Lieutenant Richard Smith sat in a velvet-lined chair in a Human Federation Space Force base theatre on some no-account planet he had absolutely no interest in knowing the name of. Other officers and enlisted personnel sat in other chairs; some of them were close together in small groups and some sat by themselves. They were all awaiting reassignment to warships either in orbit or elsewhere. He himself mostly kept to himself, he didn’t know anyone in the crowd and that didn’t bother him. He was content to just wait like everyone else and dread what was going to be their next assignment.
He, like everyone else that was in that theater, hated waiting for reassignment. The most you could do was relax in the chair and peruse the Galactic Internet on your personal datapad but even that could get boring. There were only so many cat videos you could watch on YouTube or shows on NetFlix until even that was boring. You could doze off but that was something you didn’t want to do for you could miss your name being called. Richard watched that happen with one or two guys here and each one was thumped or shaken awake by his buddies. He didn’t want that sort of indignity to happen to him.
Richard turned to one of the officers near him. “How long have you been here?” he asked the person. The other man shrugged his shoulders but didn’t reply. That told Richard all he needed to know. Too damn long, would be the answer. He checked the chronometer on his datapad, displaying both local time and GMT and he rolled his eyes. Was it two hours already?
He stood up and stretched and felt something pop in his back as he did so. He winced only once but sighed in relief as the tension relieved itself. He excused himself past other officers waiting on their orders, including one that fell asleep. Richard almost woke him but decided not to. Maybe the guy was waiting longer than he was. In that case, if the guy didn’t have orders yet, why wake him?
As he made his way to the lobby he heard people grousing about where they were previously posted. One complained about his last commanding officer and another complained about his old executive officer. Richard chuckled to himself, remembering his days as the XO of the frigate he was on. Another, a female officer, said she was nearly killed in her last assignment. That struck a chord with Richard because that very same thing nearly happened to him. To have him be reminded of just how close he came to death’s doorstep was unnerving.
Richard thought back to that day in… what star system was it? He couldn’t remember but it didn’t matter. His ship was part of a battlecruiser squadron near the system jump gate after the local patrol got punched out by what was thought to be space pirates. His ship and some twenty-five others went searching for those pirates whom they were fully expecting to stomp flat. Pirates, being what they were, used aging hand-me-down warships or other heavily modified ships for their purposes. An armed merchant cruiser was a name used often, harkening back to Earth’s oceangoing ships.
It wasn’t pirates that his squadron found but rather two squadrons of ACF battleships. The bastards were hiding behind an outer system’s moon and jumped his squadron by using the moon’s gravity as a slingshot. While battleships had no hope in hell of catching battlecruisers in a stern chase they held the acceleration advantage from coming around the moon at the Human Federation ships. His squadron’s commander ordered braking maneuvers to get the hell out of there but by then it was too late. The ACF ships must’ve been watching for whatever they could find with sensor buoys and or probes.
Those battleships and their escorts, which outnumbered his own squadron two-to-one in ships and nearly four-to-one in firepower, rolled right over his squadron like they were mere scout ships. His ship took hit after hit, thankfully by nothing bigger than enemy light cruisers. His former captain and less than half of his crewmates survived and were able to be saved by the other ships in the fleet. He still remembered when Lieutenant Commander James “Jim” Treudore gave the abandon ship order.
Richard nearly dragged his captain onto the shuttle to take them away from the crippled ship. Jim was of the “old school” that believed that a captain should go down with his ship. Richard wouldn’t hear any of that crap. His captain argued with him the whole way to the shuttle. Shortly after getting clear of the ship an enemy light cruiser put a laser into the frigate’s fusion reactor which blew the ship apart in the heart of a miniature sun.
He took a long drink of water from the fountain in the lobby then moved aside to let the guy behind him get his turn. Richard noticed the petty officer had metal prosthetic fingers. They were developed in the 22nd century and they were certainly a whole lot better than 21st-century prosthetics. They gave a full range of motion and the strength in them was superb, but they were always cold, and the touch sensors were somewhat imperfect. The look and feel of that type gave it an almost universal nickname of “automail” named after a similar technology from a 21st-century anime.
