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Home of my tech rants, free programs, and a story or two…

Space 2315, Chapter 2

Author’s Notes: If you see text in italics and the text isn’t inside quotations, think of it like internal dialog; a glimpse into the mind of the person where you can read the thoughts that are going on inside the mind of the character. We are writing this story from the third-person omniscient (meaning “all knowing”) point of view. This is where the narrator and/or reader knows what every character is thinking.

Richard approached his quarters in officer’s country, the name that was given to an area of the ship that the commissioned officers aboard a ship had their quarters in. It usually was off-limits to enlisted crew unless they were on official duty. That or they got themselves into trouble. He stepped up to the door and swiped his CAC through the card reader next to the door.

His quarters were nothing more than a place to lay his head, relax, and wash his face, groom, and not much more. The room was tiny by civilian standards, but it wasn’t something that Richard wasn’t used to already. He once shared a room that wasn’t much bigger than this with a fellow cadet at the academy. The room was sparsely furnished with only a bed, a fold-down washbasin, and one small closet to keep clothing in; that is if you could even call it a closet. There was a desk with a keyboard and mouse along with an HD screen situated atop it.

Richard placed his carry-on bag on the floor in the corner of the room, just below the standard issue pillow on the bunk, placed his garment bag (with his second dress uniform in it) in the wall locker, and reached for the light switch on the wall. When he touched the switch, a small overhead light turned on and lit the room up. Like any quarters on any warship, the walls were painted a dull, battleship gray.

After dropping off some personal items Richard regarded his SDU. Other than looking like he’d worn it on the shuttle coming up, it looked fine. Taking the dress uniform and the service uniform out of the bag, he hung both up carefully in the closet. They didn’t look like they needed to be dried and pressed, as the garment bag didn’t crease them.

Rachel approached her room that was across the hall from Richard’s quarters (though she didn’t know that). When the door slid open, she frowned. She hoped that with higher rank she’d have the privilege of having a slightly bigger room, but that obviously wasn’t the case. She hated rooms like these; they were small, cramped, and hardly gave you room to have any personal items. She consoled herself with the idea that enlisted men and women had to share a room that had three rows of double bunks, or worse, were in open bays with a line of bunks along the wall. She shuddered at that thought since she too experienced that while at the academy.

She walked the rest of the way in and touched the light switch. She sat down on the bed and found it softer than her old bed on her old ship but that didn’t say much since her old bed was about as comfortable as sleeping on rocks.

Richard stepped out of his quarters and walked down the hall. He had wanted to take a walk around the ship to try to familiarize himself with his new surroundings and to learn where everything was aboard the ship. The most important places aboard the ship that he wanted to know about was where the showers, restroom, the officer’s mess, and of course, the bridge. By the time he was halfway down the hall he heard Rachel call out telling him to wait up and the sound of her shoes hitting the deck in rapid succession. He looked back and saw Rachel running down the hall towards him.

“Hey,” she said as she caught up with him. “What are you up to? Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“I figured since there isn’t much to do right now, I thought I’d take a walk around the ship to learn where everything was.” Rachel nodded her head; it was a good idea. Nothing makes you look like a fool to your commanding officer worse than not knowing how to get to your post. “You know, things like the officer’s mess, the restrooms, exercise room; those kinds of things. I’ve never been on a ship of this class, so I don’t know the layout.”

Rachel nodded her head. “What do you think of your cabin?”

“Small and cramped but you don’t join the Space Force for lavish and fancy accommodations. If you want that, you join the Air Force.” Richard chuckled mirthlessly.

“You got that right!” Rachel laughed. “I know someone in the Air Force, and she emailed me about how her quarters are ‘sub-par’ on the Army base she’s posted at. I emailed her back with a picture of my officer’s quarters and she shut up very quickly.”

“Ah,” Richard rolled his eyes, “the Air Force; such spoiled rotten children. They really have no idea how good they have it compared to the rest of us.” He shook his head as he looked at her. “So anyway, what do you think of your cabin? Where is it?”

Rachel replied with where her cabin was, and Richard gave her a disbelieving look. “What?” Rachel asked.

“Your cabin is right across the hall from mine. What are the odds of that happening!?”

“Pretty bad; New Vegas wouldn’t even touch those odds.” She paused for a moment. “Say,” Rachel put her hands on her hips. “Weren’t you the XO on your old ship? I remember you saying something about that when we first met on the planet.”

“Yeah,” Richard paused, considering the question. “I was, why?”

“So how was your command? Did the crew work together like a well-oiled machine?”

“For the most part, yes,” he nodded his head, “there were some issues but what crew didn’t? As for how my crew responded to me, they had a lot of respect for me since I too respected them. Respect is a two-way street; you must give it to receive it. So yes, my old crew worked very well.”

