After traipsing around in the joke the Yrch had draped over her body, Fawx was very thankful to have a normal uniform again. TSF Security had found it very difficult to believe the beautifully young women in the short skirts could be the crew of the Sabine and that the one with cleavage hanging all over the place could be Captain Fawx. If it hadn’t of been for the fact that they arrived in the Sabine itself the entire crew might have been escorted to an insane asylum.
For three days they had been quarantined in the TSF base on the moon of Flynn IV. The Sabine was sent to a TSF shipyard for repairs. The old transport ship had taken quite the beating over the past few days and deserved some rest. While it killed Moden to leave the ship in the hands of others, she knew it had to be done.
While they were waiting, the girls had been poked and prodded by baffled medical examiners. The story was explained again and again until Fawx finally blew up at one examiner who asked Fawx to explain things to him for the umpteenth time. Dr. Teffri was growing quite annoyed as well. The seasoned doctors who had been examining the girls found it difficult to listen to the explanations and discoveries of a person who didn’t look like she could even be in medical school, let alone be a doctor. It was a fact she had grown weary of asserting.
After those three days, a diplomatic ship took them on the two day journey to Earth. While on the ship, Fawx and Novak had a meeting with Ambassador Rhett. He wasn’t as concerned about what the Yrch did, but rather with the confrontation with the Minalonian battleship. For the Captain it had actually been a nice change of pace. Ever since leaving the Sabine, everyone looked at Fawx and her crew with pity. Ambassador Rhett had either just ignored it or was so focused on his job he didn’t even let it bother him.
Fawx hadn’t really thought about it before then, but that ship had broken the treaty the TSF had with the Minalonian government in at least half a dozen ways. The Captain hoped that further confrontation with the Minalonians could be avoided; she had already fought one war with them and didn’t want to fight another.
When they had finally arrived on Earth, they were swamped with questions anew. At least they now the questions had some kind of direction. They were trying to find a way to solve the logistics problem the Yrch’s work had created. But the questions of what to do about it were still up in the air.
Fawx sighed as she knocked on Admiral Oregon. She had no idea what to expect from this meeting; she had never met Oregon. “Come on in.”
She opened the door and stepped into the Admiral’s office. She had only been in here once before- two days after she let Irium escape. The then Admiral Duilio had given Fawx the thrashing of several lifetimes and sworn in at least three languages. Had it been up to Duilio, Fawx would have been kicked out of the TSF and tried for criminal negligence while on duty. Fortunately for Fawx, the judge in his court marshal hearing had made liberal use of the “under duress” statutes that existed. Furious with the results, Duilio assigned Fawx to the Sabine so he wouldn’t have to ever see him.
Admiral Oregon looked up from his computer screen. Fawx stood at attention and saluted her superior. The Admiral stood up and examined her, looking her up and down. It wasn’t a prowling look he took- Fawx could tell by the look in his eye that it was more like someone trying to assess someone who had just been injured. “At ease, Captain.”
Fawx broke off her salute. “Please sit down, Captain.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
The Captain was impressed by how young Admiral looked- for an Admiral anyway. He couldn’t have been past his mid-50’s which was about ten to fifteen years younger than most admirals. Even being that young though, he would still be Fawx’s senior by about ten years- although he looked old enough to be her father now.
The Admiral said nothing for a while. He just kept staring at his desk. Fawx patiently sat, clicking the heel of her boot on the ground. She hated it, but she still had to wear her high heel boots the Yrch gave her due to the modifications the Yrch had made to their feet. She took solace in the fact that Teffri had told her that a simple surgery could fix that and that she would work with the TSF medical brass to arrange to get the surgery for the entire crew.
Finally, Oregon broke his silence. “Captain, I read all the reports. All of them. The ones you wrote. The ones the doctors and Ambassador Rhett wrote. Your officers, your crew- even the ones written by the engineers at the shipyard. Frankly Captain, I was trying to find a hole in your story. I tried to find the one thing that didn’t add up. I didn’t do it because I didn’t trust you- I did it because I was hoping you were lying. I didn’t want this to be the truth.”