The nanomachine treatments that humanity used to slow aging and give you a much longer life could only go so far. Sure, it could heal things like nothing else could but if a whole-body part was missing there was nothing that could be done about it; you had to have something there to heal.
Richard flinched as he saw the replacement fingers. “Ouch. You on a waiting list for cloned implants? I thought hands were critical to duty and you got bumped up the list?”
The man grinned in reply, “It’s not my whole hand. At least I still have a hand to use. Luckily it was my left hand and not my right and that my thumb was unhurt.”
“How’d that happen to you?” Richard asked. “If you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was in an engineering section when the hull blew in. Fragments caught all the other fingers. My vacsuit sealed itself when it noticed the wound and the decompression in the section.”
Richard shook his head. “That’s the job, isn’t it? No love, no glory.”
“You don’t join the Space Force for the glory, or the pay either. I’m an ‘army brat,’ born into it I guess. Why’d you join sir?”
Richard shook his head. “I wanted to see new places and meet interesting people. I wanted to get ahead in life too. Look where all that got us huh?”
The noncom chuckled in reply, “Yeah, I hear you, sir. We’re right the fuck here and I got me these and a Purple Heart. Big deal.”
They shook hands and Richard went back to his seat only to find that it was taken, he muttered to himself, and soon found another. He looked to his right and saw a female officer sitting two seats over from him. He saw her looking at her datapad and he quickly looked away while trying to not look like he was looking at her. He got a good look at her in profile so that if he ever met her again, unlikely as that was, he would have an idea of what she looked like; and damn, she looked 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.
A few minutes later an ensign behind the desk up front called his name. Richard approached the guy with the thought… Why aren’t you aboard a ship like the rest of us? He stepped forward and gave his name, rank, serial number, CAC, and finally a fingerprint and retinal scan for final verification. He was surprised that they didn’t want a sample of his blood too. He thought, don’t give them any ideas.
The ensign tapped a few keys on his keyboard and the printer behind him popped out a secured envelope that he was quickly handed. Richard wondered how the printer printed a piece of paper, stuffed it into the envelope and then sealed it too. He heard of multi-function printers before but that one took the cake. He then heard the name “McFarland, Rachel.”
Richard stared at the envelope and was irrationally afraid of what was inside. The woman who he was looking at a few minutes earlier came up and said “Excuse me, would you kindly move it already? There are others that need to get to the desk.”
“Oh right,” he said as he stepped out of her way, “I’m sorry.” Rachel McFarland, he thought to himself. Well, at least I’ll remember her name. She’s worth looking up on social media when I have the time. Yeah, as if I’ll ever have the time to do that! Then again, she might not even have an account to look for.
He looked down at the envelope and to say that he was nervous would’ve been the Understatement of the Year. 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 Sol Defense Fleet, Human Federation Space Force, to Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith, Human Federation Space Force, 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 Force, 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. Being the tactical officer had to be the next best position to the XO of a ship. The very safety of the ship depended upon his orders and it was his orders that determined whether they would all live or die aboard the ship in a firefight.
As he was reading his orders on the way out to the lobby once more Rachel was walking right beside him. He looked to her and asked, “Where did you get posted?”
She shrugged her shoulders as she walked off, “Some ship called the HFS Valiant.” He paused in mid-stride, a surprised hum escaping his throat as he considered that he would see her again.
Later that evening Richard walked into the officer’s club on the base after stopping by the temporary lodging that they had been assigned while dirt-side. He had gone to get his orders while in uniform like any good officer should but going into the club while in uniform wasn’t something he had wanted to do. He didn’t want to get his uniform dirty so he changed into civilian clothing or at least something that could pass as civilian clothing before he went to the club.