Rachel nodded. “I’m hoping our new XO is the same way. I, myself, had a particularly bad XO. She didn’t bend for anything and I swear she worshipped at the Altar of Regulations if you catch my drift. She was so by the book that she was like battle-hardened steel. It was like nothing we did was ever good enough; she’d nitpick everything down to even the slightest detail.” Richard cringed at the thought. “As you probably imagined, crew morale suffered like none other. I won’t say anything more since I generally don’t like speaking ill of the dead. She died in a skirmish with the ACF at Moab 3.”

“I’m sorry,” Richard frowned, “it sucks losing anyone, even someone you may not particularly like.”

“We may have hated her guts and she may have very well deserved much of that hate but death? No, no one deserves that, especially the way she went. All I can remember is watching her try to breathe vacuum as she flailed about like a marionette whose strings were knotted up. I wouldn’t wish that kind of death on anyone.” She paused. “When they finally got her body into sickbay her eyes were frozen, literally frozen. Her skin was also blue in color from the lack of oxygen. I never saw someone exposed to hard vacuum until then, it was horrifying.”

“You alright?”

“Yeah,” she frowned. “People often joke about spacing someone, let me tell you,” she shook her head and continued, “after seeing that happen in front of me, I’ll never joke about that kind of thing again.” She then tried to put on a happier face and looked to Richard. “Anyways, to change the subject… Did you notice the captain?” Richard looked to her with a rather confused look on his face. “Her name is Smith. Any relation?”

He shook his head. “Not that I know of. Smith is a common family name though. Why do you ask?”

“Could she be somewhere on your family tree, but you don’t know it?”

“Nope,” he shook his head again. “Then again, I barely know my family outside of my immediate family. I don’t talk much to my cousins and uncles though.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Ever since that one incident that happened about ten years ago, there’s been a rather large rift in the family. Never spoke to that side of the family since then.”

“What happened?” she paused. “That is if you don’t mind me asking.”

Richard shook his head and again shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t remember. It’s been so long that I doubt anyone in the family remembers why we stopped speaking. All I remember is a fight that involved my uncle and my father, and the rest has long been forgotten about. I honestly don’t care about that side of the family anyways. They always looked down on my side of the family for living in a space colony and not only that but one so far from Terra.” Rachel frowned. It dug up some of her memories of her family that she too thought was long buried in the past.

“Then again,” Rachel looked to Richard. “I do remember a Julia on my uncle’s side, but she can’t be the same Julia; she was only twelve years old when I graduated high school so that would make her about twenty-one years old today. Our captain can’t be that young. Can she?”

“I’ve been hearing about a lot of new captains coming out of the academy lately, we do after all have to replace much of the command staff that split off with the ACF when the coup happened. I’ve been hearing that they’ve really been cranking out the captains as of late and a good majority of them have been women. It seems that most of the men are going into the construction and engineering departments whereas women have been going into the command departments.”

“She could be in my family but,” Richard nodded his head, “Nah, that side of the family always seemed stuck up, if you know what I mean. We were the ones that were more… down to earth even though we didn’t even live on a planet.” Rachel chuckled. “They were the ones that had the money and they always flaunted it.” He paused. “Now that I think about it, I think that’s why the fight in the family happened; it was over money.”

“Money,” Rachel scoffed, “it’s always about money.” She looked to Richard with a mischievous look on her face. “We could ask how old she is. We can ask about the ship.” Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “We just have to be… innocent in how we ask.”

“Yeah, but the less I know… you get the idea.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” She smiled and continued to walk down the hall.

After turning the corner of the hallway, they reached the shower and restroom for the deck, as they both had correctly guessed, it was a communal kind of thing. As they entered the facilities there was a sign on the wall that pointed to the showers on the left and toilets and sinks to the right. Below that were four signs that read in capital letters: “Take Space Force showers underway.” “No bare feet allowed. Shower shoes will be worn.” “All officers will be covered in some way.” “Keep it clean.” Next to the one about officers being covered someone scrawled a highly unofficial sign on a piece of paper that read, “In other words, wear a towel damn it!”

Rachel pointed to that message and commented, “That’s easier to follow. Why couldn’t they just say that?”

“Because they never make things that easy,” Richard replied in a tone of voice that just dripped with sarcasm.

“Fluent in sarcasm, are we?” Rachel smiled.

“You got it!” Richard laughed. “I’ve always said that my second language was sarcasm.” Rachel chuckled.

“Where to now?” Rachel asked as they walked out of the communal restroom and down the hall. “I don’t know about you Richard but I’m starving. I didn’t eat anything before takeoff.”

“Neither did I,” Richard said as he gave a wide yawn, “I need some coffee. Let’s hope the stuff is decent.”

“Do you really think that the coffee will be any better than what we’ve had in the past? These are the same people who can ruin mashed potatoes.”

“Hey,” Richard cheerfully replied, “one can always hope.”

“Don’t get your hopes up too high,” Rachel laughed.