Fawx nodded her head, her hair swaying a little as she did. She reminded herself to get a haircut after this. She was tired of having hair down to the middle of her back. “I don’t want this to be the truth either, Admiral.”
Oregon nodded his head. “I cannot imagine the pain this must have caused you and your crew. I don’t believe I ever will.”
“I hope that is true.”
The Admiral gave a light chuckle, trying to ease the tension in the room. He stood up and looked out the window of his office. “The DNA scans on the hair you brought to us confirmed the man you killed to be the traitor, Walter Irium. If it isn’t too intrusive- how do you feel in regards to that?”
Fawx bit her lip. She searched for the words to describe her feelings. “Like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders- but at the same time it’s tough to feel good about it because the burden wouldn’t have been there had I- well, no doubt you know the story, Admiral. Had I not hesitated, my crew and I would be just fine.”
“Bittersweet- probably one of the worst feelings to have. You want to be happy but you just can’t let yourself because the bitter just nags at you in the back of your mind.”
Fawx nodded her head. “My crew shouldn’t have to suffer for my mistakes.”
Oregon sighed. “Such is the nature of leadership though. It’s a burden we all carry to some degree or another. During the Minalonian War, I was the Captain of a Warcruiser, the Aegis. During one battle, I had to make a decision. We were flying with our sister ship, the Charger. We were outnumbered four to two. During the fight, we lost our shields, as had the Charger. The Charger then started losing engine power. There came a point where I had a choice to make, to run to fight another day and abandon the Charger or to try to defend it. Our chances of winning were slim, so I abandoned the Charger. Hundreds of TSF men and women died that day. I had done the right thing according to the book, better to sacrifice one ship than to lose two, but in my heart, I knew I had let them die. Maybe we could have turned the fight around. I don’t know, but I still have nightmares about it to this day.”
Oregon bowed his head. She knew that face; she had worn that face many times in years past. Leadership took its toll on whoever possessed it. Maybe this man did understand her better than most in the TSF fleet, but she knew walking down the road of mistakes past couldn’t have been why this meeting had been called. “Admiral, as much as I appreciate it- why have you asked me here? Was their something in my report you wanted to ask me more about?”
Admiral Oregon nodded his head and sat back down at his desk. “Captain Fawx. How would you rate your performance on this past mission?”
Fawx shrugged. “We were supposed to transfer a prisoner into the custody of the Stasian government and keep the ship safe. We released the prisoner who is now either dead or roaming around free, all my men are now attractive young women, and our ship had to be sent in for major repairs. I’d say according to our mission, we did fail in about every area possible.”
Oregon nodded. “I would have to agree, according to your original mission objectives, you did fail. But I would never dare say your mission was a failure. I would say it was a remarkable success.”
Fawx raised her eyebrow. “Sir?”
Oregon’s face was dead serious. “Captain, look at what you and your crew accomplished. You kept your wits about you in the face of unimagined adversity, you took on a Minalonian battleship with only a transport vessel and somehow won, at the same time you made sure to not destroy that ship so that war should be able to be avoided. Furthermore, your engineering chief was able to create a weapon that defeated a foe with abilities never before conceived of. Despite being dead in the water, you devised a strategy that allowed you to not only repel the boarders, but avoid any casualties, and killed one of the greatest traitors the human race has ever known. If that wasn’t enough, you most likely also destroyed a ship full of men who were admitted slave traders and by virtue of who they traded with, thieves, rapists, murderers- all that with your weapons systems all offline! Considering the competence your Lt. Moden showed us, I’m confident that scuttle bomb finished off those god-forsaken criminals. I don’t give a damn what your original mission objectives were- you can’t make up better achievements than that.”
Fawx didn’t know what to say. She was on the heels of the most humiliating experience of her life. She felt like she had let down her crew and the families of those crewmembers. Fifty-three lives had been altered horribly. And yet here was the Admiral of TSF fleet praising her like she had never been praised before. “Th-thank you- Sir.”
