Sorry this one is a little late coming. I wrote it last night, but had to do a lot of editing this morning to really make it come to life.
I scowled for a second, but let it drop and followed him out into the hall, rolling my sleeves to the elbow so they at least appeared even and leaving Janet to her own devices. Curtis led the way down the hall and through a set of massive pressure doors. The hallway we entered was wide and cold. Thick magnetic strips flanked both side of the heavy grated decking. The walls on either side were packed with tools, tie downs, and cubbies, giving the hallway the feeling of an unfinished warehouse.
Curtis caught me looking. “This is our main port-side cargo way. Everything you see is for moving cargo in zero-G. The lack of gravity makes things easier, but on the heavier objects momentum is still a pain.”
If you get a chance to tour a star ship, don’t start with the cargo way. We passed more than a dozen different turns, each clearly marked with labels and arrows, but cargo paths don’t directly lead anywhere interesting except for cargo bays. After a winding five minutes the hallway ended in a massive circular room filled with boxes. Curtis didn’t even pause for a sarcastic remark, though I had one ready in case he did. Instead, we turned directly left and headed to a ladder. Three decks later we came to a sealed and well lit companionway leading us onto the bridge.
I stopped moving the moment my feet hit the bride. The bow was dominated by a set of truly massive electro-glass view windows. It was the first time I’d ever seen the stars at relativistic speeds. They no longer looked liked stars, they blazed like comets of light streaking across the screen and the normal silver starlight stretched across the entire spectrum as the light bent either toward us or away. I stared until Curtis settled his hand on my shoulder and steered me into a small room on the side of the bridge.
The Captain’s office was tiny. It held a desk full of ancient star charts, the most recent 3-d holo-imager available and a naval astrolabe that must have been nearly four hundred years old. The Captain stood behind the desk, abstractedly working on some calculations on the holo-imager. She spared us a quick glance and a small wave to dismiss Curtis before dropping her gaze back to her work. Curtis turned to leave, giving me the kind of quick look that conveyed sympathy and wished me luck at the same time. I gave him a nod and slipped the lock on the door behind him, turning to study the Captain.
She wore the traditional black spacer’s uniform jacket half unbuttoned and her reddish-brown hair hung in a loose braid. She worked with swift, confident movements, studying the holo-imager with every twist of the calculations. The office itself was small, there was no room for a chair around the massive navigation desk, but it was neat and organized and managed to confirm a feeling I’d been getting about this ship and crew; if it was needed for the ship or the mission it was immaculate and cared for. If it wasn’t important, it was treated like it wasn’t important.
The Captain didn’t even look up. “If you’re done with your assessment the good whiskey is on the shelf behind you. We’ll both need doubles.”
That surprised me. Not the drink. I’d half expected to be offered booze, but the stress in her voice was plain. I poured a pair of tall drinks and set one at the table. She flipped the switch on the holo-imager and drained her glass in a single pull, picking up a nearby remote terminal. “Jensen Wade,” she said, using my full name. “Twenty-eight. Orphaned at age six. Drafted at age seventeen.” She watched me from the top of her eyes. “Four years of service in what I understand, was one of the most bloody civil wars in recent history.” She dropped her gaze back to the pad. “Wounded once. Four commendations for valor. Three battlefield promotions.” That made her pause and her eyes flipped back to me. “You have a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time, don’t you?”
I sipped whiskey as my response and refilled her glass as she continued. “College after the war. Dual degree program in Physics and Biology. I understand that’s a popular combination for people heading into space travel design. Though I also understand there has been a resurgence in Civil Engineering for that as well.”
I shrugged. I doubted she’d brought me into space and woke me from cryo sleep to talk about the pros and cons of degree program options. She straightened and set the computer tablet on the table, gesturing at the holo-imager. “Do you know how to use that?”
I nodded. “I’ve had to use something similar before.”
She shook her empty glass at me. “Do you know anything about astro-navigation? Can you plot a course across space?”
“I’ve had the theory, but no actual practice.”
She grunted once and fell silent, staring down at the charts and calculations on the desk. From the little I could see they looked like fuel consumption equations. “It’s not going to drink itself, Mr. Wade,” she said without looking up.
“Am I drinking with my ship’s Captain or my kidnapper?”
The ghost of a smile tugged at her lips for a second. “At the moment, you’re drinking with Majesty Ryan: Captain, Owner, and lead Pilot of the long haul ship ‘Mercy’. But I wont hesitate to go back to being your kidnapper. As you rightfully told Mr. Cord earlier today; it’s about respect.”
“Good enough.” I drank deeply. The savoury fluid seared down the back of my throat and boiled in my stomach. It was sheer heaven. I refilled both glasses.
“So.” I said, forcing my voice to be casual. “How are things?”
The Captain barked a bitter laugh and stabbed her pen into the table top. “Bad, Mr. Wade,” she said. “Very bad.”
“Yeah…” I said. “I was gathering that.” I tried to let it stand for a beat, but my patience wasn’t up to it. When she didn’t respond I blurted, “You want to tell me what the hell is going on or do you want me to fucking guess?”
Her eyes went cold. “Do not speak to me that way on my ship, Mr. Wade. You are awake and alive on my sufferance. Remember that.”
“Fine.” I slammed my empty glass to the table. “Be a bitch. Put me back in the freezer. Space me. I don’t give a fuck. But if someone, anyone, I don’t care who, doesn’t tell me what the fuck is going on, I am going on-”
“You’re going to what?” she demanded. “Beat someone?”
“No.” I felt my voice go cold. “I’m not going to do anything. I’m going to sit there, in my cell. And. Not. Do. Anything.” I let it sink on for a moment before going on. “If I’m not awake for a reason, if you don’t need me, then that shouldn’t bother you at all, Captain.” I spat the last word.
Her face went white with rage, but she controlled herself with visible effort while I drank my whiskey. After another few heartbeats she pulled the bottle across the table. She refilled her glass and, after a brief hesitation, refilled mine too. “If you repeat anything I am about to tell you I will either put you back in stasis or fire you out an airlock. Is that understood, Mr. Wade?”
“Understood.” I said the word, but she didn’t seem convinced. I glanced down at my glass and finally understood the symbolism. I drank deep. “Understood, Captain Ryan.” I corrected.
“My ship is under attack. We have seven dead.”
“I’d heard it was six.”
She didn’t seem surprised I knew. “Seven. The Navigator’s cryo pod was deliberately tampered with.”
She didn’t seem to hear me. She ticked the dead off on her fingers. “The Navigator, the Bosun, the Bosun’s mate. My Chief and secondary relativists. The secondary fusion chief and Isabella.” She stared at me. “These are not random.”
She was hinting at something I didn’t catch. “What’s the pattern?”
“Most of my experts on navigation, hull elasticity, or relativistic physics have been killed,” she said. “We haven’t been able to complete a full analysis. I don’t know if this ship will survive the flip over -or- breakdown and we are quickly reaching the point where we have no choice but to try.”
“So, I’m awake because?”
“Because you have the mathematical, scientific, and technical background to fill in the missing positions with a minimum of research and you have a documented knack for surviving when other people don’t. You’re also a trained and experienced soldier. If anyone tries to kill you, you can at least account for yourself.”
“So, you’re offering me a job?”
“I’m saying you’re being drafted into service.” She lifted her glass. “Again. Unless you would rather sit in your cell and do nothing?”
I let out a slow whistle. “The rest of the crew doesn’t know the connection?”
She nodded. “And they can’t find out.”
“I’ll need a better place to stay.” I said.
“That can be arranged.”