Once in the cafeteria, the two found the service line wasn’t long. There were five people in the main entrée line and three in the short order line. It was on the tail end of lunchtime, so most people were already gone. The room was empty save for a few officers that were looking at datapads.

Richard looked at the spread of food in front of them, there was a choice of hamburger yakisoba, vegetable lasagna, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, white rice, mixed vegetables, and lima beans. In the center of the cafeteria there looked to be a long salad bar.

Richard couldn’t help but laugh on the inside. If there was one thing that the cooks aboard a ship knew how to make in very large quantities, it was baked chicken. He remembered on his old ship that the cooks served it almost three times a week. His fellow officers often joked that the freezers were primarily stocked with chicken and everything else simply had a small cramped corner in the back of the freezer that barely saw the light of day.

Richard chose the hamburger yakisoba, the lima beans, and took a roll on his way to the salad bar. The yakisoba didn’t use real soba noodles, which was too fancy for something like a ship’s cafeteria, but instead used cooked spaghetti noodles. Most sailors weren’t too picky about that kind of thing. If he remembered anything from his days at the academy the stuff was one of the best things the cafeteria could put out, evidenced by how much of it disappeared.

Richard went over to the salad bar and built himself one with spinach for a base, added other toppings on it, then tossed some lite Italian dressing atop it. Taking a small bowl, he got some cheese cubes sitting further down the line.

He took his tray over to the drink station and grabbed two space cups, which were nothing more than solid plastic cups with a sealable lid and a straw. They were designed to work in a zero-gee environment in case the ship’s gravity were to go out. He pressed the button for water and filled it half-way and filled it the rest of the way with fruit punch sports drink. He then filled the other with coffee and poured some creamer into it. Richard looked and saw Rachel sitting at a table in the back corner of the cafeteria. He figured that if they were going to talk about something, he wanted some small amount of privacy while doing so.

“Hamburger yakisoba, huh?” Rachel asked as she took a bite of her vegetable lasagna. Richard watched her shrug her shoulders at it. “Maybe I should’ve done the same. At least I know that stuff tastes good. Everyone talks about how good the Space Force chow is. If that’s the case, why don’t we see more of it?”

“At least it’s better than having an MRE, and it’s a damn sight better than the food on my old ship. This actually tastes good!”

Rachel laughed as she looked at their trays, “You’re right about the food being better here. It might be because we’re in port, or there are better facilities on a battlecruiser. But now that you mention it, I don’t mind MREs really, there are certain ones that are good, like the–”

“Chili mac,” they said in unison and laughed. “Oh man, I think all military people have liked that one since… since I don’t know when,” Richard finished as they finished eating.

Rachel looked back down at her tray and took another bite of the vegetable lasagna. It wasn’t the best, but she wasn’t about to let it go to waste. Meanwhile, the two sat in silence as they ate. As Rachel stood up from the table she looked down at Richard. “Do you want to get together later on?”

“Where?” he asked as he took another bite of his food.

“There’s got to be an officer’s lounge onboard so after duty let’s meet up there.”

Richard nodded his head, “Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll call you when I’m off duty. Is that okay?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged his shoulders. “That sounds good.”

As soon as Richard stepped off the lift, he found himself staring down the barrels of the 9-mm quad-barrel, link-less feed autocannon. He knew exactly what a weapon such as that could do to an armored human, let alone an unarmored one. He saw a test trial in a video where the human was replaced with an armored dummy about three meters down the test range. He knew they weren’t going to fire at him but that didn’t at all take away the shiver that ran down his spine. Looking at a weapon like that, even if it wasn’t meant for you, would make anyone sweat.

Beyond the cannon and flanking the armored door to the bridge were two marines in powered armor with their rifles at the low ready. To the left of the door another armored marine sat behind the controls of the autocannon. Richard approached the marine that was manning the cannon and presented his identification card. The marine scrutinized the card, then his face and then took the card and slid it through the card reader at his station. The computer beeped once and details about his post appeared on the screen. The marine nodded his head and pressed the button to open the door to the bridge.

Richard walked onto the bridge and looked about and then approached the watch officer and immediately stood at attention and saluted. He walked along the upper deck of the bridge and noticed that the watch officer was following him. “This way to the Combat Information Center, sir.” Richard nodded his head and followed him to a set of stairs that led down to a lower part of the bridge that was about four steps lower below the main bridge.

Once down in the Combat Information Center he looked about and found seven people standing beside a set of terminals. Behind them was a huge high definition display that appeared to be mirroring what was on the individual terminal displays. He looked to his left and there was another screen that was equally as large and even more tactical information was being displayed on it. It seemed like every wall in the Combat Information Center had a high definition screen hanging which showed various pieces of tactical data.

He looked about at the people standing and noticed that one of them was a Chief Petty Officer and the rest were ratings. The people stood at attention and saluted him while Richard returned their salutes. Richard could easily tell what the Chief Petty Officer was thinking about him. Richard was wearing an almost immaculately clean dress uniform that looked like it was barely worn for a day or two.

