Hello again, friends!
As I mentioned in my newsletter for March, I’ve been working again on a new Galaxii title – the long-awaited fourth book in the series which is still unnamed and probably will remain so for the time being. In the meantime, I decided to give you a sneak peak preview! I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
“Please sit, Captain.”
Sonia LaBelle, thirty-eight, smiled – more out of courtesy than genuine warmth, and took a seat in front of Vice Admiral Beens’ desk. She was blond, youthful and fit, and cut a fine, healthy figure in her Space Fleet uniform – unlike Zackary Beens, who being on the wrong side of seventy, was wrinkled, gray, and seemed noticeably shrunken and bowed as he retook his own seat behind his desk.
“Did you have a good trip?” Beens asked politely. Sonia didn’t really like making small-talk, especially with senior flag-rank officers – and especially when she’d been summoned to appear before them at short notice – and least of all without being told in advance what it was about.
“It was sufficiently pleasant, sir – thank you.” She smiled politely, not bothering to inform Beens that her “trip” had consisted of a quick flip across town in a hovercab. Beens nodded.
“Accommodations to your liking?”
Sonia thought quickly about her small room in the officers’ accommodation wing of the military base on Tremaine, which had been hers for the past four years. The room was adequate, she thought – and that was probably the nicest thing that came to mind – she smiled and nodded, and she left it that.
“Well, I suppose you’re wondering why I asked to see you?”
“Captain, I’m gonna be blunt.” The old man warned her, giving her a meaningful, serious look. “How long have you been at your present rank?”
“Four years, Admiral.” Sonia replied, wondering where this was going – she wasn’t due for a promotion after all – at least not for another decade, if ever. “This coming April 30th.”
“And how much actual command experience do you have?” Beens continued, “Uh – and I mean, specifically aboard ship?”
“I commanded a battlespringer for six months as a Lt. Commander, sir.” Sonia related. “Then shortly before my promotion, to Captain – er, I served as Exo aboard the I.S.S. Larsen.”
“Under Captain Braxton?” Beens asked pointedly.
“I see, and then?”
“Well, about two years ago I was transferred here, to Special Operations.”
“A desk job?”
“Yes sir.” Sonia admitted reluctantly, a detail the Vice Admiral picked up.
“You don’t sound too pleased with that?”
Sonia hesitated. Beens waved off her concerns.
“Feel free to speak your mind, Captain.” He told her. She hesitated, and then plunged in.
“It’s not really what I signed on for, sir.”
“No sir. When I joined Space Fleet as a cadet, I set out to command my own ship one day. Instead, I’ve had just six months’ worth of that – a taste – and then…”
“And then you had your wings clipped.” Beens surmised. “For no apparent reason at all.”
Sonia hesitated in reply again.
“Come, Captain, let’s speak plainly.” Beens smiled. “I’ve seen your record – there’s absolutely nothing on it to cast you in a poor light. It’s spotless.”
“I understand.” The old man nodded sagely. “It must’ve been disappointing.”
“Tell me about your present assignment.”
“I fly a desk, sir.” Sonia said, not without a note of bitterness in her voice. “What’s to tell?”
“Special Operations is a very important function of Space Fleet, Captain…” Beens explained. “In fact it’s my understanding that SO works closely with Fleet Intelligence, not so?”
“Yes sir, that’s true but…”
“But you’d still prefer to command your own ship.” Beens cut her off, adding a whimsical little smile at the end. “Not so?”
Sonia left a definite pause before agreeing.
“Captain, I’m not going to beat around the bush with you any longer.” He continued brusquely, “It just so happens that I have a ship sitting in a berth at the orbital dock gathering rust, dust and probably copious cases of alcohol poisoning – a ship without a captain. Interested?”
Sonia LaBelle had had her fill of working at a desk – and lately she’d begun to be concerned about the future of her career in the Space Fleet. She’d begun to realize that being away from the center seat for too long would be bad for her skills and her instincts as a command-qualified officer – she’d lose her edge. She’d asked to be transferred out of Special Operations a few times and turned down so often she’d been driven to ask her supervisor, Commodore Crane, if that was because she was a woman! Crane had just laughed at her, and given her another five-star performance rating. But as ‘important’ and ‘vital’ as her role in Special Operations was, it wasn’t enough for her. Of course she was interested. Was the old man really serious? She wondered.
“What ship is that, sir?” Sonia asked.
“I.S.S. Munray.” Beens said, matter-of-factly. “You ever heard of her?”
“Me either.” Beens smiled wryly at her, and passed her a substantial paper folder from the top of his table. “In fact, I had to look her up when I did, the other day.”
That wasn’t much of a surprise – the Space Fleet had a lot of ships after all, but in the run of working in Special Operations, and at Flag Rank level like Beens, certain ships’ names tended to appear in communications, routine and intelligence reports more than others. Sonia took it and quickly looked over the front cover page.
“Stingray class, a cruiser.” She noted, scanning over the contents of the file very quickly. It contained the usual technical info, history of the ship, and a crew record. At least it seemed to be a front-line ship – modestly speaking, not a cargo-carrier or some other type of non-combatant ship, which met with her approval.
