Space 2315, Chapter 2

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 some kind of trouble. He stepped up to the door and put his finger on the fingerprint reader next to the door and the door opened.

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 only 2.29 meters by 3.36 meters. The room was sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a fold-down wash basin, and one small closet to keep clothing in. He was used to having cramped quarters but that didn’t mean he had to like it. There was a desk of sorts that folded down to reveal a keyboard and mouse along with an HD screen situated on the back. The screen served as both a personal computer, which was nothing more than a thin-client, and a TV.

Richard tossed his carry-on bag into a corner of the room, placed his garment bag (with his dress uniform in it) in the closet, and reached for the light switch that was 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, and there was little room for anything but the essentials.

The head was down the hall in some kind of communal setup. He kept thinking that the room had to be smaller than on his old ship but that was probably just his imagination. He thought that since this was a battlecruiser he’d have a larger room but it seemed that he would have no such luck.

After dropping off of 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.

The white service uniform consisted of a short-sleeve white button-up shirt that was worn open-collared, white trousers and belt, along with black dress shoes. He had the Space Force Cross, Combat Action Ribbon, Space Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Ribbon, and Space Force Good Conduct Medal on his shirt just above the shirt’s left breast pocket.

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 were in open bays with a line of bunks along the wall.

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 ship. The most important places aboard ship that he wanted to know about was the head, 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 made you look like a fool to your commanding officer worse than not knowing how to get to your post. You didn’t want to look like a damn fool by not knowing where to go. “You know, things like the officer’s mess, the head, 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. “One of my friends enlisted in the Air Force once 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.” Rachel chuckled. “They really have no idea how good they have it.” He shook his head as he looked at her. “So anyways, 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 touch those odds.” She paused for a moment. “Anyways, I wish they were just a bit bigger, I’m not asking for much; just a couple of more square meters so that I can properly enjoy some company. Am I going get it? No, so I’ll just deal with it.” Richard saw her wink at him as she said that.

“Hmm,” Richard hummed, “I think I know what you mean.”

“Glad to hear it.” It was unspoken but both of them knew what they were talking about. The two continued to walk down the hall and as they passed someone the person stood at attention and saluted them and the two returned a quick salute in response.

“Say,” Rachel put her hand on Richard’s shoulder. “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?”

“Were you the kind of XO that everyone hated?”

Richard had to laugh at that question. “No, I wasn’t hated; I tried to be as fair as I could when I had to hand out disciplinary action.” Richard paused. “Though there was one incident aboard involving an illegal still that I put an end to. Unfortunately I wasn’t very well liked after that by the people involved but it had to be done. I think one is still doing time at the Lunar Prison Facility. But for the most part, I was well liked, in fact I think that’s why the ship ran as well as it did. Nobody feared for their careers and thus was able to work alongside each other.” He turned to Rachel. “Treat your crew with respect and they’ll treat you with respect.”

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.” Richard cringed at the thought. “I still remember that one day; the whole crew had to clean the cargo hold because some smartass decided to play a prank on the XO. Needless to say, we took care of things later on.”

“What did you do?”

“We had a blanket party and sent the smartass to the infirmary with a pretty damn good concussion; the guy couldn’t see straight for a week.” Richard winced. “Yeah, the idiot really learned his lesson.”

“Say,” Rachel asked as they walked down the hall. “Did you notice the captain?” Richard looked to her. “Her name is Smith. Any relation?”

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

“I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders. “I thought maybe you knew her or something.”

“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, so who knows, the captain may be somewhere on my family tree and I wouldn’t know it.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Never did get along with some of my uncles. 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 ever since.”

“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 some kind of 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 Earth.” Rachel frowned. It dug up some of her past memories of her family that she thought were long buried in the past.

“Anyways, did you notice how she was dressed?” Richard shook his head. “I can tell you one thing; she wasn’t wearing the standard issue uniform skirt.” Richard thought back to when he first saw the captain and then nodded his head in agreement with Rachel. “She was definitely wearing something much shorter than the standard skirt. Hell, she was wearing a skirt shorter than the one I was wearing on the planet. I wouldn’t dare try to get away with that. It was practically a mini-skirt. That thing barely came down to mid-thigh.”

