Space 2315, Chapter 7

Richard Smith gently took Rachel McFarland’s hand in his as the shuttle began its final maneuvers to dock with the Yamato Class Battleship, the HFS Izumi. The two of them along with dozens of other officers and ratings aboard were the newest additions to the crew. If anyone saw him take her hand they chose not to say anything. The pilot skimmed along the length of the new battleship’s hull showing off her hotshot piloting skills before coming in to dock.

Richard figured that the ensign wanted to show off some of her skills so that maybe, just maybe, she could get out of shuttle duty and into something more dignified. She knew that there were ranking officers aboard her shuttle and wanted to make a good impression; at least, that’s what Richard figured. Richard, however, wasn’t impressed for it left Rachel (as well as a few others) a bit green around the gills. The pilot pushed the shuttle’s initial compensator as far as it could go. Shuttles weren’t at all designed for the Gs that she was putting it through. From the looks of the other people aboard they too would be relieved when the shuttle docked.

The new Yamato Class ships were the latest in production. Designed three years before the war began; the first keels were laid about a year before the initial coup stripped the Human Federation Space Force of roughly half of its ships. The new ships were full of angular lines moving out to smooth and rounded edges at both ends. All 2,325 meters of hull were sleek yet bristled with armaments, sensors including radar and lidar, subspace communication arrays, point defense systems, bays for EW systems, and the newest positron cannons. The new positron cannons were added in just before the ship finished building. It was a rush job to say the least to mount the new weapons and the yard dogs were forced to remove other weapons to make room for them at an actual net loss in energy mounts.

BuShips departed from the usual design specs that most other ships used when designing these new battleships. Unlike any of their predecessors these ships carried fewer energy mounts than any ships of their size but the energy weapons they did have were bigger and arranged in different broadside configurations. Plus there were the positron cannons themselves; they alone made up for the decreased numbers of lasers and grasers.

To replace the energy mounts these ships carried larger magazines and more missile launchers than any other battleship in space along with nearly a quarter of the standard missile reload times. That meant that these ships could put far more missiles into space in less time than even some of the older juggernauts. BuShips’ engineers increased the armor the ships carried and beefed up the engines as well; this gave them the additional acceleration capacity they needed to make the larger ships keep up with other older battleships.

Now if only BuShips and the highbrow engineers working for them could figure out how to build a better inertial compensator the Human Federation could finally get better acceleration rates out of all of their ships. So far nobody was able to design a new working model yet. It was a race between the Human Federation and the Allied Colonies for Freedom over who could build that next model. Whoever got it first would have a decisive advantage over the other side.

A battleship was armed and armored with only one thing in mind, to kill enemy ships. They traded speed and maneuverability for increased armor and weapons. They could stand their own in any engagement against anything smaller than it. They could never hope to hold their own against juggernauts and super juggernauts in a straight up fight but these new Yamato Class Battleships probably went a long way towards evening the tables against some bigger ships. There was even talk in BuShips about phasing out the juggernauts in favor of the smaller, cheaper and newer battleships. Some sailors even went as far as calling them the revival of the old dreadnought that was phased out thirty years ago.

That wasn’t to say that BuShips would get rid of the far larger super juggernauts. Nothing could hope to match the destructive force that those massive ships represented; even if they were notoriously slow and ponderous. When compared to smaller ships super juggernauts couldn’t get out of their own way but their armor and weapons were unparalleled. There was even talk of a new line of them being laid down. Rachel herself heard rumors of a class aptly named the Retribution Class Super Juggernaut of which three or four might’ve already been laid down in orbit Mars.

Rachel looked over at Richard after briefly glancing down at their joined hands. Their time in Hawaii was one of the most pleasurable times either of them ever experienced. You just couldn’t beat the tropical paradise. They didn’t spend all of their time in that paradise; neither of them could forget how much time they spent in bed together, day and night. Sometimes the bed wasn’t necessary.

However, like all good things their all too brief leave had come to an end. Their orders came in from BuPers, ordering them both to their next posting. Rachel smiled to herself as she recalled how she insured they would still be together. As far as she could tell her hack job was never detected. It was evidenced by the fact that both of them were on their way to this new battleship and not a holding cell.

The pilot began the final approach maneuvers to the Izumi’s fighter bay, making the shuttle all but dance in her hands. Rachel leaned over to Richard and muttered, “Maybe this pilot should’ve gone into the Air Force instead.”

“Yeah. I get the idea that she was made to pilot fighter craft not big things like fleet shuttles.”

Before long the pilot cut the shuttle’s engines and guided the small craft on maneuvering thrusters alone. Docking clamps came out and grabbed the shuttle’s hull with the barest traces of a thump on the hull. A docking tube ran out to the shuttle and mated with the external airlock and the light above the door flashed green. The flight engineer checked the telltales for a good seal before he nodded to the passengers.

The two of them stood and gathered their carry-on luggage and duffel bags. They waited until an older commander got her things and winged her way down the docking tube. Richard noticed with slight amusement that the commander didn’t have the grace of say, someone like himself who grew up with zero-gee in a space habitat. Taking the handle bar in hand he launched himself down the tube and flew like a graceful bird. His booted feet hit the deck on the other side and his hand came up to salute aft then the officer of the deck. By tradition you still saluted aft, as one would on wet navy vessels, where the flag would be.

