June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2034 Terran Standard Time
David slammed his fist against the arm of his chair as the audio feed from the planet below cut out. Five of his crew members had been missing for nearly two days and he could get no information out of the people who were holding them. He didn’t even know if they were alive or dead.
“Try it again,” he told Ensign Thomas, who had replaced Ensign Lindros as the primary comm officer. “Get them again.”
“I’ll try, Sir.”
“Don’t try,” David rose and turned to face the young man, “Just do it. Do it now or I’ll have you cleaning toilets for the rest of the trip.”
“Uh, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Templeton called out from his station.
“What?” David spun, practically shouting. “What do you need?”
“I just discovered something, but I think we need to discuss it in private.”
“Very well,” David said. “My office. Now.”
David turned to Lieutenant Commander Jackson, who was glaring at him with barely concealed anger from the engineer station. “You have the bridge,” he told her.
“Aye, I have the bridge,” she responded, voice icy.
David led his Ops officer back to his office. “So what have you discovered” he asked as the door closed.
“I’ve discovered that you need to calm down, Captain,” Templeton crossed his arms over his chest. “That explosion on the bridge was completely and totally uncalled for.”
“Permission to speak freely?”
“You have already assumed it, so I guess you’ll know right about the time I give you kitchen duty.”
“…Right…” Templeton paused. “Listen, Sir, I was on the Wyvern when Captain Bock blew up. I served with Commander Gregory.”
“And your point is?”
“This isn’t good. Ensign Thomas did not deserve the way you yelled at him.”
“He wasn’t doing his job, Lieutenant Commander.”
“That’s wrong, and you know it. He was doing the best he could do.”
David sighed. “Look, Mr. Templeton, you don’t understand this, but I’ve got five people stuck on that planet. They are my responsibility.”
Mark leaned over the Captain’s desk. “Captain, I do understand. Commander Gregory is a good friend. He was my direct superior on the Wyvern and on the Nightwind project. I don’t like that he’s down on that planet any more than you do.”
“But you aren’t responsible. I’m the Captain, if they die, I’m responsible.”
“So do what Earth Command trained you to do, Sir.”
“They didn’t train me in how to deal with this, Mark, I’m making it up as I go along.”
“And, with all due respect, Sir, it’s showing.” Templeton straightened up. “We’re doing something here that no one in the Human race has ever done. You’re trying to do it all by yourself and you can’t. Don’t you know that’s why we’re here?”
“Why who is where?”
“Us,” Templeton replied, “Your Command Crew. Me, Jackson, Lieutenant MacDonough, even Wing Commander Luchenko. Talk to us, ask for advice. Don’t ignore us.”
David sighed, deflated. “Alright, tell the Command Crew I want them to each come up with an idea about how to get our people off that planet. We’ll meet in…two hours, assuming we haven’t heard anything new from the planet by then.”
“Yes, Sir.” Templeton turned and left the room, leaving David to his thoughts.
* * *
“Are you sure nobody followed you here?” the young Lieutenant asked the Ensign as the other snuck into the small secondary communications room.
“Who would follow me?” the junior officer asked. “What’s going on?”
“Heard from Ensign Thomas that the Captain blew up on the bridge, that’s what’s going on.”
“So? Don’t you get it? The Captain’s got us into this mess and now he’s melting down.”
The Ensign scratched his neck and offered his superior an uncomfortable look. “That’s not good, is it?”
“So what are we gonna do about it?”
“There’s only one thing to do. We’ve got to take over the ship, take it home.”
“We can’t do that, Lieutenant…can we?”
“Course we can. We just need an opportunity and a plan.”
“But we can’t run the ship. That’s what the Captain’s for.”
The Lieutenant sighed. “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, speaking slowly. “Commander Gregory is down on that planet, collecting dust and probably getting pretty mad at the Captain for leaving him down there, right?”
“So we go and we kidnap the Captain. And then you know what we do?”
“We kill him.”
“No. We call the planet, tell them that we want to do a swap. We tell them that we need to get the people down there back but we’ll send the Captain in their place, y’know, a gesture of good faith and all.”
“And then we leave?”
“Now you’re getting it. We turn the ship over to the Commander and we go home.”
The Ensign nodded. “Wait,” he paused. “Why do we want to go home? Don’t we need to explore, to figure out what happened to the Winged Messenger?”
“Did you see any of the reports of the stuff going on at home before we lost contact?”
“I saw the riots. But the Captain says that our mission is more valuable for helping stop that stuff than anything we could do if we went back.”
“Of course the Captain says that. He wants to make the decisions and get the glory. And he can’t do that if he’s back home taking orders from Earth Command.”
“Think he’s been getting orders but keeping them secret, Lieutenant?” the Ensign asked, understanding dawning in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“So how do we get to the Captain?”
“We need to get help from someone in the Command Crew.”
“Thomas told me that Lieutenant Commander Jackson did not look happy with the Captain after he blew up. I think she’ll be the best choice.”