Richard shrugged his shoulders. “She should be setting the example by wearing something closer to regulation because she is the captain and has to ultimately enforce the standard. Maybe she’s just a little more permissive than other female officers would be.”

“But still,” Rachel frowned, “I’d consider that short even by my standards and my standards are pretty loose when it comes to the uniform.”

“Would you consider wearing something like that when not in uniform?” Richard asked with a smile.

“Of course,” Rachel jabbed him, “just not in uniform, I can definitely tell you that. I have two skirts that make that thing look like a dress comparatively speaking. Of course, I don’t wear them very often and even when I do I wear tights with it on account that they are just so damn short. Hell, in Utah and some of the former Bible-belt states wearing those two skirts is illegal and could get a woman arrested for indecent exposure.”

Richard smiled. “I would love to see you wear that someday.”

“Normally I only wear those skirts when I go out partying but for you I’ll make a special case. Just wait, that’s all.” She said just as they reached the end of the corridor where the officer’s head was. The corridor was designed in a straight line, with three quarters on either side and the lift directly behind them opposite the head. If Richard remembered his brief look at the ship’s schematic the head was shared with the next subsection. As they entered the facilities there was a sign on the wall that pointed to the showers to the left and toilets and sinks to the right. The sign also bore a message above the arrow to the showers that read: “All officers must be covered.” Below the official message someone scrawled “Wear a towel damn it!”

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

“Because they never make things that easy,” Richard deadpanned.

“Amen to that!” she replied. “Yeah, you wouldn’t want people coming in and out of here with nothing on.”

As innocently and quietly as he could, since he didn’t know if anyone else was around, he asked her, “Why not?”

“Because you–” she began before turning to look at him and saw the look in his eye. She smiled briefly, “Oh… yeah. I get it.”

Richard smiled very quickly in response, “I thought you would.”

Rachel laughed as she put her hand on his shoulder. “I saw you undressing me with your eyes at the diner on the planet.”

“And if I was?”

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “Just don’t do it where anyone can see you do that. We don’t want to get into trouble, right?”

Richard thought, I don’t want to just undress her with my eyes. That ain’t enough. I want to see her naked for real. And soon! I wonder how soon that’ll be and if she’s thinking the same. He laughed on the inside as he thought, damn, I sound like a horny teenager here. Well, I guess seeing a beautiful woman after a long time will do that to you. Rachel’s thoughts closely mirrored his though neither of them knew it.

Rachel turned about and began to walk into the hall, Richard followed her out. “Where to now?”

“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.”

Rachel looked to him as she put an arm around him. “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.

“Yeah, yeah,” Richard said as he too put an arm around her.

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

“Hey,” someone from behind Richard tapped him on his shoulder, “Are you going to move? If you won’t, I will.” He turned around to see a rather irate looking commander tapping his boot against the deck. “Sorry sir,” Richard said as he moved forward. When he got a plate he saw what they were serving. 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 wardroom there looked to be a long salad bar.

Richard couldn’t help but to 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 chow hall, 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 a chow hall 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, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chopped egg, black olives, and croutons, 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 one forward to get some Coke but all that came out of the spigot was clear carbonated water. He shook his head and poured the water into the overflow tray and settled with iced tea. He sniffed the cup and took a sip of the stuff and grimaced. Damn, I hate sweet tea. They should at least warn you that you’re about to get a mouthful of sugary crap.

He poured that out and filled the cup half with fruit punch sports drink and half water. At least it would hydrate him. He filled the other with coffee and poured skim milk and French vanilla creamer in it to make it taste good. Richard looked and saw Rachel sitting at a table in the back corner of the mess hall. 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’s 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’s certain ones that are really 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 stood up from her chair, put her hand on his shoulder and affectionately rubbed it. Meanwhile, Richard looked up at her while her hand remained on his shoulder. Richard reached up with his hand ever so slightly and smiled.

“Do you want to get together later on?” Rachel asked.

“How do you mean ‘get together’?” he asked with the barest traces of a grin.

“Not like that silly!” she said playfully as she put a hand on his cheek. “How about the officer’s club? Does that sound good?” She then leaned in and whispered, “Although, I do like how you’re talking. Keep it up.”