“Permission to come aboard ma’am?” he asked the other lieutenant-commander as she returned the salute. He quickly read the nametape on her chest. Williamson. Nobody I know, he thought.

“Granted,” she replied as she held her hand out. Richard stepped forward and handed her the datapad containing his orders from his cargo pocket. The OOD read it briefly before handing it back over and saying, “Welcome aboard the Izumi. If this ship is anything like they say it should be we should be kicking ass and taking names in no time at all. And not a moment too soon either.”

“Meaning what ma’am,” Richard asked, “if you don’t mind me asking.”

“You’ll find out in good time lieutenant-commander, for now I’ll have you follow one of the spacemen standing around. He or she will guide you to your quarters and answer any questions you may have. The in-processing brief is scheduled for 1800 Zulu. Dismissed.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied as Rachel and a few others were already lining up behind him. He knew a summary dismissal when he heard one. He walked over to where a cluster of spacemen and a few petty officers were standing around. As soon as he got close one of the petty officers shouted, “Dickinson! Please show Lieutenant Commander Richard Smith to his quarters.” The petty officer handed over a datapad which Richard assumed had his berthing assignment.

“Roger that petty officer,” a bright eyed female answered. “If you’ll follow me sir,” she said to him. Richard fell into step behind her as she led him onto a lift. Richard gave her a quick once-over and damn near did a double-take. The spaceman apprentice by the insignia on her collar couldn’t have been older than twenty. She didn’t even look that old. He’d seen some young looking people in the service but he must’ve forgotten how young they could look. Richard kept his eyes locked forward on the lift’s door, trying his best to not look intimidating to the young enlisted woman.

It must’ve not worked for it seemed as if the woman was sweating bullets and stood very stiffly at attention. The lift stopped temporarily as other sailors and a petty officer or two got onboard. The spaceman visibly relaxed just a touch as soon as she found herself surrounded by people she knew and more people closer to her rank.

Finally the lift stopped and they excused themselves from the lift and strode down the corridor. The younger woman resumed her stiff posture, marching with precision as if she were on review. Richard was tempted to tell her to relax but knew better than that. Older officers told him when he himself was a junior officer to never give an order you knew wouldn’t be obeyed. There was nothing wrong with what the spaceman was doing. She was keeping her military bearing and that was the correct thing to do.

Richard cleared his throat, “Spaceman Dickinson was it?”

She nodded stiffly as she continued to march. Her tension kept rising the further into officer country she went. This was a place that few enlisted and noncoms ever saw and really didn’t hope to see. “Might I inquire as to where the essential facilities are aboard ship?”

“Yes, sir!” she replied with a soft British accent in her voice. “Um…, the officer’s mess is one level up on Level Nineteen in Section Echo. Laundry facilities are at either ends of the corridor. Um… the officer’s heads are located fore, aft, and amidships. The main bridge is, as you would expect sir, at the center of the ship, on Level Twenty-Six, Section Juliet. You can get there via any lift by asking for the bridge. The secondary bridge is on Level Twenty-Four, Section Quebec. The ship’s quartermaster is on Level Ten, Section Delta.” She kept checking the door plates beside each door and stopped at one. “Here we are sir. Uh…, I’m not certain where any of the other officer facilities are located. They don’t tell us much about officer’s country sir. This datapad, as well as your quarter’s computer, can tell you where everything else is sir.”

“Thank you spaceman, that’ll be all. Dismissed.” He watched with mild amusement as the sailor walked away with dignity and haste. Richard shook his head and wondered what the world was coming to with such skittish sailors. For now he had nothing to do until the in-processing brief so he opened his door with the temporary keycard that the spaceman had given him. Once he was formally in-processed his CAC, or Common Access Card, would be able to open his door.

For now he stepped inside and was mildly surprised to find the linens already placed there, no doubt by a spaceman. Shrugging the duffle bag off his back and dropping his carry-on he started making the bed. He had a few hours to deal with and he might as well take the time to rest. The next few days looked like they were going to be stressful to say the least.

The quarters, like any others he had before, were just the bunk and standard issue mattress, the locker set into the wall, a desk with a space for his personal computer that not only served as a communication device but as a personal entertainment device as well, a desk chair, a nightstand, and a fold-up sink and mirror. Almost all the furniture was metal, probably aluminum or steel. Nothing fancy was going to be given to a lieutenant-commander. It might’ve been cramped, with just a little more room to put his arms out to both sides, but it was still better than what enlisted sailors got.

The in-processing brief and other things that went along with it were about what Richard has expected. He’d been through several before and this one wasn’t much different from others in his past. About the only person that he’d recognized there was Rachel. The new fish aboard ship were usually drawn from all different star systems. Sometimes there were rare instances of entire ships being crewed by people from one star system or even one planet. There was talk that doing such things allowed for better comradery and BuPers was going to implement it soon.