The Chief Petty Officer came forward and shook hands with Richard. “Welcome to the CIC commander, I’m Chief Petty Officer Darien Bernard,” he turned around and introduced the other people that were standing in the CIC with him to Richard. Richard scanned his crew as he looked at the others. Two were women and the other four were men.

Richard spoke up, “At ease,” the crew then relaxed a bit, “I’m Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith, one of the new tac officers onboard. With that said, as I am new to this ship and this fleet, I look forward to working with all of you and to get better acquainted over the next couple of weeks. It’s been a pleasure getting to see all of you. As you were.” His crew nodded their heads, probably recalling other officers telling them about the same thing. Richard knew it from other times he’d heard it. The crew turned about and sat back down at their stations.

“Commander,” Richard nodded his head at Bernard. “If you would please step aside. I need to brief you on the members of this department.” Richard nodded his head and the two stepped out of the CIC and onto the upper deck of the bridge. Bernard pointed to a crewman on the far-left station. “Michael over there isn’t exactly the friendliest person I’ve ever met. He gets his job done but he does have a bit of an anger issue. He’s easy to get riled up and can be quite defensive at times. People tend to give him a wide berth.”

Richard nodded his head as Bernard pointed to a crewman that was sitting at the center station. “Lindsey over there, she’s good at her job when she’s sober. If she could only drop the drinking habit that she has she would be a fine officer.”

Richard again nodded his head. “Shall I continue?” Richard again nodded his head. The CPO turned and pointed to a woman on the far-right station. “Lisa Sutter over there, she’s a fine crewman; a bit of an ass kisser if you ask me but otherwise a very fine member of the crew. She knows what she’s doing and often she’s doing something before you even tell her to do it. She’s highly efficient and if there was one person here that I’d classify as a ‘go-to person’ after me she’d be it. If you ask her to do something, she’s on top of it. I’ve never seen a person who has been that dedicated to their duties as that woman is.”

“If she’s that good, then why is she here and not in Officer Candidate School?”

Bernard shrugged his shoulders, “I may recommend her for the next class at Officer Candidate School, but she needs an officer to write the recommendation. Class is already in session so I can’t send her there just yet, at least for a couple of weeks. In my opinion, sitting here in front of a station like this and not having her own commission is a complete waste of her talents. Maybe she wants to eventually be a senior chief, or go for warrant officer, but I think she might do better as an officer; I don’t think she has the right personality to be a CPO.” He waited for Richard to nod his head before continuing.

“Lord knows we need more good officers especially since the ACF broke off. We lost a lot of good officers the day of the coup and finding good talent is harder than you think. It certainly doesn’t help that we always hear stories like my old commanding officer who got canned for supposedly being an ACF sympathizer. You couldn’t tell it by me, but…,” he shrugged his shoulders again.

“Ouch,” Richard winced. People who expressed, or were even suspected of, any sympathy for the ACF quickly found themselves in trouble. Most were arrested, and it usually didn’t matter who you were or who you knew. Most were detained and held without charge. Richard heard of incidents like that happening and often those people were removed from the service with the briefest of trials.

The witch hunts on the colonies and on Terra were still happening, even six months after the ACF broke off, trampling all over the rights of habeas corpus. If that didn’t say something scary about the Human Federation and its justice system Richard didn’t know what did. He remembered the billboards, “An ACF spy could be your neighbor!” and “ACF sympathizers can be anyone, even your own family!” or simply, “Be on the lookout!”

“Did I replace him?” Richard asked.

Bernard nodded his head. “Yes sir, you did. I don’t like to talk to about it, sir.”

The CPO doesn’t trust me, and I don’t blame him one bit. I’m new, he doesn’t know me, and for all he knows I’m going to turn him in if he looks at me the wrong way. That’s was no way to way to run a military; paranoia only breeds more paranoia. If everyone is too busy looking over everyone’s shoulders how could any work get done? It’s destroyed our sense of esprit de corps and it shows! The Fleet’s morale is at an all-time low and the ACF victories at the beginning haven’t helped any.

Well, here’s to hoping Fleet Admiral Megan Kimery can get us a victory to boost that morale!

“Anyways,” Richard turned back to Bernard. “We’ll talk later, you can introduce me to the rest of my crew. For now, I’m going to go rest up before we get underway. My duty shift doesn’t officially start for another twenty-four hours; I just wanted to introduce myself.”

The CPO nodded his head. “Of course, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Richard looked over to Rachel. Her section was a bit farther forward on the bridge than CIC was, but it was still in the lower part of the bridge. The bridge was separated into two lower decks that consisted of engineering, operations, and the CIC on one side. The other side consisted of communications, helm control and astrogation. When he looked, he saw her walking toward him. Richard turned towards the stairs leading up to the upper deck of the bridge where the captain’s and XO’s chairs were as well as the star map behind them.