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 barely slept 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 who was sitting across from him 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 looked to the right of him and there were two other officers. One was a lieutenant and the other was an ensign who looked like she was straight out of the academy. She looked forward with that kind of look that reminded him of when he was assigned to his first ship after his midshipman tour. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years of age. With the nanomachine treatments, she looked even younger. He looked to Rachel and cocked his head towards the ensign. Rachel shrugged his shoulders but smiled a knowing smile.
As the shuttle reached the outer limits of the planet’s atmosphere Richard looked out the window and watched as the HFS Valiant came into view. Richard drank in the graceful and deadly lines of the battlecruiser as the pilot skimmed along the hull toward the fighter bay. There hadn’t been actual fighters carried aboard ships in well over a hundred years, but the name still stuck. Some people in the Fleet suggested changing the name to the shuttle bay or the boat bay but none of those motions ever carried.
“A battlecruiser,” Richard said to no one in particular. “Very nice, very nice indeed.”
“Did you say something Lieutenant Commander Smith?” Rachel asked when she noticed Richard speaking.
“Oh,” Richard looked to her, “I was just commenting on that the HFS Valiant is a battlecruiser.”
Battlecruisers were capital ships, but they weren’t a ship of the line. They were smaller and faster than battleships yet bigger than heavy cruisers. They traded the armor and weapons that bigger ships had to achieve that maneuverability. They carried smaller and fewer guns and missiles 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 and fast enough to get away from anything that could kill them; thus, making them perfect for picket duty, escort duty, or anti-piracy operations.
Richard couldn’t wait until he was able to see first-hand what a graser could do. He also heard that the new Ulysses Class Battlecruisers, which the Valiant was one, carried a positron cannon and more missile launchers and better ECM than any class of ship before it. Being that he was one of the ship’s tactical officers he’d be getting firsthand knowledge of just how deadly those weapons were. He couldn’t help to be excited about seeing what that ship would bring to a firefight.
Rachel nodded her head. “Yes, that she is. The HFS Valiant is one of the newest to come off the assembly lines at the Utopia Planitia[i] Drive Yards. She’s barely a year old.”
“How do you know so much about this ship?” a female ensign in front of them asked.
“I looked up her stats last night,” Rachel replied.
“And?” the ensign asked. “How many fights has she been in?”
“Six skirmishes with pirates in which she blew them away.” Rachel paused for a moment to think. “If I remember correctly she was in two engagements against the Rebels.”
“Is that all you call them Lieutenant Commander McFarland?” a male lieutenant, junior grade, asked. “I call them what they really are, a bunch of murderous bastards.”
“I was trying to remain polite,” Rachel stated as she looked to the JG. “That’s all.”
“I see,” he replied. “When it comes to those bastards, they don’t deserve to be called anything remotely close to polite. Those goddamn bastards need to pay for what they did, suckering us as they did.” He looked at Rachel. “Don’t you agree?”
Rachel nodded her head. “Yes, they do need to pay.”
“What I think she meant was,” Richard spoke up, “both McFarland and I are higher-ranking officers.” He pointed to the two of them. “We need to set a higher standard. We may hate them, we may want them to pay dearly for what they did, but that doesn’t at all mean that we stray from the realm of professionalism. The four of us are officers of the Human Federation Space Force, let us never forget that we represent Earth and we must do that with dignity, honor, and professionalism.” He looked to the JG. “And you of all people,” he looked at his nameplate, “Lieutenant Copeland, should know that.”
“I thought this was a candid conversation sir,” Lieutenant Copeland replied.
“Candid as it may be,” Richard replied, “but I’ll only allow it to go so far. Again, we’re officers, we are held to a higher standard.”
Lieutenant Copeland nodded his head. “It won’t happen again, sir.”
Richard nodded his head. “See that it doesn’t lieutenant.”