“Captain Fawx, it is apparent in your report that the Minalonians are getting more aggressive. This might have been a rogue commander, but I do not want to risk being caught with our pants down. We also need to obviously extend our forces further in our own realm. Places like Artes II are a shame to the human race and if we are to uphold our dignity we have to get the outer worlds under control. We can’t both mount a better defense force against the Minalonians and take on the challenge of curtailing the smuggling and other illegal activities on the outer worlds without increasing our forces. I’ve just authorized the construction of four new Warcruisers. Considering how difficult it is to pull together the resources to build these mobile fortresses, it will be two years before the first one is completed and ready for use. When that time comes, I want you to be the Captain of one of them.”
The Captain froze. “I- I’m sorry. What? Why? Why me? I-“
“Captain Fawx, you took on a Minalonian battleship alone and in a transport ship. You proved your resourcefulness beyond that of any other Captain in this fleet in my opinion. I don’t care about past mistakes. It distracts from the fact that you’re brilliant tactics saved the necks of you and your crew. Any other Captain would be on a ship to Artes II had they been in your situation.”
Fawx nervously shifted her hands back and forth. Could this really be happening? She didn’t feel like she deserved it. It was an honor she never thought she would be afforded. But did she even want it? She had done some serious thinking in the past few days. “I don’t know Admiral- I-“
She took a deep breath. She wanted to say this right. “Admiral, there was a period when the Yrch had me kneeling down, where I thought we weren’t going to be able to repel the boarders in time to escape the blast of the scuttle bomb. It was during that time that I realized that I have missed some things in my life that I need to sort out.”
“What kinds of things?”
“Sir, I have been a soldier my entire life. Since the age of twenty, I have spent more time away from Earth than on it. Outside of the TSF, I have no relationships that mean anything. I haven’t seen my family in years. I felt like maybe I had missed the most important things about life. Now here I am on Earth. Something that has been mentioned to me is how I’m suddenly twenty-five years younger. I’m not saying I’m happy about it- but I’ve been given a second chance at something most don’t. I’ve got quite a bit of shore leave saved up- a few years worth. I was thinking I should take a year off and sort things out. Life is kind of crazy right now.”
Oregon nodded. “I know what you mean about maybe missing the important parts of life. I think we all may have spent too much time defending humanity instead of living humanity. Well like I said, it won’t be completed for two years. You don’t have to answer me right away.”
Fawx nodded. “Thank you Admiral. What about my crew though? Some of them have families; wives, children, one even has grandchildren. What is being done for them?”
The Admiral nodded. “Well, what happens between them and their families is largely up to them. We are ready to help them in any way possible but other than offer counseling financial resources there is very little we can do to help immediately. A few of your crew have expressed desires to go find out more about the past of this Yrch. It’s unlikely he was the only Yrch who could do this. If they do have some secret magical society, as crazy as it sounds, we’re going to do our best to find others who could do what he did. With a little luck we might find one who can reverse the damage done. I’ve already contacted our diplomats to the Yrch so see if we can’t get a better lead. Your Dr. Teffri has expressed a strong desire to be a part of any team that goes to research this. In the meantime, all I can offer most of your crew is to keep them busy. I already have assigned your Engineering and Security Chiefs, Lt. Moden and Petton, to submit suggestions for prepping a ship for another intruder like the Yrch you faced. I will be asking Commander Novak to be part of a committee that reviews policies and procedures we have in place to prevent another situation like this.”
“Thank you Admiral. I really appreciate what you’re doing. I know my crew does as well.”
“Your crew deserves the best we can give them. Now if you don’t mind me asking- what is it you plan on doing for the next year? A year can be both a terribly short and long time.”
Fawx looked up at the ceiling. “I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet, but I need to reestablish contact with my family. They deserve to know what’s happened to me. After that- who knows, maybe see the world. Go traveling and take in the sights our home has to offer.”
She gave off a contented sigh. “I’m trying not to plan it all too much. I think if I plan it out too much I’ll defeat the purpose of the whole experience. I’m going to try and see where the wind will take me. After all, it has been quite some time since I felt a good breeze.”
Well, it’s over. I’m proud to say I have just completed my first full length story. The last chapter was really rough for me. I never know how to end a story. Starting and ending is so hard for me. So while I wish this last chapter was better, it pleased me.