Twenty-five-year-old Lance Andrew Cain immersed himself in Miranda’s psychedelic beauty, his love’s long, white mane sensuously lifting and waving in a thermal updraft, while globules of incandescent plasma rose with her, surrounding her, isolating the both of them from the ravages of the Lorav Nebula, and cold space beyond.
He raised his hands, as from each fingertip, a monarch butterfly, wings painted in the hues of precious gems, soared away from him, dancing around her alabaster form, her full, pendulous breasts, kissing the crimson that shaded her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. He was in an ecstasy of longing, and unfulfilled, his spirit remained suspended between paradise and mundane.
Then the officer saw the twin white chevrons on the sleeve of his royal blue jacket and remembered, and remembering thus, his darling’s vision froze, stuttered momentarily, and then vanished back into digital oblivion. Once again the Lieutenant JG in the service of the Fifth Legion of Garissann, aboard the space cruiser “The Dread of Issac,” was alone.
The buzzing of the doorbell was incessant, but it took the young officer a few seconds to realize he was back in his quarters on “D” deck, section 18, cabin 1132. Cold, gray metal bulkheads, triple bunks built into the two walls, left and right, of the main room, with Carole’s painting, or a reproduction, of New Orleans, Old Earth, circa 1950, directly facing him. It had been a gift from her mother right before they shipped out, and the only bit of color in what seemed to be an otherwise lifeless environment, lifeless, that is, except for him.
“Coming.” He turned, padded across the thinly carpeted deck, the vibrations of the ship’s Langsten-Weaver fusion drive making his feet tingle through his pale green socks. Were they decelerating again?
At the locked cabin hatch, he palmed the flat switch panel on the right, changing it from a glowing scarlet to emerald. The door immediately receded to the right with a characteristic “whoosh,” revealing an impatient Tamara Valdez standing in front of him, gingerly holding his uniform boots in the fingers of her right hand.
“We all understand the need for privacy on a crowded battleship, but you’re pushing your limits, Andy.” She was the only one to call him by his middle name, since they had gone through officer’s training together at Ejaw Gizzeppli seventeen months ago. They’d been roommates, almost siblings, ever since.
He jumped aside to avoid colliding with her as the woman two years his junior briskly walked in the room. As she was passing him, the lithe Chicana dropped his boots carelessly at his feet.
She turned toward him, dressed in an identical uniform, though the stiff jacket and slacks hugged her curves differently. Regs allowed her to grow her dark hair out now that they had graduated basic, but she still kept it as closely cut as his, exactly eight millimeters long, growing to no more than ten before another visit to the “Body Shop.”
“You’re lucky we ‘Juniors’ have communal Johns on our decks. If I had to hold my pee in while waiting outside our cabin for you, I’d wet myself, and then ‘pissed off’ would take on a whole new meaning in your life.”
He palmed the door shut, knowing what was coming next, and not wanting some passing Ensign to hear just how expertly Tammy could cuss.
Then she surprised him. “Miranda’s letter again? You’re going to wear it out.”
“It’s digital. It shouldn’t…” The tall, athletic soldier, built more like a dancer than a warrior, bit the inside of both cheeks, attempting to stifle his embarrassment. Only Tammy could get to him like this.
“I know.” Her voice communicated both annoyance and compassion. “The recording will outlive us all, especially out here.” She waved her hand overhead as if she could see the interstellar void surrounding the armada. “Put your boots on. Command wants each unit together at their assembly points in fifteen minutes. Mission update.”
Besides the bunks, there was a common desk in the room, a single computer terminal, from which Lance had played Miranda’s holographic letter, and six chairs, one for each of the cabin mates. He sat in the nearest one and started to pull on his left boot, shined to exquisite perfection.
Tamara stood over him, still looking impatient. “As often as you leave boots out, it’s a wonder every Ensign and JG doesn’t think you’re screwing your brains out five times a day.” By the time she finished complaining about what she felt were his excessive privacy needs, he had the second boot on and was standing at attention, which was more of a reflex than a requirement under the circumstances.
“Come on.” She walked over to the door and palmed it open, the green glow reflecting in her brown eyes as she looked back at him. “You’d better not let the Captain hear that you’ve rigged your recording to silence the alerts when you play it, or you’ll be scrubbing Deuterium conduits with your toothbrush wearing nothing but a jock strap.”
The door whooshed open again and she winked at him and smiled before stepping into the corridor and turning left.
He took several long steps to catch up with her and noticed that the passageway seemed crowded for once. Scheduling usually ensured that half the officers and crew on any given deck were at their duty stations, while the other half were off duty or on standby.
“It must be big to mobilize all of us to our assembly points.” He leaned in toward her a little as they crossed the bulkhead into section 17. “Know anything?”
Tamara was a communications officer with a penchant for mentally decoding messages that came through her console, making her the “go to” person for the latest scuttlebutt.
“Not this time. Whatever it is, it’s so hush-hush that it didn’t come across standard channels.”
Even through booted feet, he could feel the engine’s vibrations increase. “We’re still slowing down.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, if it wasn’t for the inertia buffers, we’d all be splattered against the nearest forward bulkhead like a couple of thousand tons of chunky salsa.”