Richard let go of Rachel’s hand and they both stood up and walked out of the wardroom. Both of them figured that the cooks and cleanup crew would be able to take care of the plates on the table.

As they walked down the hall towards a lift, Richard paused and stopped. “Rachel?” he asked. She looked at him. “Let’s promise something; right here, right now.” Rachel nodded her head, she was sure that she knew what he was going to say; it was all over his face. “When we are officially on duty at our duty stations, keep any contact professional. We don’t want anyone to know about this relationship that we have going here. It’s got to remain a secret if we’re going to at all have it be a lasting one. The last thing we need are people noticing anything.”

They needed to keep their relationship, whatever it would become, under the radar so no one would suspect anything. “Of course,” Rachel took hold of his hand as the two began walking again towards the lift. “If we’re going to make this relationship work we’re going to have to keep it low; don’t let anyone know what’s going on between the two of us.” Richard nodded his head as the two continued to walk down the hall.

“Can I ask you something?” Richard asked as Rachel looked to him, she nodded her head for more. “What made you attracted to me? Don’t get me wrong, I’m attracted to you but what was it about me that attracted you?”

“Remember last night?” Rachel asked. “How nicely it went? Despite the fact that we were in that dump of a city.” Richard nodded his head. “You’re a decent guy who’s sure of himself, but not arrogant. You also seem to have your head on straight, unlike a lot of other guys I’ve met. You also know what you want will work to get it.” All the while Richard thought, Yeah, I know what I want. I want my career to go forward. I also want you in my bed, sooner, rather than later.

Richard nodded his head. “I have to agree,” he smiled as he let go of her hand and put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer to himself and kissed her on the forehead. “We really did hit it off nicely last night. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun just sitting and talking with someone, recalling old memories and laughing about it all. It was quite an evening and one that I’ll definitely remember.”

“Same here,” Rachel paused as she put her arm around him, Hopefully we’ll have other evenings to remember. If he wants nights to remember I’m sure we can make that happen too.

A little bit like Richard’s own thoughts as the lift doors opened, Oh my, listen to me go on like this! I just met the guy and I’m already thinking about jumping in bed with him! We don’t know if we’re going to be dead tomorrow in battle, so I guess a lot of it’s just live in the moment. If the moment feels right then just roll with it. I don’t think I would’ve been like this outside the military. Then again, a lot of people nowadays jump in bed fast. I bet he’s thinking the same thing and if he isn’t he’s some really chaste guy, which I figure he isn’t; not with the way he’s talked already.

“Rachel,” Richard paused as he let go of her. “I’d suggest that we go up to the bridge separately, that way we don’t raise any suspicions.”

She paused, smiled, and entered the lift. “See you on the bridge.” Before the door closed she leaned forward and kissed him quickly on the cheek. Richard chuckled as he waited for another elevator car to come. That went well. Finally a lift came and he stepped on and pressed the button to go to the bridge. He felt a slight jolt as the lift got in motion. When the door opened on the bridge level Richard found himself at the security foyer behind the bridge.

Looking up he found himself staring down the barrels of the 9-mm quad-barrel, link-less feed auto-cannon. 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 auto-cannon. Richard approached the marine that was manning the cannon and presented his identification card. The marine scrutinized the card, then his face, 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. He approached the watch officer and immediately stood at attention and saluted. All around him he noticed people at their stations. He walked along the upper deck of the bridge and noticed that the watch officer was following him. “This way to the CIC, 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 CIC he looked about and found seven people standing beside a set of terminals. Behind them was a very large HD 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 CIC had a HD screen hanging on it showing some kind of tactical data.

He looked about at the people standing and noticed that one of them was a CPO and the rest were ratings. All seven people stood at attention and saluted him and Richard returned their salutes. Richard could easily tell what the CPO was thinking about him. Richard was wearing an almost immaculately clean uniform that looked like it was barely worn for a day or two. That had to be one point off in the chief’s mind. A lieutenant commander’s gold oak leaf on the lapels, three points off. What did this high-falutin’ officer know?

The CPO 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 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. I expect all of you to perform your duties as competently as ever.” His crew nodded their heads, probably recalling other officers telling them about the same thing. Richard knew it, he heard it himself. He kept on though, “I expect to get to know all of you over the next coming weeks. For now, as you were.” His crew turned about and sat back down at their stations.