He wasn’t all that surprised to find that he’d been put back into the same slot as before. Officer of the CIC on the ship’s night shift rotation. His battle station was the secondary bridge, waiting on hot standby in case something happened to the main bridge. Tomorrow he’d meet his crew. A new ship, a new department, and a whole new crew; it never ended. With the way that ships were being built, and lost, a lot of this was going on in the Space Force.

Really having nothing else to do Richard wandered back up to officer’s country, changed into a PT uniform, and looked up the officers’ gym. He got some weight lifting in and the gym wasn’t all that far away from his quarters. Inside there were the standard sets of free weights, weight machines, and cardio machines. Every ship had just about the same equipment in varying numbers.

By the time his workout was over he was drenched in sweat and in bad need of a shower. Toweling off he made his way over to the door only to find Rachel coming out of the small pool area next to the weight room. The pool was small, even for a battleship. It appeared that BuShips had tried to cram as much armaments into this class as possible and thus crew amenities such as a pool were considered to be luxury items at best.

Rachel wore a towel around herself and PT shoes and socks on her feet. The wearing of PT shoes in any pool area was standard regulation in all branches of the military. Taking a quick look around to make sure nobody was looking their way or that the mirrors around the weight room would show them she hugged him. The contact was brief but it had sent an almost electric jolt up Richard’s spine. It must’ve come from the surprise at her being bold enough to do so here where they might’ve been seen, and the fact that he missed the feel of her body against his. Going from having a lot of sex while on leave to the closest thing to celibacy was enough to do that to any man.

“How are you settling in Smith?” she asked matter-of-factly, as if the two of them were just shipmates and not lovers.

“Just fine actually McFarland,” he answered in the same tone of voice. It was weird talking to her like that but they had to keep up appearances for the sake of regulations. Richard knew her enough to know that it bothered her as well. “The quarters were about what I expected, perhaps a little smaller.”

“I noticed that too.”

They were already out in the corridor and walking toward the lift. The two were mildly surprised when they both called out the same level and same section. It could happen, with berthing assignments being as random as they are but the odds against it were astronomical. Even Las Vegas wouldn’t give good odds on that happening. Richard walked to his quarters and Rachel stayed just about one step behind him. He stopped at his door and turned to find her standing across the hall from him with her own CAC in hand. They shared a moment of shock and disbelief. The odds against this were even worse!

Richard felt he needed to test the odds even more. Surely fate wouldn’t be this kind to them but he needed to see for himself. “McFarland, what shift rotation are you on?”

If Rachel knew why he was asking she did a good job of covering it up. Surely she wondered the same things seeing as how fate had been kind to them so far, which almost never happened. “I’m on the night shift Smith. What about you?”

Richard kept his jaw from dropping and replied, “The very same.” Planets must’ve aligned just right somewhere for this twist of fate to happen. This shouldn’t be happening at all, he thought. He crossed over to her and leaned in as close as he could while still being within military regulations. “Did you do this?” he whispered.

She shook her head and whispered back, “I may have hacked BuPers’ systems to get us the same ship assignment but there’s no way in hell I could’ve done this. You see, every ship is essentially an entity unto itself. Not that that virus that shut the fleet down at Mendus can’t happen again since every ship does share the same base code. However, every ship is different in a lot of ways on top of that base code.” She drew a breath before continuing.

“Normally each ship assigns a member of the crew a berthing slot with a random number generator. There is almost no way to hack that without getting into the ship’s systems themselves which I wasn’t able to do since I didn’t know which ship we’d be on and I’d have needed physical access to the computers as well. The same goes for the crew rotations which are usually made up by the XO and the rest of the command staff. Anyways, there was no way I could’ve done this. This, if you can believe it, was purely by chance.”

“Why do I have a feeling that somebody somewhere knows something about the two of us? That’s scary.”

Rachel reached out and briefly lay a hand on his shoulder, “No, there’s no way. I’d have been already chaptered out and court marshaled by now if they really knew what I did.” She leaned against the wall and drew in a deep breath. “There’s no way, like I told you, I bounced the connection all over the damn galactic Internet. I went through so many proxy servers it was beyond stupid.” She shook her head. “We’re screwed if someone knows about what we pulled off.”

Richard looked about, put his hands on Rachel’s shoulders. “Get ahold of yourself. Now is not the time to be jumping to conclusions.” He stepped back and looked at her. “Let’s play it cool, that’s all we can do. Hopefully what the two of us are thinking really didn’t happen.”

“Alright, we have to play this cool. But what bothers me is that we got the same area for our quarters and the same shift rotation. I don’t even want to think about where the two of us are posted on the bridge.”

“Yeah,” Richard sighed. “If we are in the same department, I swear I’ll fill my pants.”

Rachel began to laugh. “Yeah,” she continued to laugh, “You got that right.” The two of them got their laughter under control. “So what do you have planned for tonight?” Richard shook his head. “Want to go take a tour of the ship with me? There’s got to be something to do on this ship. It is after all, bigger than any ship the both of us have ever served on before.”

“Alright,” Richard replied as he turned around and headed for his quarters across the hall. “That seems fine,” he turned back around. “Let me get a bit cleaned up, changed out of this, and into something more appropriate for walking around the ship.”