“How did your introduction go, Smith?” Rachel asked as she walked alongside Richard, trying to keep things as professional as possible.

“It went as well as it could’ve gone, McFarland.” Richard walked a bit forward, farther from the CIC and where his CPO couldn’t hear him. “I have a jumpy CPO, a bit of a drunk for a gunnery repeater, and an excellent candidate for OCS as a sensor station operator. She’s officer material, she’s wasting her talents as an enlisted crew member. I plan on personally sponsoring her to OCS with my name on the sponsorship packet. If she couldn’t get into the OCS before, she will definitely be able to do so with my name on it.”

“If she’s as good as you say she is, I’ll put my name on her OCS sponsorship packet as well. Having two high ranking officer’s names on an OCS sponsorship packet is a guarantee to be accepted. Also, what do you mean by jumpy?”

“Well, he liked his old CO and he was canned for being a suspected ACF sympathizer and I replaced him.”

“And I’m going to assume that he doesn’t trust you one damn bit.”

“Nope, and to be honest,” he shrugged at her as the door to the bridge opened, “I don’t blame him. If you had your CO arrested like that, I wouldn’t trust any replacement either.”

“Trust who?” the captain asked as Richard rounded the corner.

Richard nearly choked as they both stood at attention and saluted.

“At ease.” She waited until they did. “Like I asked,” the captain put her hands on her hips, “trust who?”

Richard shook his head. “I just have a jumpy CPO.”

The captain looked at him. “Ah yes, Chief Petty Officer Bernard.” She shook her head. “He’ll come around,” she nodded slowly, “just give him time. Don’t worry, he isn’t an ACF sympathizer; I can vouch for that. I’ve known him for years.” Richard nodded his head. “But anyway, don’t let me stop you from enjoying the last day you have before official duty starts. Rest up and relax; that’s an order.”

“Yes ma’am!” they saluted before leaving the bridge. As they left the captain couldn’t help but laugh to herself as she recounted her days of being their rank. They’ll lighten up, they always do. They probably had some hard ass as an XO early in their careers. Although, if I remember Smith’s personnel jacket, he was an XO before this. Being an XO that early and now a tac officer on a battlecruiser should propel him to independent command sooner than he thinks. That’s if he does well.

“Oh,” the captain said as she turned around. “And one more thing to the both of you.” Both Richard and Rachel turned around. “If you haven’t already, get to the military clothing store on the space station and get fitted for the new dress uniform. It’s due to change force-wide in two years but it has never hurt anyone to get it early since we’ve already switched to the new uniform onboard this ship.”

“What do you mean?” Richard asked.

“The whole uniform has been changed. If you ask me, it’s a long time coming. Anyone who doesn’t like the white color of the dress uniform will be very happy. They changed the color of the dress uniform to dark navy blue. It’s so dark you might as well call it black. The changes bring the Space Force more in line with the Marine Corps and the ocean-going Navy. If you ask me, it’s a very welcome change for those of us who have trouble keeping that dirt magnet of a uniform clean.”

She paused for a moment. “Just be sure to report back to the ship at no later than 2300 hours. Both of you have your first duty shift at 0900 tomorrow morning; we’ll be undocking from the space station at 1030 hours.” She was just about to turn around when she paused and turned back around. “If the two of you want something good to eat, check out Murray’s Steakhouse; they have the best steak this side of Mars. It may be very expensive, but I can vouch that it’s well worth it. I suggest you make a reservation at Murray’s, trust me; you’re going to need it. Also, the bar on the space station is way better than the bar aboard this ship.”

“Um…” Rachel stammered. “Captain?”

The captain sighed. “The two of you are together, right?”

Richard looked to Rachel and then back to his captain. “I wouldn’t say that we’re together in the sense that you’re thinking. We just met last night on that planet down below and well, we’re friends right now.” He nodded his head. “We kind of sort of hit it off last night and well, you get the idea. I’d like to get to know her more, if that’s alright with you. I certainly wouldn’t want to break any regs.”

“Friends,” the captain nodded her head slowly. “I don’t see a problem with that but as with all mixed gender social interactions, be careful about the regs; especially section 200 sub-section 2. You as a person who served onboard as an XO in the past should know your regs.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded his head.

“Adhere to the regs and I don’t foresee a problem.” She paused for a moment. “Dismissed!”

With that the two of them turned about and walked away from the captain and as they entered the security foyer of the bridge Rachel turned to him. “Why did you volunteer so much information about us? Did she really have to know?”

“As the captain of this vessel, she needs to know about things like that.”

“But…” Richard stopped her. “You weren’t an XO like I was, things like this have to be reported as per regulations.”

She sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” She then started walking again. “I just was hoping to not have the whole ship know about us. You know as well as I do that a ship can be worse than high school, gossip is the one thing that breaks the laws of physics; it travels faster than the speed of light.”