“Commander,” Richard nodded his head at Bernard. The CPO 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 his space.” Richard nodded his head as the CPO pointed to a crewman that was sitting at the center station. “Lindsey over there, good at her job but I’ve had to more than once throw the book at her. She’s been late for her duties and has more than on a couple of occasions stumbled into the CIC with hangovers. Don’t know how since we have a strictly enforced drink ration aboard. My thinking is she’s getting her fix from somewhere else but I can’t say where. I don’t know where the unofficial brewery or still is and have no idea where to begin looking. If I don’t know where it is, they’re very good at hiding it. I know this ship from top to bottom and stem to stern.”

Richard turned and looked at his crew and then back at the CPO. “I’ll be on the lookout; I have a knack for finding illegal stills. I was the XO on my old ship and I shut one down. It didn’t make me very popular.”

“Well,” Bernard shrugged his shoulder. “Comes with the territory of being the XO. Commander Ashland, the XO of this ship, seems to be an exception to that rule.” The CPO paused. “Would you like me to continue with the names?” Richard 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; bit of an ass kisser if you ask me but otherwise a fine member of the crew. She definitely knows what she’s doing and more often than not 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?”

The CPO shrugged his shoulders, “I may recommend her for the next class at OCS 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 waste of her talents. Maybe she wants to eventually be like me, or go for warrant officer, but I think she might do better as an officer; she doesn’t seem to have the personality to be a proper NCO. It takes a special kind to be one, you know that, right sir?” 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 CO 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 some really deep trouble. Most were arrested and it 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 more often than not those people just disappeared without a trace. Anyone who tried to investigate those disappearances also found themselves detained and held without charge. The witch hunts on the colonies and on Earth were still happening, even six months after the ACF broke off, trampling all over the right 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.”

Richard thought about that. 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 was no way to way to run a military; paranoia only bred more paranoia. If everyone was too busy looking over everyone’s shoulders how could any work get done? How could you trust anyone? The simple answer was that you couldn’t.

“Anyways,” Richard turned back to Bernard. “We’ll talk later and 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 felt that it’d be a good idea to introduce myself to you.”

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 section consisted of communications, and helm 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 and she joined him while walking up.

“How did your introduction go, Smith?” Rachel asked as she walked along side of 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 drunk for a gunnery repeater, and an ass kisser for a sensor station operator. The ass kisser is a damn fine crewman in the CPO’s opinion, she knows what she’s doing but with her talents she shouldn’t be here; she should be in OCS. I plan on personally sponsoring her to OCS, though she’ll need to lose that ass kissing mentality.”

“Sounds like you have your hands full I take it,” she commented. “What do you mean by jumpy?”

“Well, he liked his old CO who I replaced. It turns out that his old CO was arrested for being an ACF sympathizer.”

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

“Nope, he doesn’t trust me as far as he can throw me 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’d not trust any replacement either. He probably thinks I’m going to turn him in or something.”

“Turn who in?” 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, “turn who in?”

Richard shook his head. “No one ma’am, I just have a jumpy CPO.”

The captain looked at him. “Ah yes, CPO Bernard.” She shook her head. “He’ll come around,” she nodded slowly, “just give him time. He had a rather bad incident happen two weeks ago with his CO. 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 anyways, 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 to the both of you.”

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

“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 be change force-wide in two years but it has never hurt anyone to get it early.”

“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 expensive as all hell but it’s 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?” Both of them stared at the captain with absolute horror on their faces. “Unlike other captains I don’t care what my officers do on their downtime. What they do in private is theirs to do. Just make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your duties. If it interferes I do have the right to transfer one or both of you to different ships and a note will be added to your permanent records stating that such an incident occurred.”

“How did you know?” Richard asked.

“I’m not stupid,” the captain said as the look of horror returned to both of their faces. “Officers have been trying this for as long as there’s been mixed gender forces. Trying to cover it up never works, you may think it does but it doesn’t. For instance, you’re deliberately adding additional space between you; it doesn’t look natural. It’s a dead giveaway. You’re also deliberately not looking at one another but every so often you steal a glance or two at each other.”