“Yeah, me too.”

As the two of them walked the halls of the ship they tried to make it look like they weren’t anything but two people who just decided to walk down the same corridor. Both of them kept a respectable distance between the two of them and avoided direct eye-contact as much as possible.

Eventually the two of them found the officer’s lounge. The two of them walked in the place and made a beeline to the bar for some drinks. Beers in hand they walked towards the back of the bar where there wasn’t much lighting. Richard had to laugh at that, it seemed back corners were always not very well lit; it was like they purposely made it that way.

The two of them sat down and began to nurse their drinks and quietly talked about things. While they were talking Richard saw something out of the corner of his eye and he promptly clamped his mouth shut and motioned for Rachel to do the same. He looked at who was approaching them to get an idea of who it was. He didn’t at all recognize the person but then it again it was a dark room and the figure was silhouetted against light behind them.

Richard watched the person getting closer to the table. He took a small breath and did a very good job of appearing normal as he sipped his beer.

“McFarland and Smith,” the woman approached the two of them sitting at the table. “Now talk about a small universe.”

Rachel looked up and was stunned. “Asukura? Hoshi Asukura?”

“Glad to know that you still recognize me after almost a month.” She put her drink down on the table and sat down next to Rachel on the booth bench. “So how have the two of you been? Last I knew the two of you were going to Earth. How was your time there?”

Rachel spoke up cheerfully, “It was fun, relaxing, enjoyable, and… um, well, you get the idea. The both of us went to Hawaii and shared a hotel room. I don’t think I need to tell you anymore.” Her cheeks flushed as she finally admitted to someone else what they’d spent their time doing.

Hoshi laughed lightly. “No, don’t think I need you to tell me anymore, I can imagine the kinds of ‘extracurricular activities’ you were up to in that shared hotel room.” Hoshi herself turned a shade of red as she said it but quickly recovered. “Anyways, it’s good to see the two of you are well.”

“Likewise Hoshi,” Richard replied. “Say, where are your quarters?” Rachel looked to her questioningly.

“Level seven, section Alpha.”

Richard and Rachel looked at each other, at Hoshi, and then back at each other. “What the hell is going on here?” The both of them asked in unison.

Hoshi looked at the two of them. “What?”

“That’s where we are, as in the both of us,” Rachel replied. “What duty shift?”

“Duty shift three,” Hoshi replied.

“Ok, just what the hell is going on here?” Richard asked out to nobody in particular. “First the two of us on the same ship, obviously. Then the same section for our quarters, then the same duty shift. And now we find out that you’re in the same section as well on the same duty shift. This can’t be a coincidence. Things like this just don’t happen. Someone must be behind all of this.”

At this point Hoshi was beyond frustrated with the two of them. “Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on between the two of you? You two are making no sense at all.”

“Hoshi,” Rachel gulped and lowered her voice almost to a whisper as she leaned in closer to the other woman. “Back when we were in Hawaii I learned that Richard and I were supposed to be on different ships. Let’s just say that I took care of that, if you catch my drift.”

Hoshi looked at Rachel with horror spreading over her face and she whispered, “You mean to tell me that you hacked BuPers?” Rachel nodded her head. “Wow, if I were the two of you I’d be wondering what the hell was going on too. Same ship, same section, same duty shift, and the same person you worked with before. Personally speaking, I’d like to know too. Of all the ships to be posted on I get posted on the same ship as the two of you?” She shook her head. “That’s not possible, the odds of that happening without someone intervening is pretty damn bad.” She paused for a moment. “But who the hell would do this? Someone is playing a joke on us and I honestly don’t like it.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone about this, right?”

“Rachel?” Hoshi asked. “This is me you’re talking to. We served on the same ship. The three of us got to know one another. You shouldn’t have to ask me something like that.” Rachel sighed out of relief. “But no, I’m not going to say a damn thing. I just want to know what the hell is going on here.”

The three of them caught sight of someone else walking toward the table. At first they didn’t pay the person any mind but the newcomer kept advancing on them.

The newcomer, his name was Jacobs by his nameplate, stopped next to their table. He wore the rank of commander and the three got up to stand at attention. The commander looked at the three of them and said, “At ease. Relax. You may sit. I’m not here on business.” He paused. “And besides, this is the Officer’s Lounge; rank has no place here, unless you do something really stupid.”

“Of course sir,” Hoshi replied as the three took their seats again.

“I just wanted to stop by and see how some of the new crewmembers were doing. I’m Marcus Jacobs, the XO. I’ve already met and spoken with a few of the new people. A solid bunch you all seem so far. I look forward to working with you in the future,” the XO said as he started to turn away. “We’ll leave formal introductions for tomorrow at 1530 before your shifts start.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Richard asked before he could walk away. “Who is the captain?”

“That would be Captain Scott, Matthew Scott.”

“Captain Scott?” Richard asked, almost unable to contain his disbelief.

“You know him lieutenant-commander?”

“More like know of him sir.” When Jacobs gestured for him to continue he went on. “He was in the class three years ahead of me at Annapolis. If I remember correctly he was the captain of the academy’s wrestling team. Graduated with honors I believe.”

