The ship entered high orbit of Terra at low sublight. A Spearhead-class heavy cruiser, it was one of the last of its class built a century ago. She was old, though there were older. Her dark blue hull was a standard, made from a combination of minerals that had a natural blue colour when mixed.
The Minotaur was on its way to a three-month patrol of the Tuqnoi Cluster at the edge of the Milky Way, cataloguing gaseous anomalies… officially.
As a junior communications officer, Ensign Jessica Scarlett wasn’t privy to mission specifics. But she knew that the senior officers were hiding something from the crew. It probably wasn’t anything beyond spying on a local power. Something like the Alliance.
Sat at the comms console facing the forward windows, trying to ignore the glares of her direct superior, Scarlett was busy scanning through the communications board. She wasn’t one for worrying about her looks, her blonde hair tied back into a severe knot, her thin face and ultramarine eyes unused to makeup. She didn’t consider herself overly tall, nor short; in fact, she didn’t consider her appearance to be a factor in any of her Navy life.
It shouldn’t matter, here more than anywhere.
This was Terra, the homeworld.
Communications were almost impossible to scan through completely. Adverts, letters, official communications, and even things like invoices were flying around the planet, clogging up the airwaves.
For the Navy’s communications specialists, it was a nightmare.
For Scarlett, it was home.
She had grown up north of the capital, London, in a town called Cambridge. She had been raised by her grandparents, her parents nowhere to be seen since she was four. The Navy had been a no-brainer for her. Her current position and duties were straining her patience.
Her direct superior, Lieutenant Commander Oknoff, was still glaring at her from across the bridge. Whilst she was sat at the secondary comms console, he was at the primary, the ship’s senior comms officer.
Oknoff was a lanky, hook-nosed piece of work with eyes that watched her like a hawk.
But Minotaur was her first assignment, three months out of the Academy, and she was determined to enjoy being an officer of the Terran Navy. This was her calling, after all. Unfortunately, there were more bad eggs within the Navy than she had realised.
She pushed through the comms channels, monitoring for anything suspicious, or for anything relevant to the ship itself.
“Orbital Command has given us permission to dock with Kingfisher Station,” Oknoff announced to the captain and XO. “Berth Nine.”
“Understood, Commander,” replied Captain al’Habin with a frown. Berths Nine through Fourteen were external, reserved for the less important vessels. “Helm, Berth Nine.”
“Aye, sir,” the helmswoman answered. The ship slowed to a crawl, and came around to the side of the wide and flat orbital construct. The docking cradle extended out and clamped onto the big ship, drawing it in as the crew powered the ship’s engines down.
“We’re fully docked, Captain,” reported the XO.
“Thank you, Commander. Stand the ship down from Active and put us on Standby.” He smiled, his dark features crinkling. “The crew’s got two days of leave, Commander. I suggest they use it wisely.”
Commander Lin’War gave him a wolfish grin. Literally.
Scarlett thought that the seven-foot-tall Rijiin played up his similarity to Terra’s wolves, and had on more than one occasion frightened the frikta out of her. But she loved it, seeing the aliens serving in the Navy was a reminder that humans weren’t the centre of the universe. It was why she had joined the Navy, to protect Terra and explore the universe.
Not to fend off sexual advances from the likes of Oknoff.
Beta shift arrived ten minutes before they were due on, and her counterpart on the second shift came straight to her station.
“Any problems?” the older woman asked. Vivaera, a lieutenant, was also similarly experienced with Oknoff. The pair of them had bonded over it, in fact.
“Besides him, you mean?” asked Scarlett, jerking her head towards Oknoff.
“No, not much,” Scarlett said before either of them could get into that discussion. “Just the usual local comms traffic. The solar flares are messing with some of the official channels.”
“Still no response from the outer system?”
Scarlett shook her head.
Vivaera nodded, “Yeah, Navy comms seriously need to be updated to beat solar flare interference. We had that trouble a few months back in the Nbala system.” She clapped Scarlett on the shoulder. “Go get something to eat, Jess. You still not visiting home?”
Scarlett replied in the negative. “Nanna and Gramps are on holiday on Ry; I’m quite happy to be here on the ship, or on Kingfisher.”
“Okay, well we’ll have to get together off-duty tonight after my shift.”
Scarlett smiled genuinely. “Definitely.”
She left Vivaera to it, and headed off the bridge, filing through with some of the others from alpha shift.
“Ensign?” a deep, growling voice asked as she crossed over the threshold to the corridor outside. The two FPG troopers either side of the door snapped to attention, and she knew it was one of the two most senior officers.
She stopped and turned to find herself looking into the uniformed chest of Commander Lin’War. Although nobody would ever tell him, he smelt of dog hair; nobody had the guts to stand up to a creature that looked like a werewolf of the ancient stories of home.
Except that the commander had a peaceful soul, incapable of hateful violence.
“Commander?” she asked, snapping to attention.
The big wolf stood in an easy stance, looking down at her.
“How are you getting on, Ensign?” he asked, his voice softening. “You seem to have warmed to Lieutenant Vivaera?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir. The lieutenant and I are becoming fast friends.”
“That’s good. You always hear about some newly minted officers fresh out of the Academy who have bad experiences with their first assignments.”
She looked at him sharply. He knew. He was fishing, trying to see if she would tell him.
Should she tell him?
It was her word against a respected senior officer. And she could easily have misinterpreted the situation; or at least that’s what they would have her believe. But surely if the XO had his suspicions, she should come forward? A senior officer of the ship was abusing his position on the ship.
“Not so far, Commander,” she said with as much effort as she could muster to not lie. His big furry brow scrunched up in a frown, but he seemed to accept it; or rather, he accepted that she wasn’t about to say anything. She briefly saw Oknoff out the corner of her eye seeing the two of them together. He frowned and disappeared around the corner.
“Good. I know that losing your parents at such a young age can lend one a harsher look on life.”
She looked at him curiously. She hadn’t realised he had looked through her personnel file.
“Sir, are you saying that I have a chip on my shoulder?”
“A chip?” he asked, his black eyes looked weirdly at her shoulders; he hadn’t understood what she meant. She had to fight to stop herself giggling at his confusion. “Why would a human have a chunk of sliced potato on their shoulder?” He shook his head, amused at the thought. “You Terrans have very strange customs, don’t you?”
She blinked. There was a hint of humour at the corner of his snout, the fangs showing through his dark lips. He was taking the frak.
She burst into laughter, and he joined her.
“Go and get some sleep, Ensign.”
She snapped to attention, and threw off a crisp salute. He returned it with a wink, which made her smile.
As she watched him walk away, she decided that she was going to enjoy her time on the Minotaur after all.