“So,” Richard asked. “Am I correct in asking that you have no problem with this arrangement?”

“That’s correct.” The captain nodded her head. “Keep it professional and by that I mean no overt public displays of affection. I don’t think I need to tell you what I mean by that.” Both of them shook their heads. “And most important of all, like I said before, don’t let it affect your duties. If you comply with those simple rules I’ll have no problem with the relationship.”

“Yes ma’am!” both Richard and Rachel replied as the both of them saluted the captain. With that the captain turned around and walked down the bridge and into her office leaving both Richard and Rachel absolutely stunned.

“Um…” Richard spoke up. “That…” he paused. “That went… far better than I could have ever hoped for.”

Rachel reached up and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “That’s for damn sure. Jesus Christ,” she let out a sigh, “for a moment I thought both of our gooses were cooked.”

“You got that right!”

Rachel stepped out of the dressing room and looked at herself in the mirror. The first thing she looked at was the length of the uniform skirt. “About time they changed that walking fashion disaster of a uniform.” She looked at the woman standing beside her. “I can’t tell you how many fellow officers altered the uniform because they thought that the skirt was too long.” She looked at the uniform suit coat and slid her hands down her side and slightly arched her back. “Yes, much better,” she turned around and looked at her back said, “much better indeed.” She turned back around. “Finally, a uniform jacket that doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing a tent or an oversized rain coat.”

The woman nodded her head. “Yeah,” she reached up and adjusted the pins on the sides of the collar. “I’ve lost count how many times I heard women say that.”

Rachel then looked down at her legs. “Finally they got rid of those white nylons, they were stupid as hell. Who the hell wears white nylons anymore? We’re not nurses from the 1950s.”

“They weren’t that bad,” the woman assisting her said.

“You didn’t have to wear them,” Rachel protested. “They were a fashion disaster. Of all the parts of the uniform I hated, that was the part I hated the most. They were damn near impossible to keep clean and you couldn’t bleach them or they’d fall apart.” Just as she finished that statement the woman held up a pair of nude-colored hosiery.

“Well…” Richard said as he stood in front of the mirror looking at himself in the new dark navy colored uniform. “I can get used to this.” He looked down at himself and tugged at the uniform jacket slightly. “Yes indeed, I can get used to this. I can definitely keep this cleaner than the white uniform.” He turned around and looked at himself from the back side. “Yep, much better,” he nodded his head and turned around to look at his front side again. “This looks so much better than the old white uniform. It’s much more professional looking than that God awful thing.”

The new uniform consisted of a white dress shirt with the Space Force insignia pinned on both sides of the collar along with a black neck tie, a dark navy blue suit jacket with his rank insignia on both shoulders along with name plate, ribbons and medals attached to the front of his jacket. The pants consisted of the same colored pants along with a pair of black patent leather shoes.

The young man who was attending to him nodded his head. “Very much indeed.” He adjusted Richard’s collar. “This is the first time that brass at the top actually listened to people who had to wear the uniform. When they were forced to wear the same uniform a couple months back they realized what an awful disaster the white uniform really was.”

“Wait. What?” Richard asked. “They never had to wear it? They never wore it before?” He looked at the young man in disbelief.

“Hey,” the young man replied, “that’s just rumors. I have no idea if the rumors are true or not.”

Richard sighed. “I wouldn’t be surprised.” He shook his head before saying, “I’ll need another of these uniforms as backup.”

“It’s hanging over there,” the young man pointed in the direction of something hanging from a hanger draped with a clear plastic bag over it. “Another uniform has been made for you to your exact specifications. All you have to do is add the required patches and medals as per SFR 240-5.”

“Damn.” Richard said to no one in particular. He looked at the young man. “Very good, very good indeed. Thank you for your time and effort.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pulled out a silver five credit coin. “Here, here’s for your trouble.”

“I’m sorry sir,” he young man replied, “I can’t take that. It’s part of my job working at this store.”

“Just take it and shut up.” He replied as he stuffed the bill into the young man’s hand. “It’ll be our little secret.”

“Yes sir.”