Jacobs chuckled. “That he did. And if you must know, he could probably still throw just about anybody around the wrestling mat in the gym. He’s level three combatives certified I hear.”

“Damn…,” Rachel breathed out.

“Especially when you consider that most naval officers don’t go beyond level one certification or even bother getting that much,” Jacobs replied before turning back around again. Before he could step away Hoshi spoke up. “May I ask who’s the admiral in charge of the fleet we’re in?”

The XO turned back around. “That would be Vice Admiral Gerald Payne. He’s on the Winston Churchill. We actually have Commodore Tyler Adler aboard in charge of the third battleship division for the Second Fleet.” Richard and Rachel looked at each other wondering what kind of fortune had found them to be posted onboard a divisional flagship of a fleet.

“I’ve heard of him,” Hoshi said. “Payne has got quite the record I hear.”

“Indeed,” Jacobs answered, “He held the line at Newfield when the ACF stormed into the system.” The XO thought for a few seconds. “This was before Mendus, just a few weeks after the war broke out so there wasn’t any fancy computer virus to shut us down. He was outgunned but not by much. He forced the ACF to quit the system or face even greater losses than we’d already given them. I’d say we’re in good hands.”

“Can he beat Admiral Moore?” Rachel asked.

“Now that’s the question on everybody’s minds right now, both in the fleet and back home,” Jacobs replied, his voice showing a hint of worry there. “We’re not sure really. Payne is good but I really do hope he’s better than Admiral Moore; otherwise we’re going to be in a bad way.”

“What about Admiral Kimery?” Richard asked.

“My, my, isn’t this group full of questions,” Jacobs chuckled again. “Well, I guess it can’t be helped. Nobody ever really got in trouble for asking about previous admirals they served under. At least, not that I can think of.” He paused for a second or two while he thought. “She’s been reassigned to the Fourth Fleet which is still being reorganized under her flag.”

“How?” Richard asked. “I saw bits and pieces of her session before the Committee on the Conduct of the War. If you ask me she was getting torn a new one.”

“I saw that same broadcast. It’s a damn shame what those politicians did, trying to blame something on her that she had no control over. I guess they got it into their cast iron heads that indeed Kimery couldn’t really have been expected to control the situation; that we got off easy when you really think about it. I think the Fourth Fleet will be ready to sail in about two months.” The XO paused for a moment as his communicator that started to vibrate and flash a blinking light indicating an incoming communication. “Sorry, I have to take this.” He walked away with the communicator held against his head.

“Well,” Richard spoke up, “he was nice enough. Definitely not one of those hard-ass XO’s if you ask me.” Both of the women nodded their heads in agreement. “As long as we stay on his good side I think we’ll have no problems with our assignments.” Again the two nodded their heads and continued to enjoy their drink of choice.

“Wouldn’t it be a riot if we were all assigned to the same brid…,” Rachel spoke up. “Don’t… finish that statement!” Richard laughed. “Don’t, just don’t.” Meanwhile, Hoshi was sitting there barely containing her laughter with her hands clamped over her mouth.

The next morning Richard yawned as the lights in the room turned on with a softly spoken word from him. He stood up in the room and looked down at the floor of his cabin; he remembered simply throwing his uniform on the back of the desk chair before getting in bed. The night before was a whirlwind of fun with his girlfriend Rachel and Hoshi. They’d stayed in the bar drinking and talking about the various things that they had done on their leave.

He walked over to his wall locker, keyed in his security code, and opened it to take hold of a clean set of his Class A’s. Showing up for the first time to meet one’s commanding officer in the dress uniform was always a good idea. Showing up in anything less meant you didn’t exactly leave anyone with a good first impression and first impressions had a tendency to come back and haunt you.

After getting dressed he pressed the button on the side of the door to open it and standing in the doorway was Rachel. He looked at her; there she was all dressed up in her Class A’s as well. He remembered back to the first time that he had seen her dressed in her Class A’s in the bar on that rainy planet. He thought about how she had looked so damn fine in it and how her perfume was intoxicating. He shook his head and brought his mind back to the present time. How the hell does she do it? He asked himself. “I’m standing here fighting sleep from last night and you… you’re just standing there all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. How do you do it?”

“Coffee,” Rachel replied as she grinned and handed Richard a cup. “I went down to the mess and got some. I figured you’d be up soon so I got us both some.” Rachel looked him over. “Class A’s I see,” she looked him over again and reached up to brush something off of his shoulder.

Richard nodded to her. “I figured it was a good way to make a good first impression.”

“Yeah,” Rachel replied as she handed the cup to him. “I know, I had to be careful not to get any of this coffee on me while walking over here with it. A brown coffee stain on my white uniform shirt would stick out like a sore thumb.”

Richard took hold of the cup and slowly sipped the hot liquid. He smiled as he swallowed it. “Seems like somebody onboard this ship knows how to make coffee the right way.” Rachel nodded in agreement. Meanwhile he sipped the coffee and smiled as he felt the caffeine begin to take effect on his sleepy brain. “Thanks, I needed this.” He nodded his head.