“As an XO, oh how I know how that is,” Richard rolled his eyes. “But I doubt that the captain will tell anyone and besides, even if we do become more than just friends there’s nothing stopping us as long as we adhere to the regs.”

“And they are?” Rachel asked as the door to the elevator opened and the two stepped in.

“Section 200 sub-section 2 paragraph 5: If a relationship of romantic intent were to be formed between two officers those officers are to keep said relationship between themselves only and they are dutybound to not let said relationship affect one’s duty. If said relationship is found to be affecting one’s duty, the command staff has the full authority to terminate said relationship with impunity. If said relationship were to continue after such orders were given, those officers would be transferred to separate posts with notes added to their permanent jackets.”

“T… terminated?”

Richard nodded his head. “Just what you think it means.”

Rachel looked down to the ground and frowned. She didn’t like that regulation one bit, not one bit at all. She especially didn’t like the part of said relationship needing to be terminated. She breathed out and looked to him. “Then let us make a promise right here, right now.” Richard looked to her. “If a relationship were to come about from our friendship, we need to promise that we won’t let anything happen that could lead to such a thing happening.”

“I can agree to that,” Richard nodded his head just as the door to the elevator opened and he walked out leaving Rachel still standing in the elevator. He looked back to her. “Are you going to come?”

“Yes,” she began to walk, “I was just thinking about something, that’s all.” Damn. I’m going to work quite a bit to get him to loosen up, he’s all by the book. But then again, he used to be an XO and that meant following the regs to the letter. But he’s not an XO anymore. Could he have really been truthful when he said that he didn’t have any past relationships? Then again, he certainly does act like he doesn’t have a clue. She shook her head and laughed to herself. Richard, I’ll have you out of your shell by the end of the year; it’s just going to take some work.

After five hours of waiting for a table, they were sitting in Murray’s Steakhouse. The place was very busy, what with how many sailors were about to disembark. “Damn,” Richard said as he looked about as the hostess was leading them to a table, “I’m glad I made the reservations for when I did. We would’ve never been able to get in without them.”

The hostess looked at Richard. “You got that right. We’ve been slammed all day. This place gets very busy when the fleets come and dock here. It’s amazing the kinds of people I’ve met here. I’ve met people from Mars, Terra, Tau Ceti, Moab, Cirus, Altair before they broke away, and Alpha Centauri. Myself, I’m from Alpha Centauri.” Richard raised his hand. “You’re from Alpha Centauri?” Richard nodded his head. “Which colony cluster?”

“Cluster B, Colony 1.”

“Get out!” the hostess exclaimed. “I’m from the same place. What’s your name?”

“Smith, Richard. Lieutenant Commander.”

She smiled, “I remember you from high school. You were in the class of 2304, right? Same class as I was!” Richard nodded his head. “Though,” she looked at him with a sly smile, “you were a heavier back then and certainly far geekier.” She frowned. “I remember that I made your life hell back then,” she paused, “for what it’s worth… I apologize for that.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I was young and stupid back then.” She paused as she allowed them to take the seat. “If you need anything, just ask for Tracy.”

She then walked away leaving Richard looking at her. Then it dawned on him. “Tracy,” he whispered to himself, “I remember her. Tracy Williams. She was one of the popular girls in my high school class.” He made the gesture for air quotes as he said the word ‘popular’ and looked to Rachel. “I don’t think I need to tell you what I really mean by popular.” Rachel shook her head. “Every guy wanted her, and truth be told,” he nodded his head, “just about every guy did get her.”

“And you?”

“You heard her; I was far geekier back then. I was a fat slob of a geek back then; I was the target of a lot of ridicule; I hated my life back then. I was an absolute mess.” He looked down at the table. “Why do you think I haven’t had any relationships?” He shook his head. “When you have your self-confidence all but beaten out of you, it kind of makes you want to shy away from relationships and social situations with just about anyone. I put all my efforts into my job and I worked my ass off to get to where I am today. I have the rank that I have today because that’s all I cared about for the longest time. It’s only now that I…”

“Have realized that life isn’t all about just work, work, and more work?”

“Something like that,” he nodded his head. “But it’s been some time since I’ve been in the social space so I’m kind of starting off at square one, I’ve been a sort of a social hermit.”

“Come on, give yourself some credit.”

She has no idea how nervous I really am. “Perhaps,” he nervously smiled.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’re a bit rough around the edges but you’re really not that bad.”

“But my experience when dealing with…” Rachel cut him off. “Women?” He nodded his head. “It’s not a big deal, it just means that you have no bad habits that I have to break you of.”

“What!?” Richard exclaimed.

“I’m kidding Richard,” he rolled his eyes, “it just means that you have some work to do. Again, it’s not a big deal at all. With a friend like me we’ll have you out of your shell by the end of the year.”

“And you just want to be my friend?” Richard asked rather shocked. “Just like that? Don’t get me wrong but I kind of find that to be strange.”