Richard turned around. “Say,” he asked, “why are you here? Last time I had to buy a new uniform there was no one there to help out and this time, you’re here.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Not that I didn’t mind the help but it’s highly unusual.”

“Space Force Command stated that since they expected a high number of sailors switching their uniforms out at this particular outpost, they wanted people such as myself to help out to keep the line going.”

“What line?” Richard asked.

“That line,” the young man said as he opened the door. “I have over 250 people in line all waiting to get new uniforms. We need to get them in and out as fast as possible and get these people back onto their respective ships before launch tomorrow morning. We expect to be replacing over ten thousand uniforms over the next eight hours.”

Rachel nodded her head and once again looked at herself in the mirror. She slid her hands down her sides and down her hips. “Yes, the washboard coat is gone. Richard is going to love this.” The woman laughed as Rachel left the room. She went back into the dressing room and changed back into her SDU.

As Rachel left the room and walked out of the store she saw Richard standing out in the hallway. “How did it go?” Richard looked to her as she was holding two uniforms hung up on a hangar covered with a clear plastic bag.

“Not bad,” she replied. “Look,” she pointed to the jacket under the plastic bag, “the washboard coat is gone.”

Richard nodded his head, “I’d have to see it on you.”

“Oh knock it off,” she chuckled. “They shortened the skirt as well, which I’m quite happy about but they still make the women wear nylons with the uniform. If you ask me it was probably added by some old hag that’s got to be pushing seventy,” she then paused for a moment, “or some puritanical person.”

“You could just wear pants with the uniform,” Richard replied. “One of the women I worked with back when I was at my first duty station on Mars straight out of the academy chose to wear pants with the uniform. She hated the skirt with a passion.”

“I could,” Rachel thought about it, “but I hate the pants even more than I hate wearing the skirt.”

“True,” Richard said, “but then you wouldn’t have to wear high-heeled shoes all the time. I’ve heard many woman grouse about that part of the uniform.”

Rachel thought, “You have a point,” she said, “but I just like wearing the skirt. That’s all.” She walked down the corridor. “Let’s get these uniforms to our quarters aboard ship and then we can see what’s on this space station. I want to get a good steak dinner before we blow this joint. Heaven knows that this will be our last time to have a decent meal before we launch.”

Two hours later they were sitting down at a table in Murray’s Steakhouse on the space station. The place was very busy, what with how many sailors were about to disembark. “Damn,” Richard said as he looked about as the waitress was leading them to a table, “I’m glad I made reservation for when I did. We would’ve never been able to get in without them.”

The waitress 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. People from all over Human Federation Space come to this place. It’s amazing the kinds of people I’ve met here. I’ve met people from Mars, Earth, Tau Ceti, 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 waitress exclaimed. “I’m from the same place. What’s your name?”

“Richard Smith.”

She smiled, “I remember you from high school. You were in the class of 2307, right? Same class as I was!” Richard nodded his head. “Though,” she looked at him closely, “you were a lot smaller back then and certainly not nearly as cute as you are now.” She leaned over far more than she needed to which gave Richard an eyeful of her breasts as she placed the menus on the table. She then smiled and winked at Richard. “If you need anything, just ask for Tracy hun.”

She then walked away leaving Richard looking at her. Then it dawned on him. “Tracy,” he whispered to himself, “I remember her. Tracy Williams.” Rachel looked to him. “She was one of the hottest girls in my high school class. Every guy wanted her and truth be told,” he nodded his head, “every guy did get her. She didn’t get the nickname ‘Easy Tracy’ for nothing. If I remember right,” he paused, “she was part of the cheerleading squad and got around the football team’s locker room,” he nudged Rachel, “if you know what I mean.”

“And she still acts like that?” Rachel asked.

Richard shrugged his shoulders. “I guess some don’t ever grow up.” He paused. “She probably does it for the attention or a better tip.” He thought about her again, “At the time she wouldn’t have even given me the time of day even if I asked her. I was like a bug to be squashed by her and the group of girls she hung out with. That group was ruthless; they didn’t care how bad they put you down.” He looked down and shook his head. “I hated that group. If you weren’t one of the so-called ‘cool’ people they practically went out of their way to make your life miserable.”