“Thought so,” Rachel took another sip of her coffee. “I barely dragged myself out of bed this morning. The three of us were up way later than we should’ve been.”

“Speaking about the three of us, where’s Hoshi?” Richard looked about and heard the sound of high-heeled shoes coming down the hallway. He looked in that direction and saw Hoshi coming with a cup of coffee herself.

Hoshi came up to the two of them standing in Richard’s doorway. “I see that the two of you got coffee and lots of it.” The two nodded their heads. “We have an hour before we have to show up on the bridge. Right now the mess isn’t busy so if you two want anything to eat, I’d suggest we all hit the mess right now before the crowd hits.”

“Good idea,” Richard replied as he walked back into his cabin and grabbed his officer’s cap and placed in on top of his head. He looked to Rachel and she snickered as she handed her coffee to Hoshi while she reached up and adjusted his cap to make it look straight on his head. “Thanks Rachel.”

Raina Greenfeather IV, of the House of Greenfeather, strode down the long corridor leading to the throne room. The long regal robe the young woman wore flowed with her as she moved with a dancer’s grace. Its deep blue color all but blended in with her dark purple skin with finely threaded gold trim down the sides and arms of the garment. Her steps were light in the padded shoes she preferred to wear around the castle. The queen stopped before one of the bay windows to her left to look out over the grounds of the royal palace and the sprawling and beautiful capital city beyond it. The planet’s twin moons hung high in the night sky in full radiance for all to adore.

The royal gardens, one of her favorite places on the palace grounds, stretched from the walls almost right up to the castle’s outer walls. Generations of Zaltaen monarchs cultivated the gardens yet none in quite a few generations showed the level of care and interest in them that Raina, her sister, and their elderly mother showed them. The queen often walked through those gardens and stoped to admire the many plants and flowers there. Some strains of flowers down there were hybrids that she created in her spare time. Of course now she had almost no time to herself since her mother stepped down from the throne, passing the monarchy to her. Her sister would have to care for the gardens in her stead.

Two knights in the service of the Queen’s Guard flanked her to either side. Each knight held the rank of at least captain in the Royal Zaltaen Marine Corps yet their authority went far beyond what the rank would normally be. They could tell a marine general what to do while they were on the grounds of the royal palace and said general would have to comply. They were the bodyguards of the queen and as such their words carried the weight of the monarch as well. Thousands of years of guarding the monarchy had turned them into an autonomous unit answerable only to the royal family and the colonel who commanded them.

One of the knights quietly cleared her throat to get the queen’s attention. The monarch turned to look at the other woman who was clad in the light plate mail armor the Queen’s Guard favored over modern powered armor. That wasn’t to say that their plate mail was simply that. It was in fact enhanced by technology to make it stronger. They had powered armor if they needed it but while on regular duty they wore the plate mail. “I know,” she started in her soft voice that Zaltaens everywhere would recognize, “but the members of parliament can wait a little while longer. I am their monarch after all. And after today things are going to start changing.”

“Yes, your majesty,” the other woman said as they started moving again. As the United Kingdom of Zalta flourished the Zaltaen Parliament eroded the power of the monarchy to little more than a figurehead position all in an effort to increase their power. Many kings and queens fought against the trend to weaken the power of the monarchy at times but too many weak monarchs in between the strong ones gave Parliament the ability to strip more and more away. Raina planned to start reversing that trend. The Zaltaen people found themselves on the edge of a precipice in their war and she felt it was high time that the people found a strong leader to guide them through the dark times.

This was something that she discussed only with her aging mother and her younger sister and a few of the royal guards. To butt heads with Parliament, a political body whose bureaucratic ways were fully entrenched in society, was not something to be approached lightly. It would take her using the kingdom’s constitution against them. Already she compiled a list of MPs that may favor her rise back to true power and she knew that she had the backing of the military. As queen she was their commander-in-chief but few monarchs in recent memory actually exercised that authority. She honestly wasn’t sure how much of the military would back her but the armed forces still swore their allegiance to queen and kingdom. It could mean that the whole military would unite behind her or a brief schism could erupt.

Not too far ahead stood four more knights standing against the walls next to the double doors leading to the throne room. The huge wooden and iron doors with iron hinges stood for centuries without changing. A few bullet holes pockmarked its polished surface and there were still streaks of dried blood on the wall beside the doors indicative of the fighting that occurred in the castle itself.

About two thousand Zaltaen years ago there was a revolution that nearly destroyed the monarchy. People enraged over perceived abuses of power by the government led a violent uprising that engulfed the home world. The units which later become the Queen’s (or King’s) Guard repelled an assault on the throne room. That event solidified the Queen’s Guard into the autonomous unit it was now. The reigning king at the time was so thankful to those soldiers that he adopted them as his own. The revolution was finally quelled when the Home Fleet moved into orbit. The fleet had no intention of firing on the beautiful planet they protected however the ships alone, and the marines they carried, crushed any lingering ideas of revolt.