“What’s so strange about that? You know men and women can be just friends,” Richard nodded his head slowly. “Some of my best friends are men and there’s absolutely no sex involved, no romantic intention at all.” Richard’s cheeks turned red as she mentioned to word ‘sex’. “I feel like I can open up to them easier than with other women, it’s not that I don’t have women friends it’s just my friendships with men tend to be… I don’t know, less dramatic.”

“Are you sure these men aren’t just hoping that they can get in your pants one day?”

Rachel laughed. “They’re married Richard, happily married I might add; I’m even friends with their wives.”

“Are they civilians?” Richard asked.

“Some are, some are in other branches of the military.”

“I see,” Richard nodded his head. “Then I just want to be your friend considering that we’re both in the military and on the same ship, it’d probably be best.”

Rachel nodded her head. “And that’s absolutely fine with me.” She took his hand into her hand and held it, meanwhile Richard looked to her wondering what she was doing. “And I want to be your friend as well. I try and make at least one friend on each ship I serve on; it makes things while onboard less boring since I have someone to talk to and confide in when the shit hits the fan.” She gave his hand a slight squeeze and let go of it. She then moved to put some additional space between the two of them. “If anyone asks, we’re just two friends going out to dinner with one another. There’s no more to it than that.”

Just then someone who looked like the manager of the place came to the table. “I’m sorry to disturb the both of you but since all of the tables are filed up here, we have been trying to double up wherever we can. I have some people here who wouldn’t mind sharing a table with someone else, that is if you two don’t mind.”

Richard looked to the manager and then to Rachel. “How many people?”

“Well,” Rachel looked to Richard and then back to the manager, “I guess we can accommodate an extra person. But please,” she held up her hand, “just one.”

The manager nodded her head. “Just one person, I understand.”

A couple of minutes later the manager came back. “I’m sorry it took so long but I found someone who’d agree to sit with you.” Just as she finished a young Japanese woman who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five Terran-years old approached the table. “Hello, I’m Lieutenant Commander Hoshi Asakura.”

“Please,” Richard said as he extended his hand across the table, “we’re in a social setting; we don’t need to worry about rank.” Hoshi nodded her head and returned the gesture as Rachel too extended her hand across the table. “I’m Richard Smith and she’s,” he glanced at Rachel, but she interjected. “Rachel McFarland.”

“Ah,” Hoshi perked up, “I’ve been aboard her for the last six months. Welcome aboard. And how long have you two been together?” Both Richard and Rachel looked at each other.

Oh shit! She thought, I got to watch how I play this.

“We’re not together in the sense you probably think,” he looked to Rachel and then back to Hoshi. “We just met last night. We met down on that dreary planet while both of us were getting our new assignments. The two of us went to dinner last night in some diner off base where we talked a lot and got to know each other. We’re… friends,” he nodded his head, “right now, we’re just friends.”

Whew! Hoshi thought, they don’t suspect a thing. I must be more careful and not probe their minds too deep. She glanced at Richard and immediately sensed that he was nervous as all hell, almost as if… she then glanced at Rachel and then she knew what he was so nervous about.

Hoshi simply touched their minds, just enough to read surface thoughts; any more than that and even a human would sense someone else inside their heads. She laughed to herself. Richard, if you only knew what she was thinking about you, you’d have nothing to be so nervous about. She thinks you’re cute, damn… why can’t he see it?! She then looked to Richard again, oh I get it, he really doesn’t know a lot about this kind of stuff. She shook her head. Stupid humans, always making things more complicated than they have to be.

“Why did you just shake your head?” Rachel asked.

“Oh nothing,” Hoshi smirked, I was just thinking of how you two would make a cute couple. “I was just thinking of something amusing.”

“Ah,” Rachel said as her eyebrow raised.

Okay Hoshi calm down… she doesn’t know anything for sure, she thought as she looked to her. “Anyways,” Hoshi continued to try and change the subject, “I’m sorry to impose on your evening out but,” she looked about, “this place is a madhouse.”

Richard looked to Rachel and she nodded her head. “That’s not a problem, and yes, we understand.”

“I see,” Hoshi nodded her head again. “Again, thank you for allowing me to share the table with the two of you. I know it may seem awkward to have someone at your table that you don’t even know.” She paused as she looked at the table. “Have you two ordered yet?” You must be more careful! These two are smarter than your average human.

Richard shook his head. “I figured we would have a drink before we settled into having dinner.”

“Ah,” Hoshi nodded her head, “Anyways if you need any help, look me up. I wouldn’t mind getting to know you; you seem like nice people. My quarters are on deck fourteen, section four, sub-section D. Look me up some time, that is, if you want to hang out after duty.”

“Yes,” Rachel paused as she looked to Richard and he nodded his head, “we wouldn’t mind that. By the way, we’re in sub-section C.”