“You have the weirdest sense of humor.” He good-naturedly nudged her in the side with his elbow.
“At least I have one.”
“Look, just because I didn’t understand the punchline…”
“You’re hopeless. ‘The Clown, the Nympho, and the Pope’ is the funniest joke since the invention of comedy, and you still don’t get it, do you?”
“Can the chatter, Louies, and get a move on. Update’s in less than two minutes.” Marine Gunnery Sgt Lucius Jackson, standing at the intersection directing traffic (but only as a matter of protocol), grimaced at them. He was grinding his teeth as if they were gripping a cigar, which he could only smoke on one of the engineering decks, and only then if Chief Patterson was looking the other way. He was easily twice their age and, according to, him, had ten times the combat experience.
Both of them picked up their pace as they turned left toward one of “D” deck’s three assembly areas. “Talk about no sense of humor,” Lance muttered. He turned and saw a small smile on Tamara’s tanned face, but he didn’t get the laugh he expected, meaning that she was really worried.
They entered Assembly Area Baker and fell into ranks with the rest of the junior officers from their sections of the deck. Carole Harris and Rudy Lopez, two of their bunk mates, were already there, and Lance saw the other two, Stella McLaughton and Malcolm Wells, enter from the direction of their duty stations.
Two-hundred and sixty-eight officers assembled in a ring four deep, all staring at the center of the chamber as the holographic generators fired up, creating a shifting pattern of colors and textures. As the image of Admiral Harrison Briggs appeared, a low murmuring passed across the group.
“Shut your pie holes and listen up.” Jackson’s voice echoed throughout the area, but Lance couldn’t tell where he was standing. He did notice that every access point was guarded by an armed Marine, which wasn’t protocol.
The translucent hologram of the fleet’s Commander-in-Chief opened his mouth and began to speak, although this far from the Core, it was most certainly a recording.
“I’m addressing the Officers and Crew of the battle cruiser “Dread of Isaac.” Approximately ninety-six hours ago your time, new orders were transmitted to Captain Antilles Jones directing him to set a new heading for the “Dread.” You should now be decelerating within the Prog Lozab system, outside of its debris ring.”
There was another brief round of low conversation, but all it took was for the Gunny to clear his throat and they all ceased.
“This will obscure your approach to the third planet orbiting Prog Lozab, code named Nineveh. The rest of the armada will engage the Talsan fleet at Delta Vega as planned, but our latest intelligence reports that this is a ruse. The real invasion into Human Space will be launched from this remote system using what we understand to be a prototype space jump technology capable of transporting an army directly to the surface of multiple other worlds, in this case the five planets of the Core. Your mission is to stop them by any means possible, not only halting their invasion, but either capturing or destroying the prototype.”
Lance barely caught the sound of Tamara’s gasp as he felt his own legs trembling.
“The Dread’s senior staff will disseminate your individual assignments, which will involve orbital bombardment, sub-orbital attack fighters, ground assault.”
The Lieutenant suddenly saw a flash of the cockpit of his TJK-47 fighter. This would be the first time he’d flown it in an actual battle rather than a simulation.
“I know this comes as a shock, but security on this mission was absolutely vital. You’re the best we have. It’s all riding on you. I know the Dread will do the fleet proud.”
“The best we have,” Lance thought. “Only because the last Talsan assault two years ago at Wolf 359 took out half the original fleet and two-thirds of the experienced military personnel.
“I wish you luck and Godspeed.” He took a deep breath, the gravity of their assignment weighing heavily upon him. “Briggs out.”
The hologram collapsed into visual chaos and then vanished. The murmuring started up again, and the news was so august that some of the officers began to break ranks.
“As you were, Monkeys,” Jackson’s voice rang out sounding of ill-temper. “Each of you report to your duty stations. From there, your assignments will be transmitted to you by your unit commanders. Don’t stop to go to the can, scratch your ass, or pick your snotty noses. You are dismissed. Move it, people.”
The population of one-third of D deck began to dissolve, quickly moving toward one of the six exits of the chamber. Lance looked at Tamara as she started moving away to the left, up toward communications. His station was below the personnel and command decks, down on Flight Deck Charlie. Carole and Rudy, the other two fighter pilots in their pod, would meet him there.
His piercing green eyes locked onto her brown pools of knowing. He could barely hear her whisper as her lightly glossed lips uttered, “Now’s your chance to win one for the girl you left behind.” Then she turned her back to him quickly and started walking.
Lt. JG Lance Cain turned right and followed the officers ahead of him, knowing Tamara understood exactly why he had joined the service, but what her mouth didn’t say, her eyes did. For the first time, he realized that she wasn’t just a friend, or a sister, or a cabin mate. Tamara was in love with him.
In less than 24 hours, if they both survived, he might have to do something about that.
This morning I read a blog post about an upcoming Space Opera project and was intrigued. Just for giggles, I looked up the definition of a “space opera” and decided to try my hand. I’m not sure I captured the flavor correctly, but after all, this is my first attempt.
Oh, I took the Battle at Wolf 359 directly from Star Trek, but everything else is original.