Why the Home Fleet took so long to respond to the revolution led to an inquiry which exposed many revolutionary sympathizers within the Admiralty and the Fleet as a whole. Those officers who were proved to have supported the revolution were quietly removed from their posts while the rest of the Royal Zaltaen Navy reeled from the betrayal against the Crown. A dark year passed as revolutionary sympathizers were exposed. There were no public trials or “witch hunts,” the kingdom was too civilized for such things. Those sorts of acts only bred suspicion and fear mongering and led to a break down in esprit de corps which could break the trust in any military organization. However any sympathizers were exposed nonetheless. Rumors abounded about how the Royal Zaltaen Navy’s Internal Affairs Department used telepaths in their investigation but no proof of such things was ever found.

Zaltaen telepaths, or Mind Walkers as they were better known as in the Zaltaen language, weren’t used in the investigations. The Crown forbade it as an example of the abuse of power the revolutionaries accused the government of. People were wary of telepaths because of their ability to read minds, with genuine fears of privacy invasions. Zaltaen telepaths were organized into the Telepathic Corps a thousand years before the revolution as a direct result of that fear. They were largely a sequestered people in society due to distrust.

The Telepathic Corps had a uniform of sorts for their people. White gloves, forest green clothes, and a silver circlet on their heads indicated their telepathic abilities and people generally gave them a wide berth. What was unknown by almost 99 percent of the population was that the royal family was the strongest family of telepaths in the kingdom. Raina was probably the strongest one of them in generations.

The knights snapped to attention as she approached then bowed at the waist. She returned the bows and gave them a softly worded, “Rise.”

Two of the knights stepped to the either side of the doors and opened them. Beyond laid the throne room. A long, wide, royal blue rug ran from the doors all the way down to raised dais upon which the throne sat. The chamber itself consisted of a soaring ceiling that extended at least three stories upwards with massive marble columns that ran the length of the throne room. The columns themselves were pure polished white which gleamed in the moonlight which streamed through the many portals set in the walls. Above, set into the ceiling was a stained glass dome which depicted several kinds of animals and plants of the home world. Whoever designed the room took the positions of the sun and moons in mind when laying out the room thus making it so that the room needed very little in the way of artificial lighting. Set right above the throne was a massive two story stained glass window depicting the first monarch and his princess consort, the Founders of the United Kingdom of Zalta.

Above the floor, on either side of the room supported by the columns, were white marble galleries from which people could be invited to the throne room. Often people were invited to the castle to see the queen when she spoke but tonight those galleries were empty. The floor of the throne room, like the galleries and pillars, were polished white marble. Royal banners hung from the galleries as did banners of the various noble houses that made up the Zaltaen nobility. Twin royal banners hung from the ceiling down to either side of the raised dais. The royal banner consisted of a stylized golden ravenhawk clutching a scepter in one claw and a Zaltaen rose in the other. Set on either side of the bird were two planets symbolizing the planets that were the Kingdom’s primary planets all set against a royal blue backdrop.

The entire room had an airy feeling to it and was, at times, on the chilly side. Discrete heating units were placed in the marble walls to provide warmth during the very few cooler months that came to Zalta IV A and the capital city. Spread out on that floor right now were rows upon rows of chairs all full of peers of the realm and other members of parliament. The House of Commons and the House of Nobles was out in full force tonight, summoned most unusually by the queen. Rarely did the monarch call for the full assembly of parliament and most of the time he or she went to address them, not the other way around.

At this time they were all standing to face the queen as she walked to the throne. Some suspected that something was up because of the summons to the palace. Some eyed her strangely and she could read their minds as to why. Raina was one of the youngest monarchs in centuries and her youth was definitely on display in the graceful way she walked. Some of the members of parliament held their positions for over a hundred years, especially in the House of Nobles which wasn’t an elected house.

The queen took the stairs onto the dais slowly while being sure to not trip on her robe, something she once did when she was a lot younger. She never wanted to repeat the experience. Even today she could remember how her mother chuckled softly to herself. Raina sat on the throne and upon doing so all the members of parliament took their seats as well. By tradition when the queen was in a room and standing nobody was to sit unless they were somehow physically incapable of.

She watched as the knights settled into their positions, led today by their colonel himself, in front of the queen. Raina didn’t expect any trouble from a lot of the MPs there. Too many of them were stuffed shirts in her opinion, really incapable of acting even under duress. The people of the realm were quick to lay blame for the progress of the Vonosh War upon those very same MPs, that if they had a government that would act quicker maybe the war wouldn’t be going as badly. For now the war had settled into another long stalemate like many times in the past two hundred years. The Vonosh held numerical superiority over the Zaltaens but Zalta enjoyed a significant technological edge. Not that that technological edge stemmed the tide much. Normally you didn’t win a war through numbers alone but the Vonosh were proving to be the exception.

Raina raised her hand and motioned for silence. She got it within seconds. The news reporters in the back of the throne room aimed their holo-recorders on the dais, trying to get the best view of the queen.

Raina gently reached down and took hold of the discrete earpiece and microphone that she used when giving public speeches. She set it in her ear then stood to address the people of the realm. When the MPs tried to rise–it was tradition after all–she waved them back down to their seats. They complied without a second’s hesitation. The queen strode to the front of the dais, just behind the knights protecting her with a wall of steel. Softly clearing her throat she spoke, “People of the United Kingdom of Zalta, I come before you today with the promise of hope, the promise of effective government, and the promise of prosperity.” If some of the MPs stirred a little at her words she ignored them.

