The airlock was open and Juanita was slowly falling into space. She held on to Juanita trying to stop her from being lost to the void.
“Hold on! Just let me pull you back into the ship.” She told her. To her surprise though, Juanita was trying to let go of the grip on her.
“Let me go!” Juanita implored her.
“No I need you!” she replied. Juanita struggled out of her grasp.
“Come with me.” Juanita urged her.
“You know I can’t. Stay here with me.” Juanita shook her head and then she was gone. She could see Juanita drifting further and further away from the ship, until she was gone. “Juanita, I need you!” she called out to the blackness. Then the alarm sounded.
Steff woke up. It was six am. She turned off the alarm and sat up in bed. She buried her face in her hands. Why was it always the same dream? In two hours the shuttle would be here to take her to Space Command. Her leave had obviously come to an end. The Admiral himself had requested a meeting with her this morning.
She got out of bed, showered, ate breakfast, and then put on her grey dress uniform. While she waited, she looked at the latest headlines on her viewpad. There was nothing surprising: more unrest on some of the colonies, planets suitable for colonising found, food shortages on some worlds, protests, sports results, the government wanting to further increase the robotic workforce, new recipes, etc.… the usual.
She heard the unmistakable sound of shuttle engines approaching. She grabbed her bag and stuffed her viewpad into it and then went outside. The shuttle landed by the house. The roar of its engines shook the ground around her. The gangway dropped open and two troopers came out. They were dressed in black armour and were equipped with short rifles. They stopped before her.
“Captain Clarke.” One of them stated as they saluted.
“Yes.” Steff confirmed as she saluted back.
“Please follow us Captain.” She nodded and followed them into the ship. Once she was strapped down in a seat, the shuttle engines came back to life and they roared upwards. The quick vertical take-off always unsettled her, which she considered strange as she was a starship captain.
Within a couple of hours they had arrived at New Atlanta. From the shuttle’s viewports she could see the large towers that dominated the city’s skyline. Beyond them was the Space Command Headquarters, and beyond that was the New Atlanta Military Spaceport. Once they had landed, she walked to Space Command and was ushered into a lift that took her directly to the Admiral’s office.
“Admiral Sir!” Steff said while saluting once she walked into the Admiral’s room.
“Please sit down Captain!” Admiral Owens said as he rose from his chair. He was a tall man that wore a white uniform. He had dark grey hair that was cropped short, and grey eyes that never seemed to miss any detail. His office was rather bare, just a desk, some chairs, and a few computer screens. He was a known minimalist and hated clutter of any sort. Steff sat down opposite him. “It’s good to see you again Captain Clarke. I hear you’ve been living in the country for the last few months. How have you been finding that?”
“Quiet. Peaceful.” Steff replied.
“It would be good to have you back. We have need of you.” He confessed.
“You want me back?”
“All the inquiries and commissions have cleared you of any wrong doing. I thought it would be good for you to have some time out, but what do you think? Would you like to be back in the thick of it?” the Admiral asked.
“It would be nice to be in charge of a ship again. I have found I’m missing it.” Steff admitted. The Admiral smiled.
“That’s good to hear. I have a commission for you.” He flicked a switch on his desk and an image of a spaceship appeared on the wall beside them. Steff studied the image.
“Is that a new type of frigate?”
“No. It’s the new class of scoutship we’ve been building. The first one is ready.” The Admiral replied.
“Scoutship? That looks too large and heavily armoured for a scout.” Steff commented. The Admiral shrugged his shoulders.
“Once the Separatists began building warships, all our ships on the front-line had to be beefed up. We have to assume any of our ships may face potential combat with them. The new Hermes-class has thick armour, laser weapons, missiles, point defence, and a crew of around 250.”
“250? For a scout ship?” Steff asked surprised.
“Yes. It’s to cover all eventualities. It may be needed to use the ship as an ersatz warship if Separatists are encountered.”
“I want you to take command of this ship.” The Admiral offered.
“What’s my mission?” Steff asked.
“The wormholes in the Gamma sector have made it to a few new systems. I need you to go there and explore any planets for potential colonies or resources.”
“You’ll be given that ship,” he said as he pointed to the picture on the wall, “and a full complement of crew. The ship itself also has half a dozen shuttle craft and even a couple of starfighters, should they be needed. So what do you say?” he asked expectantly.
“Yes it will be good to have a new command again.” She replied. The Admiral smiled broadly.
“Is there anything else I should know?” Steff asked. For a moment the Admiral paused and looked hesitant.
“Yes. What I’ve just told you is the primary mission.” He replied. “There is also a secondary mission that will only be known to yourself and the ship’s computer.” Steff looked at him surprised.
“Yes. The truth is your ship won’t be the first scout we’ve sent out there. A scoutship was sent there six months ago and has disappeared. Your secondary mission is to locate this ship and find out what happened to it. Only reveal this secondary mission to your crew if the missing ship is found, of course.”
“What do you think happened to it?” Steff asked intrigued. The Admiral shrugged his shoulders again.
“Could have been an asteroid strike, or a problem with the ship itself, or it may have been Separatists.”
“Separatists? In Gamma sector? I’ve never heard of them striking that far out.” Steff replied. She couldn’t believe it herself.
“You’d be surprised how far they’ve got. They made a strike at the Vega station a couple of months ago. There was a battle there between our fleet and theirs.” The Admiral revealed.
“How come I haven’t heard about this before?”
“Because we decided to not let anyone know about it. The Separatists sent out broadcasts telling everyone that they had inflicted severe losses on us, but we claimed the broadcasts were fanciful propaganda. We also managed to block the broadcasts to this part of the galaxy.”
“And what actually happened?”
“We managed to repel their attack, but it did cost us.” The Admiral informed her. Steff looked perplexed. Admiral Owens stood up and went to a side table. He produced two tumblers and a bottle of whisky. “I remember you liking single malts. You want to try this one? It’s quite good.” He poured the whisky into two glasses.
“Yes thank you Sir.” She replied. “I guess the Separatists are a lot stronger than I realised.” Admiral Owens walked back over and placed a glass on the table beside her.
“Yes they are, but we would prefer to not let the public know about it at this stage. Not while something can still be done…” his voice trailed off. He lifted his glass up. “Anyway here’s to your new command.” Steff smiled and raised her glass as well.
“Thanks.” She replied. “Does this new ship have a name yet?”
“Yes. It’s called The Oracle.”
“Well here’s to The Oracle.” She said lifting her glass up again. She took a sip and found that he was right. It was a good single malt.
©️2021 Joanne Fisher