“Okay. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Planet Hemdirh, Ah’Dag System
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2147 Terran Standard Time
The door of the holding cell opened and a pair of burly guards threw Commander Gregory onto the small room. He collapsed into a bleeding mound in the middle of the room, unwilling or unable to do anything. After their shuttle crash and subsequent capture Ensign Lindros had managed to talk their captors into allowing them to go back and get their translators. He now found himself wishing she hadn’t, as that apparently meant they felt torture and interrogation would be a much more useful tool.
As soon as the door closed the room’s other occupant scrambled out of the corner to check on him. Once she determined that he was, in fact, still alive she convinced him to sit up, pushing, shoving and dragging him over to the wall.
Once sitting, the Commander slowly opened his eyes and focused on his companion. “Hey, Ensign,” he managed to croak out.
“I have one question for you.”
“Shoot, Commander,” she said, using her sleeve to dab away some of the blood from his face.
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
She shook her head. “You’re not funny, Commander.”
“Just trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
“Well it’s not working just now.”
“But it was a good try, Commander.”
Gregory struggled into a slightly more comfortable sitting position. “Do me a favor, Ensign Lindros,” he said, sounding slightly better than the first time.
“Call me Walter for now. I don’t think we need to stand on formality right now.”
“Only if you call me Brooke,” she paused, “Walter.”
“Very well, Brooke.” He smiled weakly. “So have you heard anything about our Marine friends?”
“Too bad. I wonder how they’re doing.”
Lindros slumped against the opposite wall. “I don’t suppose they could be doing any worse than we are right now.”
“So what are we doing here?”
“For the Captain to get us out of here, I suppose.”
Brooke ran her fingers in a circle on the floor, creating a swirl in the dirt and dust gathered on the cold, hard surface. “Do you,” she stopped herself.
“Do I what?”
“Do you think he’ll actually get us out of here.”
“He’s the Captain. It’s his job.”
“But he got us here in the first place. Is he going to be able to get us out?”
“If he can’t we’re in a lot of trouble.”
“What if he left without us?”
“He wouldn’t do that, Brooke.”
“He left Earth behind.”
“Ah,” Walter shifted again, still unable to find a comfortable position. “I see what this is all about.”
“What is all about?”
“You don’t trust the Captain.”
“I know that you don’t agree with the fact that we didn’t go right home after talking to the Joshans,” Walter told her. “I know that you don’t think he’s been making the best possible decisions. And now that we’re down here you think that he’s going to just decide to leave us here to rot because it will get in the way of his mission.”
“Something like that,” she reluctantly agreed.
“Well it’s not going to happen. The Captain and I decided that Earth can take care of itself without us. But he knows that we can’t take care of ourselves down here.”
She closed her eyes. “So am I just being foolish, then?”
“Not a problem.” Walter finally gave up trying to get comfortable and slid down the wall until his body stopped moving.
“You know what would make this go a lot better?”
“Tell me a story. A good story, something fun.”
“I don’t know any stories.”
“Sure you do, Brooke. Tell me why you’re here.”
“I think you know very well why I’m here. We were on our way to the planet to see if we could get some information. Then they shot us down. Then I believe they tortured you and probably dumped us here to rot.”
Walter sighed heavily. “You’re not very good at this, are you?”
She shrugged. “You asked me why I’m here, and I told you.”
“Yes, but I know why we’re in this cell. I wanted to know why you’re in the Navy, why you’re on the Nightwind, you know, something to keep us talking about something, anything other than the fact that we’re stuck here.”
“It’s okay. So. Why are you here?”
“Well…” she paused, gathering her thoughts. “I went to the Academy, but didn’t do all that well in most of the disciplines. But I could run comm systems, so they decided to put me into that field.”
“Where did they assign you?”
“I’m sorry.” Walter shook his head. Any assignment that wasn’t aboard ship was considered to be boring duty, despite the fact that only a small percentage of the active Naval personnel were ever assigned to one of the patrol ships at any given time. Those who graduated at the top of their classes, such as Gregory or David Anderson, tended to get immediate assignments to the ships and would usually get the option to stay aboard ship for as long as they wanted. For those whose marks were not as high even one shipboard assignment could be considered lucky.
“Eh, it’s not your fault, Sir, I didn’t graduate high enough in the class to warrant anything better.”
“So then how did you get assigned to the Nightwind?”
“I heard that they were looking for a linguistics expert, it was for a secret project, but it was supposed to result in some sort of shipboard duty.”
“So you know a lot about language?”
She rolled her bright green eyes. “Didn’t you read my dossier, Sir?”
“Sure, but I want to hear your story. And, again, call me Walter.”
“So what languages do you know?”
“Well, my family spoke Greek, Italian, Spanish, English and a little bit of Polish when I was growing up.”
“That’s a lot of languages. My family spoke English and Ukrainian, but that’s all I know.”
“Well I also studied French, Japanese and learned some Ancient Greek and Latin as well.”
“Because I could. I had an ear for it.”
“So they picked you for the position on Nightwind?”
“I was the most qualified.”
The door of the cell opened again and they fell silent. Two guards walked in, followed by a woman carrying a tray with two bowls.
“Eat,” one of the guards commanded. “You’re lucky to get it…pirate scum.” He leaned over and very deliberately spit in one of the dishes.
“I don’t suppose that’s a sign of respect here, either,” Walter quipped.