“Our people have faced strife over hundreds of years and have sacrificed much. For those of you in our armed service far away, I thank every one of you. Your efforts are not in vain. The people of the kingdom are what are most important, for without you there would be no kingdom. The people make this kingdom strong! In the end, it will be the people who will decide our fates, who will rise up and make the kingdom even stronger than what it is already!” Raising a fist she proclaimed, “The people will bring glory to Zalta!”

“We continue to face a war that has never been seen since the early days of the Kingdom, when our home world was divided among various states vying for supremacy.” She shook her head gently, the effect causing her deep blue hair to move in delicate waves down her back. “No, in fact this war is worse than that! The War of Unification was on one planet, with one people, with no outside threats to it. We did not know that when we looked up at the starry sky we love so much that we beheld a vast universe full of other races. That war cost the Kingdom dearly but it lead to a new government for our people. A united government. A United Kingdom of Zalta!”

“Now we stand upon a precipice with an enemy on our borders pressing us in. The Vonosh Empire will not simply go away just because we ask it to! The Vonosh seek to destroy or enslave us all. Already this war has exceeded the estimates of anyone in terms of lives, ships, and monetary cost. This war cannot be allowed to go any further like this!” Most of the MPs on the floor quietly applauded her. Raina pressed on, sure that by the time she was done only a few would still clap. But for now she’d keep on getting the cheers. “When this war ends it shall be we that stand upon the broken ramparts of the Vonosh throne world! We cannot rest until the day that we have driven the Vonosh from our space and our troops stand on Vie Ossa with our rifles raised to the sky in victory! We will not give another parsec to the Vonosh! The line must be drawn! I say here, they advance no further! We and our allies will win this war on our terms!”

“Speaking of allies, we have one that few have thought of. There is a young race we’ve been watching for a long time. They call themselves Humans and they live in an area of space near us and are currently spreading outwards. It is only a matter of time until the Vonosh Empire takes notice of them, if they have not already. We need to make contact with the Humans and secure another ally against the Vonosh.”

She watched some of the assembled MPs look among each other and speak in quiet tones to each other. Raina let them for now. She knew what they were thinking and not because she was a telepath. After a few seconds she spoke again. “I know that the Humans are a warlike people, culturally backwards when compared to our own, with social and sexual mores that make some of us cringe, and are fiercely divided among their own nation-states even to the point of civil war. However, they have the potential for greatness among them. They can become powerful allies for us if they could stop their civil war which is only making them weaker against the storm that is the Vonosh!”

“Though I may be young compared to the past two monarchs I gained the throne through my Right of Succession. My mother is unable to continue her duties as queen as many of you know. She passed the crown to me. I am Raina IV, the Queen of Zalta, the Empress of the United Kingdom, and the Protector of the Realm and it is my sworn duty to protect my people! Just as the War of Unification brought a new government to our people so now this one has forced upon us all change as well!”

She looked out over the assembled MPs and watched as more than a few squirmed in their seats. Most of them were from the Liberal and Republican Parties. The Loyalists, Conservatives, and a smattering of Moderates beamed at her, the approval on their faces as plain as the moonlight. Those were the ones who Raina was sure would back her move.

“We need to change how this government works, to get rid of the dead wood that rots away progress in our society. Too often our people have been appalled by the lack of forward movement; the idea that the status quo is fine and that we should continue on just as things have for the past four hundred years. The power of the monarchy has been stripped away time and again in the past.” That right there was an outright challenge to Parliament and whether or not they’d rise to the challenge was unknown. She could already see it happening among some of the Liberals and Republicans, those parties having always protected their own power bases.

“By my Right of Succession and the sovereignty of my crown, I hereby exercise my constitutional power to lead as I see fit,” she declared as she raised a flattened palm parallel to her chest and swept it sideways. “Our written constitution grants the monarch the power to rule directly with the help of Parliament to control matters of state. For too long has there been an unwritten constitution that has eroded the power of the Crown to the point where Parliament has ruled directly with no input from the Crown. No longer will the monarchy be a figurehead with power in name only. I hereby exercise my right in the Zaltaen Constitution to dissolve Parliament until new elections can be held in two weeks. A temporary governing council will be appointed by the High Court to assist in matters of state until a new Parliament can be elected and formed. These elections will be open to all citizens of the Kingdom and I encourage everyone to vote for the future in mind.”

Raina looked out and saw the Liberals and Republicans staring at her aghast with some unable to completely comprehend what just happened. The Loyalists, Conservatives, and about half of the Moderates stood and applauded. Sure, they were out of a job for now, but the people would most likely send members of their parties back to the new Parliament. Raina looked up at the viewing galleries where her mother and younger sister quietly entered. She could just barely make out the sight of her mother’s smile as she radiated her approval to her in a telepathic link. Her younger sister seemed to be on the border of laughing, amused by the news the assembled MPs just received. Raina smiled back at the two before removing the earpiece and leaving the chamber surrounded by her knights.

Continue to Chapter 8…