“Ah,” Hoshi thought as she imagined the layout of the ship in her mind. “You’re just down the hall from me.

“Will you be all on one check?” the waitress asked when she came over. Hoshi held her hand up with two fingers up. “Two checks, got it.” She paused. “What will everyone be starting off with?”

Okay Richard, think! What wine did Rachel say was her favorite? Something white. He paused. Ah yes, white merlot. “The two of us,” Richard said as he looked to Rachel, “will share a bottle of white merlot.” Rachel smiled for he remembered her favorite wine. “Oh, and make sure that it’s top-shelf too. I don’t care about the price.” Hoshi spoke up, “Make that two bottles. Whatever I don’t drink I’ll share with them.” Rachel nodded her head.

Oh, wow Rachel, Hoshi thought, you have it bad for him! Why don’t you just admit it to him already, it would make it easier on the both of you if you just came clean already. Stupid humans, you always have to make things more complicated than they really are.

“Any appetizers?” the waitress asked as she looked to Rachel. She nodded her head. “We’ll take an order of the potato skins.” She looked to Hoshi, “If you want, you can join us in on it.” Hoshi nodded her head in agreement. “We’ll take two of them.”

“Excellent,” she said as she tapped the order into her datapad. “I’ll be back with your three glasses and the three of you can decide how to split up the two bottles of wine. The appetizers will be up in a few minutes.”

“So,” Rachel said looked across the table, “Where do you come from?”

“Obviously, as my name would suggest, I’m of Japanese descent but I was born in Mars colony two. My family moved back to Terra to what was once known as Japan when I was four years old. That made going to the Space Force academy easier since as both of you know, the academy is in Japan.” Hoshi looked to the two of them. “What did you think of Japan when you were there?”

“I didn’t have much time to really spend outside in the city, I was far too busy buried in my studies to really partake of Japan.” Rachel frowned. “I plan on going to Japan one day, perhaps the next time I get some leave. I know that the place is a great place to visit.”

“As for you Richard?” Hoshi asked.

“Like Rachel,” he pointed to her, “I too was too buried in my studies.”

“That’s a shame because Japan’s nice, it’s a great place to visit. When the two of you get some leave, call me some time, I’d be happy to show you around. The food that can be had in Japan is amazing.”

“Why did your family move back to Terra?” Richard asked. “Mars is pretty nice, at least now that most of the terraforming has been completed.”

“My father lost his job so we moved back to Terra to be closer to the family until he could get back on his feet, now he’s working with a contractor that provides much of the electronics that the Space Force use for their combat control systems. If we hadn’t moved back to Terra, he wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”

Richard nodded his head. “I can see that as a good reason, Terra is still where much of the hardware that we use onboard ships is made.” Rachel nodded her head in agreement and interjected. “Yes, but I know that they are trying to decentralize that lately, having all of our eggs in one basket isn’t a good idea.”

“Yeah,” Hoshi said, “My father is being transferred to Alpha Centauri soon to head up manufacturing.”

“How long have you been in the service?” Rachel asked.

“I’ve been in the service for the last five years; I’ve been on the HFS Valiant since she first launched less than a year ago.”

“Do you know the captain well?” Rachel asked.

“I’d like to say so. Why?”

“Do you know how old she is?” Rachel asked she looked to Richard and nudged him in the ribs.

“I don’t exactly know how old she is, someone did say that she’s like maybe twenty-two. She doesn’t exactly like to divulge that kind of info about herself; she tends to be private about that kind of stuff.”

Richard looked at Rachel. “She could be related to me, I’d have to ask if she knows my uncle, James Smith; he’s my father’s brother.”

“Wait,” Hoshi said as she looked to the two of them. “You may think you’re related to the captain?”

Richard shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Then again, I don’t really know the side of the family that she may be from. We had a falling out a couple of years ago and have since stopped talking so who knows. She may be my cousin and I wouldn’t know it.”

Just then the waitress placed three wine glasses on the table. The waitress poured the first glass and Richard took hold of it. He swished the wine around a bit in the glass, sniffed the glass, and took a small sip of the wine. “Perfect,” he said as he looked up at the waitress. She then opened the other bottle but kept the cork halfway in the bottle to protect the contents from the air and then filled the rest of the glasses on the table.

Rachel took a sip of the wine and looked to Richard. “Not bad, and you said you didn’t know a lot about wine.” Hoshi took a sip of the wine as well and nodded her head in agreement.

“What happened?” Hoshi asked as she put the glass down on the table. “That is if you don’t mind talking about it.”

“To be quite honest I don’t even remember really, all I remember is some big argument. I remember my father saying something about the fact that they flaunted their money all the time and that was that.”

“Ah yes, money. It seems to always cause family feuds.” Hoshi said as the waitress came to take their order.

With that, the three of them continued to talk while they ate, drank, and generally enjoyed each other’s company on their last night before shipping out on the ship the next day.

Continue to Chapter 3…