“Yes, but barely.” Beens grinned. “She’s no spring chicken – a bit long in the tooth, ha ha – just like me you might say. Still interested?”
“Yes sir.” Sonia smiled back. Beens noted the slight hesitation before she’d given her answer and nodded approvingly.
“You’d be right to hesitate, Captain.” The old man continued. “In fact, you should think about this carefully.”
“Why, are there strings attached?” Sonia smiled cheekily in spite of her pessimism. A ship after all, was a ship.
“Yes …and no.” Beens said looking momentarily doubtful.
“So – what do you have in mind, Admiral?”
“Well, nothing dramatic really – just that you’d take command of the Munray – and that, at first glance, would go some way to solving both our problems.” Beens finished with a warm smile.
Sonia like the Admiral’s proposal – but the cynical side of her was – well, cynical.
“Just like that?” She asked skeptically.
“Just like that.” Beens finished.
“Sounds too good to be true, Admiral.” Sonia said thoughtfully. “If you don’t mind me saying so.”
“No, that’s okay Captain.” He agreed. “You’re very perceptive – and that’s one of the reasons why I picked you for this assignment.”
“Hphm.” She grunted. “And what is my assignment?”
“The ship is your assignment, Captain. The ship – and its crew. Together as a unit, you might think of them as… a ‘fixer-upper’ as they used to call it.”
“A fixer-upper?” Sonia asked, raising her brown eyebrows. “What’s wrong with it?”
“The ship? Nothing. At least not much, mechanically or physically. The crew… well, you’ll find all the details in that file.” The old man explained. “Malcontents, hard noses and trouble-makers – and in most cases, the only way they could be told apart from common criminals is their uniforms.”
She still wasn’t buying it. Her mind filled with questions.
“What happened to the previous captain of the Munray?” She asked pointedly. “Captain…”
“Polluk. Captain Wynne Polluk.” Beens told her bluntly, adding with some apparent amusement, “Got himself relieved – he section 80’d out two weeks ago. Or tried to.”
“A psych discharge?” Sonia retorted with some surprise. “What the hell happened? Er… sir.” She added.
“I really can’t say.” The old man smiled back. “But here’s the deal – you take over the Munray, whip her into shape, take her out on patrol – come back in six months, and if I can see a definite improvement in her performance, I’ll make your appointment permanent. If not, well – your desk will still be waiting for you at Special Operations.”
Sonia was just about to answer when Beens held up his hand to stop her in mid-breath.
“Think carefully on it, Captain.” He added warningly. “You’re still on the Command waiting list. A bit of a ways down on that list from the top. In a way, you’ll be able to jump the queue – but think how it’ll look if you fail? Not having been given a command’ll look better on your record than having one – and having it taken away from you.”
The old man was correct, she thought. There were strings attached – with nooses at the ends.
“I understand, sir.” She replied.
“You’re still young.” He smiled, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Thirty-eight… I just promoted a captain last week who’s fifty-two years old. I got my first ship at thirty-five… thought I was getting a head-start.” He smiled again, “They do things so much faster nowadays, though, don’t they? But that’s beside the point.”
“Well?” He smiled again, “Will you do it?”
“Aye sir!” She committed, nodding and smiling back at him. “I’ll do it!”
“I like a challenge, sir.”
“Alright.” Vice Admiral Beens said, looking and sounding pleased with his effort at talking her into a hard bargain. “Collect your kit, say your goodbyes at Special Operations, give Commodore Crane my best – and report to berth 27, Space Dock, tomorrow morning!”
“Aye, sir!” Sonia smiled.
“I’ll have my aide send your biometrics and transfer of command update over to the Munray’s computer immediately.” He said, shaking her hand warmly. “Good luck – and good hunting, Captain.”
“Thank you, sir.” She said in parting.
The old man had a very firm handshake for someone his age, Sonia thought. After the pleasantries of parting with the Admiral, Sonia returned to her office – in another building adjacent to the one she’d just visited – and reported her transfer and new appointment to Commodore Crane. He took the news pretty well, though she noticed that he paled slightly at the mention of Admiral Beens and his ‘best’. Crane waved her on her way, and she went to clear out her desk in the cubicle farm in the Special Operations main office. Then, after exchanging a few terse impersonal goodbyes with her former co-workers there, she took a hovercab back to her apartment building inside the Fleet complex and went to her room to pack the rest of her belongings in preparation for the following morning.
* * *
Galaxii book 4 introduces a new set of characters into the same general timeline and setting as the first three. It’s set some time after the capture of Meradinis by the Terran Space Fleet and the collapse of the Corsair civilization. Two of the most dangerous Corsair prisoners held in the maximum security prison facility on Kobarr have somehow managed to escape – and who knows what their plans are!
Captain Sonia La Belle has been tasked with whipping the crew of the ailing starship Munray back into shape after years spent under the malingering Captain Polluk – who pulled a Section 80 to get out of the Service. Of course somewhere along the line, the aforementioned escapees will re-emerge and somehow, Sonia and her crew will need to deal with them – but that part of the story is still under construction! I’ll be keeping you updated on that in future. Meanwhile, you can enjoy the first three books in the series.
Until next time, keep reading!
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