quite a video game collection back then. I had several game consoles and played into all hours of the night.”
Richard looked at her questioningly. “What? Surprised to hear about a girl being interested in this stuff?”
“A little,” Richard replied. “Didn’t you go out on dates? You know… go out, have fun, party with your friends, etc. I myself did that a lot, much to my parent’s dismay.”
“Um… no,” Rachel looked at the table as she took a sip of her drink and then looked back up. “I wasn’t your typical girl back then. I was a tomboy; I didn’t dress like a traditional girl. You wouldn’t have even known I was a girl back then from the way I looked if it wasn’t for my um…” she paused and pointed at her breasts, “oversized chest. I remember being made fun of for years back in high school because of them and I did whatever I could to try and hide them. I wore sweatshirts and t-shirts, nothing that was overly tight on me. Being made fun of and mocked pushed me to avoid social situations as much as I could. It wasn’t until high school in which people started noticing me and I can tell you that it wasn’t always the good kind of attention. People talked about me like I was some kind of slut or something, all because of what I looked like. It’s not like I asked for these things, it just happened.”
Richard’s face turned red as he thought about how he had looked at her and how he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her ample chest when he had seen her for the first time.
“Anyways, that’s when I turned to the geek scene to escape from the rest of the social world. Video games, computers, and programming; you name it, I was in on it. That was when I had gotten my job at the local computer store and my interests went to new heights. But, I knew that I didn’t want to stay in that small town, it was smothering me. That was when I heard about the Space Forces and found out that they were looking for people with talents in computers. I went my local recruiter and signed up. My father of course told me that it was futile and that I’d never pass boot camp and that the Space Forces was a man’s army.”
Richard couldn’t help but to chuckle at that statement, it seemed so old fashioned. A man’s army, give me break!
“Anyways, I went to boot camp, passed with flying colors in twenty weeks. Went onto AIT and took up computer science and artificial intelligence theory. When I was in boot camp and AIT was when I learned to be more, shall we say, comfortable with myself both mentally and physically. If I had to say, it was after AIT that my figurative inner-woman came out. I started dressing and somewhat acting like a woman, it didn’t help that the female Class “A” Service Uniform consisted of a skirt, tights, and high-heeled shoes. I started wearing makeup and doing other things that other woman did. I mingled with men of my age which before all of that I kept mostly to myself.”
“Well, I have to say that you turned out to be a very,” Richard’s face turned red, “a very… beautiful woman.”
Rachel turned red too. “Well, thank you,” she looked at the table and then back up at Richard as he took hold of her hand that was resting beside her glass of iced tea. “I’d like to get to know you more. You’re a real ‘down to earth’ kind of person.” He chuckled at the thought of saying such an old fashioned statement. “You know what I mean. I’ve met a lot of women in my years and none of them have come even close to you. You have a, shall we say, a warm personality. You’re easy to talk, get along, and relate with. Like I said before, I’d like to get to know you more. The fact that we’re going to be serving on the same ship will give us the opportunity to do just that.”
Rachel blushed again and gave his hand a slightly squeeze. “And I’d like to get to know you more as well, and yes… serving on the same ship will definitely give us the opportunity to do so. I’m,” she smiled and nodded, “I’m looking forward to that.” Richard looked at her facial expressions as she had said that and they were sincere, she wasn’t leading him on, he could tell that from how she had said it and what her face did while she said it. It didn’t help that her deep blue eyes were easy to get lost in.
“Well, anyways. I have no siblings; I was the only child so maybe that was why my father was so protective of me.” She paused. “So what about you? What’s there to know about you Richard?”
“Well, like you I was an only child but not by choice. My parents had wanted another child but the strict population controls that were put in place in the Alpha Centauri colony prevented that from happening. The rules were that a family could only have one child. That was due to basic supplies. Getting even the most basic of supplies were sometimes difficult to get and food was one of them. At the time when my parents had me the jump gates were something very new. Jump gates had revolutionized outer space travel, up until then we only had FTL drives and even those were, as you know from your experience, is still damned slow when compared to just how damn much space there is between star systems. Jump gates were still new and were still being deployed; Alpha Centauri didn’t get their jump gate until five years after the tech went main-stream. By the time that happened my parent’s idea of having another child died, they had their hands full with me and couldn’t imagine another child. I remember getting in trouble a lot, lots of scheming and whatnot to try to weasel myself out of trouble and that went on well into my teen years.”