Just as the conversation ended the shuttle entered the fighter bay. The pilot expertly danced the shuttle around on maneuvering thrusters until finally settling into position in the docking collar. A personnel tube ran out to the shuttle to mate with the airlock. Once a good seal was confirmed by the flight engineer she opened the airlock.
Since both Richard and Rachel were the ranking officers aboard the shuttle, they were the first to disembark from the shuttle. Richard 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 his long-practiced grace. Being a “Spacer” gave Richard far more experience with zero-gee. It was quite commonplace in parts of a space habitat like the one he grew up on. He never touched 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.
Both of them looked at the woman standing on the other side of the line and noticed that she wore a full captain’s insignia. The two other officers that were aboard the shuttle stepped up behind them. The four came to attention, saluted aft to where the flag would fly on a sailing vessel, and then saluted the captain and announced their rank and names. The captain also returned their salutes.
“Permission to come aboard ma’am?” the four asked.
“Granted,” the captain said and the four of them put their arms down and stepped across the dividing line, still at attention. “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 four of them quickly snapped off a salute to him and he returned it.
“Parade… rest!” the XO snapped. The captain waited until they suited words to actions. “I wanted to welcome the newcomers to their new ship. I know a captain usually sends 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 on board a ship.” The four of them all nodded their heads at once; it never hurt to agree with the captain. “Yes ma’am,” they said in unison. You could almost never go wrong saying that.
“Lieutenant Commander Smith, Richard,” the captain smirked. “Smith. No relation right?” Richard nervously shook his head. “Anyways, I see from your transfer records that you are to be one of my tac officers.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Richard replied quickly.
“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 awards in your time in the Space Force, including the Space Force 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?”
“When they assigned this position to you they failed to tell you that this ship is part of First Fleet; the pride of the Human Federation Space Force next to the Sol Defense Fleet. Admiral Megan Kimery is the admiral of the fleet and she wanted the best of the best officers that Fleet had to offer to man the ships in her fleet. She just about hand-picked every one of the officers that serve in this fleet. To be selected for this fleet is an honor bestowed upon only the best officers in the Fleet.”
The four of them nearly choked as they heard that. They had no idea that the Valiant was part of First Fleet. The fleets that the ships in the Human Federation Space Force were assigned to tended to be a highly kept secret for security reasons but it was kept even more secure for First Fleet. They had the most success in not only keeping piracy down to a minimum but also for delivering some of the most successful engagements against the Allied Colonies for Freedom so far. Only the best ships and the best officers were assigned to First Fleet and you weren’t assigned to First Fleet by being a slacker.
So far only four major engagements were all that was fought against the ACF after the war was declared by the ACF. Of those three the Sixth Fleet was mauled at the Indras System only two weeks ago.
Julia turned to Rachel. “Lieutenant Commander McFarland, Rachel. I see from your transfer records that you’re the ship’s new Chief Cyber-Security Officer. Intel believes that the ACF will attempt to take over the computer systems of the ships in the fleet in an effort to shut us down. That’s why all of the ships in our fleets have cyber-security officers assigned to them. You and your staff are to protect the critical computer systems aboard the ship from 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’ll have a team of people under you who’ll assist 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’ll have your own staff too.”
The captain and the XO then continued onto the two other officers that they had come to the ship with and after doing so the captain then turned around and walked out of the fighter bay leaving the XO behind. The XO turned to the four of them. “We’ll be leaving port within the next forty-eight hours. We’re still taking on needed supplies and replenishing our reactor fuel. In the meantime, I suggest the four of you get to your departments and introduce yourselves.”
The four of them 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 people under you was not only a good idea for the commanding officer but good for the people under you. It tended to make things run much more smoothly in a department.
“Oh,” the XO held pulled out a datapad and started typing on it. “I have pushed your assignments for your quarters to your datapads. The two of you,” he pointed to Richard and Rachel, “have been assigned quarters on deck two, section four, sub-section C.” Both Richard and Rachel nodded their heads. “Dismissed!” the XO snapped off.
[i] This is a reference to Star Trek.