“Yeah well, look at you now,” she felt a hint of jealousy creeping up inside of her. “She certainly doesn’t think of you like that anymore. Hell, she was flirting with you like crazy. Look out universe, Richard Smith is coming. Hell, if I didn’t know you were mine already I’d be seriously jealous.” In all actuality, she was jealous of her. Tracy was better looking than her.

“Oh stop it,” Richard turned red. “She’s just a fellow classmate, that’s all.” He paused. “It’s got to be the uniform. That’s got to be the only reason why she’s even paying one ounce of attention to me.”

“Richard,” Rachel put her arm around him, “you’re a good looking guy. Any woman would be extremely lucky to have you. But, as they say, you’re off the market.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek, “you’re mine and I’m not letting go.” If that wasn’t a self-confidence boost for Richard, he didn’t know what was. He put his arm around Rachel and kissed her on the forehead.

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 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.” The waitress left leaving both of them alone. Knowing that they would have to accommodate an extra person the two of them moved closer together in the half-circle shaped booth table that they were sitting at.

A couple of minutes later the manager showed back up at their table. “I’m sorry it took so long but I found someone who’d agree to sit with you.” Just as she finished saying that a young Japanese woman who couldn’t have been more than 25 years of age approached the table. “Hello,” the young woman said as she sat down. “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 before you ask, I have no relation as far as I know to the Captain Smith of the HFS Valiant. 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.” She looked at the two sitting close to one another. “How long have you two been together?”

“What are you talking about?” Richard asked. They were trying to keep their relationship on the down-low. “We have no idea what you’re talking about. Everything between us is completely professional.”

Hoshi sat back. “Sure,” she said as she rolled her eyes, “tell me something that I’ll actually believe.” They stared at Hoshi completely horrified that they were found out.

“How? How did you know?” Richard asked.

“Come on Smith,” Hoshi leaned forward onto the table, “a first year psychology student could tell. You two aren’t just sitting close together for my sake. Your body language says it all.”

“I see,” Richard nodded his head. “We were trying to keep it private.” He sighed. “I guess the cat’s out of the bag.”

“Personally speaking,” Hoshi pointed to herself, “I don’t care and I can definitely tell you that the captain doesn’t care either. That is, if you don’t make it obvious. As for the XO?” She paused. “I know that the captain and the XO are involved. And before you ask how I know this, it’s basically the ship’s worst kept secret and they know it. They’re together and to call out others for doing the same thing would be hypocritical.” She pointed to them. “Don’t be the second worst kept secret though.”

“Ok,” Richard said as they relaxed around her.

“Anyways,” Hoshi sat back as she sensed that they were now more relaxed around her. “How did you two meet? That is, if you don’t mind me asking. Some people don’t like talking about that sort of thing.”

“We met last night.”

“And you know you’re together already?” Hoshi asked. “I’ve heard of some quick hookups before but this one takes the cake. What makes your situation so special? That is, if you don’t mind me putting my nose into your business.”

Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. “We just…” Richard interjected. “Hit it off, so to speak; it just happened.”

“Already finishing each other’s sentences I see,” Hoshi nodded her head and laughed. “Yep.” She paused. “I wish the best of luck to you; you do make a very cute couple if you ask me.” She paused as she looked at the table. “Have you two ordered yet?”

Richard shook his head. “I figured we would have a drink before we settled into having dinner. This is our last night of having anything decent to eat and drink.”

“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 two want to hang out.”

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

“Ah,” Hoshi thought as she imagined the layout of the ship in her mind. “You two are just down the hall from me,” Hoshi nodded her head. “Yep, just down the hall. You two have quarters in the section that has thirteen through eighteen. Each sub-section has six quarters in it and each section has four sub-sections.” She paused. “If you think about it makes some sense, it helps in locating your room.”

Just then Tracy came back to the table. “Ah,” we added another member to the party. “Will you be all on one check?” Hoshi held her hand up with two fingers up. “OK, two checks.” She paused. “What will everyone be starting off with?”

“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. Hoshi spoke up, “Make that two bottles. Whatever I don’t drink I’ll share with them.” Rachel nodded her head.

“Any appetizers?” Tracy 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,” Tracy 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.” With that Tracy left the table.

Continue to Chapter 3…