Just as Richard had finished saying that, their food had arrived at the table and the two of them eating, drinking their iced tea, and generally grousing about their military careers.
The next morning Richard was sitting in a shuttle with Rachel destined to go to his new ship. He couldn’t stop yawning for he had little to no sleep the night before. Then again, how could he sleep; he was nervous about how the first introduction to the captain of his new ship would go. He looked at Rachel and she too yawned. It didn’t look like she got much sleep either, so he didn’t feel like he was the only one.
He had taken the shuttle up to the HFS Valiant with Rachel for he wanted someone else to go up with him. Rachel had asked him why he had wanted to take the ride up with her and in response he had told her that he hated shuttle rides and that he always wanted someone else with him on a shuttle flight. It was an irrational fear that he had, he just plain hated shuttle rides. He especially hated planetary entry and take-off. Perhaps it was because of the fact that he knew about all the things that could go wrong during takeoff and landing. The thought of going down in a fireball was highly disturbing to him. While approaching the ship he drank in the graceful, deadly lines of his new ship as he watched it through the shuttle’s armored windows.
Battlecruisers were capital ships but they weren’t what some people still called a “ship of the line.” Battlecruisers were smaller and faster than battleships yet bigger than heavy cruisers. They traded away some armor and weapons that bigger ships had in order to achieve that maneuverability. They carried smaller and fewer guns than a battleship and their decreased armor made them unable to stand toe-to-toe with bigger ships. They were, however, big enough to tackle anything up to another battlecruiser that could come at them and fast enough to get away from anything that could kill them; thus making them perfect for escort duty or anti-piracy operations.
Richard couldn’t wait until he was able to see first-hand what a twelve-inch heavy graser cannon could do. He also heard that the new Ulysses Class Battlecruisers, of which the Valiant was one, carried eight-inch positron cannons and more missile launchers and better ECM. Being that he was the ship’s Tac Officer he’d be getting firsthand knowledge of just how deadly those weapons were going to be. He couldn’t help to be excited about seeing what that ship would bring to a firefight.
“Didn’t sleep that well either I see,” Richard said as Rachel yawned again.
“Yeah,” Rachel replied as she shook her head. “I kept thinking about what I’d say when I finally met the captain.”
“Me too,” Richard replied just as the shuttle went into what was still stubbornly called the fighter bay of the battlecruiser. The fighter bay carried no actual fighter craft anymore but the name stuck, if only for the simple reason that it sounded good. The pilot expertly danced the shuttle around on maneuvering thrusters until finally settling into position on the deck. A docking collar came down and latched onto the top of the shuttle. A personnel tube ran out to the shuttle and locked onto the outside of the airlock as well. Once a firm seal was confirmed, the airlock opened up. Richard, who outranked Rachel, was the first off the shuttle. He grabbed the bar just above the airlock and swung himself out into the tube.
Looking back he saw Rachel swing out too but not with the long practiced grace that he had. The fact that she was wearing high-heeled shoes probably made it more difficult as well. Being a “spacer” gave Richard more experience with zero-gee. He never even had to catch any of the handholds along the way, whereas Rachel had to a time or two. Once on the other side he grabbed the bar at the top of the fighter bay’s airlock and swung down until his feet hit the deck and the ship’s artificial gravity kept him in place. A yellow painted strip showed that past that point, you were officially aboard ship.
Standing there on the deck was a woman that was (if you asked Richard) just as good looking as Rachel was. Both Richard and Rachel looked at the woman and noticed that she wore a full captain’s insignia and they immediately stood at attention, saluted aft to where the flag would fly on a sailing vessel, and then saluted the captain and announced their rank and names according to military standard protocol. The captain also returned their salute as per protocol.
“Permission to come aboard sir?” the two asked.
“Granted,” the captain said and the two of them put their arms down and stepped across the dividing line, still at attention. Now it was official, they were onboard the Valiant. “Welcome to the HFS Valiant, I’m Captain Julia Smith,” she turned to her right. Both of them hadn’t even noticed the person standing beside the captain. “And here is my XO and second in command, Commander Justin Ashland.” The two of them quickly snapped off a salute to him. Justin returned it.
“Parade… rest!” She waited until they had put their hands behind their backs and their feet were shoulder length apart. “I wanted to come to personally welcome the both of you to your new ship. I know that a captain has the right to send the officer of the deck to greet new personnel but I’ve found in my career that if I get to know my fellow officers it tends to make things… go more smoothly onboard a ship.” Both Richard and Rachel nodded their heads. You could almost never go wrong by agreeing with your superior officer.
“Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith,” the captain smirked. “Smith.” She nodded her head. “No relation right?” Richard nervously shook his head. “Anyways, I see from your transfer records that you are to be my new tac officer.”
“Yes sir!” Richard replied quickly.
“I know that protocol strictly says that you should call me ‘sir’ but no, please no.” Richard looked at her as she raised her hand. “Ma’am will do just fine.”
“Yes ma’am!” Richard quickly replied. The XO looked at Julia and smirked. New fish, he thought dryly. They’ll get used to Captain Smith’s unique command style. Everyone does eventually, even the most grizzled CPOs.
“From what I’ve read on your transfer records you are highly praised by many in Fleet Command. You graduated at the top of your class at the academy with honors and you’ve been honored with many distinguished awards in your time in the Space Forces, including the Space Forces Cross.”
“You’ve been hand-picked by the admiral from what it looks like.”
Richard coughed. “If I would be so bold to ask,” Julia nodded her head. “What do you mean by that?”
Julia smiled. “When they assigned this position to you they failed to tell you that this ship is part of the First Fleet; the pride and joy of the Human Federation Space Forces next to Home Fleet and the Mars Fleet. Admiral Megan Kimery is the admiral of the fleet and she wanted the best of the best officers that the fleet had to offer to man the ships in her fleet. She had hand-picked each and every one of the officers that serve in this fleet and to be selected for this fleet is an honor bestowed upon only the best officers in the fleet.”
Both Richard and Rachel nearly choked as the two of them heard that. They had no idea that the Valiant was part of the First Fleet. The fleets that the ships in the Human Federation Space Forces were assigned to tended to be a highly kept secret for security reasons but it was kept even more secure for the First Fleet. The First Fleet was to many in the Space Forces the pride and joy of the space military. They had the most success in not only keeping piracy down to a minimum but also for delivering some of the most successful campaigns against the Allied Colonies for Freedom so far. Only the best ships and the best officers were assigned to the First Fleet and you weren’t assigned to the First Fleet for being a slacker.
Julia turned to Rachel. “Lieutenant Commander Rachel McFarland. I see from your transfer records that you are the ship’s new Chief Cyber Security Officer. The admiral has something planned very soon and she believes that the Allied Colonies for Freedom will attempt to take over the computer systems of the ships in the fleet in an effort to, shall we say, thin the herd. That’s why all of the ships in our fleets have had a Chief Cyber Security Officer assigned to it. You and your staff are to protect the critical computer systems onboard this ship from any possible computer security intrusions.”
“As you might guess, having your computer systems hacked and having a virus planted would put a damper on anyone’s day.” Rachel nodded her head. “Your post will be on the bridge monitoring the ship’s computer systems continuously from your post on the bridge. You are to report to my XO any and all anomalies with the systems that we require the use of onboard, it doesn’t matter how small they are; report them to my XO. If he isn’t available and I am, report them to me. Is that understood?”
“You will have a team of people that are under you and will be assisting you in the effort to make sure that our systems stay online and remain secure.” Julia turned to Richard. “Your position is on the bridge as well. You will have your own staff as well.”
Richard liked that idea very much. When she had said that Rachel would be serving on the bridge it had disappointed him a bit since he had been hoping to enter into some kind of relationship with Rachel and having a relationship with an officer that was under you was absolutely forbidden. The fact that he heard Rachel would be a totally separate department with their own command structure had relieved him quite a bit. It was still technically against the rules, but this one might be allowed to bend a bit.
The captain then turned around and walked out of the fighter bay leaving the XO behind. The XO turned to the two of them. “We will be leaving port within the next forty-eight hours. We are still taking on needed supplies and replenishing our reactor fuel. In the meantime, I suggest the two of you get to your departments and introduce yourselves.”
The both of them looked at each other and nodded their heads. It was a good idea to do that before plunging into a situation in which they were actually needed. Getting to know the ratings under you was not only a good idea for the commanding officer but good for the ratings under the command of that commanding officer. It tended to make things run much more smoothly in a department.
“Oh,” the XO held out two pieces of paper. “Here are your assignments for your quarters. The two of you have been assigned quarters on deck two, section four, sub-section C; otherwise known as Officer’s Country.” Both Richard and Rachel took the two pieces of paper from the XO and nodded their heads. “Dismissed!” the XO snapped off.