Sean Kelly was certain this wasn’t indicative of the entire fleet.
The flight deck was dirty and disorganized. When his transport landed, they barely avoided hitting a stack of water cells and actually did hit a “Caution – Low Clearance” sign that was poised on the middle of the landing pad. Kelly looked up at the giant hangar doors that were closing nearly three stories above him and shook his head.
“I hear Javelin-class destroyers leak.”
Kelly glanced back over his shoulder at the slip of a girl who had talked the entire way from New Cov. Morgan Voss was staring up at the hangar doors as well, eyes wide, mouth open, her bright blue hair looking distinctly like she’d woken up with it in disarray and left it that way.
Voss turned her eyes from the hangar doors to surrounding space and frowned, walking away from him. Kelly, not seeing a deck officer in sight, checked his mobiGlas for any kind of contact information but all it said was ‘Report to Squadron Leader.’ It didn’t even say who that was. So, in the face of uncertainty, Kelly followed Voss into the depths of the hangar.
“You gotta be shitting me,” Voss said, her arms held out wide in shock. When Kelly followed her stare, he saw what she was gaping at. Parked in the Javelin’s cramped maintenance bays were several Merlin snubfighters.
Several beat-up and battle damaged Merlin snubfighters.
“They don’t seriously expect me to fly those,” Voss continued, crossing her arms and pursing her lips. “What kind of idiot outfit is this?”
“Squadron Forty-Three, according to the documents I got when I signed on,” Kelly said, once more checking his mobiGlas for information. Sure enough, ‘43’ was painted on the fuselage of the Merlins along with a ridiculous looking tiger riding a horse. The fighter was small and hard to hit, so it made sense to him. In fact, he came right around to the idea that this outfit might be onto something very strategic.
“Maybe I still have time to sign onto a Merchant Marine or fly a tugboat or something,” Voss grumbled.
“You’d be crap at that. Check your ‘glas for where we’re supposed to go.”
Voss sighed and tapped at the device on her arm. Kelly did the same. Normally, when you step onto a navy vessel, the Glas imports all pertinent information. This one didn’t do that. In fact it was like there was no wireless at all going on. He frowned at the device while Voss slapped her hand across the projector.
“Typical. And where is everyone? This is some welcoming committee.”
Kelly turned back to the transport, but it was already lifting off again. The enormous hangar doors were open, giving him a glimpse of the galaxy beyond. He’d traveled so very far into the darkness since he was a kid on Earth and seen so many things that had tested his resolve to stay out here. So many causes. Some were bloody. Some were noble. All of them had changed him in some way. As the hangar doors shut again with the squeal of metal on metal, he wondered which kind this would be.
He waved Voss to come along and they made their way through the hangar. They didn’t get far before he damn near tripped over a pair legs sticking out from beneath one of the Merlins. Kelly caught himself on the battered nose of the snubfighter and glanced down.
“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t see you.”
Rolling out from beneath the small craft was a small woman with her grease-stained hair pulled away from her face. Dark, oily splotches were smeared across her cheeks and forehead. She sat up, wiping sweat off her forehead with a dirty glove. Another dark smudge was left in its wake.
“Hey! No problem. New?”
Kelly nodded. Voss yawned and crossed her arms.
“Yep. We were told to report to Squadron Forty-Three and here we are. With no one around,” Voss groaned. Kelly could tell she was close to raging.
“I think our orders got a bit mucked up,” Kelly said, smiling. “Happens sometimes, I’m sure.”
The girl scratched at her hair and then stood up, offering a grease-covered hand. Voss raised a brow but Kelly shook it anyway.
“I’m Candice. Candice Jackson! I’m Chief Petty Officer here. I have others who work for me somewhere… but I think they’ve all left for lunch.” Jackson checked her mobiGlas. “Err… or went to bed… wow, is it really that late?”
“Afraid so,” Voss said, clearing her throat. “If you could just point us to where we might check in with our squadron?”
Jackson blinked a few times, looking between them and then grinned, as if something suddenly delighted her. “Of course! Just go through that door—“She pointed at the nearest hatch—“Then turn right, go all the way down to the end and you’ll see Commander Price’s office.”
Thanking her, they headed that way. Kelly was glad to find some kind of purpose and he could Voss just wanted to get out of that hangar. Yet, when they arrived, they found the office empty. It was cleaned out, as if someone had been sacked and they were getting rid of their things. There was one lamp illuminating the desk with a slouch-hat laying very obvious in the center. Pinned to the hat was a note that said, ‘No one has a sense of humor.’
The door behind them hissed open. Kelly turned to see a young man with tousled brown hair step through the door, mid-yawn. Spotting the Lt Commander bars on his uniform, Kelly snapped a salute. Voss followed suit, though a tad less enthusiastically.
“Commander Price?” Kelly said. “Sorry, sir. We just arrived and didn’t know where to go. Chief Jackson sent us here.”
The young man looked up at them, blinking away sleep from his eyes. They were light blue and he seemed a little confused.
“I’m not Price,” the young man said. “I’m his XO.”
Well now that’s an efficient XO! Kelly thought. Not a bad idea really, sending the XO to meet new recruits.
“Nice to meet you, sir. I’m Kelly. This is Voss. Just joined up.”
The XO offered a half-hearted salute and rubbed his hand through his hair in an effort to get it to stop sticking up. When that didn’t work, he stumbled past them to open the various drawers in the desk. After a moment of silence, he looked up.
“Oh. Right. I’m Jacob. You can call me Snippy.”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Kelly said, smiling as he finally stop saluting. He liked this man. The XO was friendly enough it seemed.
Treat pulled out a bottle of rum from the desk and grinned. “Ah there you are! I was wondering where that idiot kept this.”
“Oh, Miek wants this. He’s in the brig.”
“The brig?” Voss said, looking at Kelly, who shrugged. “What did he do?”
“Stole some fighters, invaded Vanduul space, and recovered an Idris.”
It was the way that Treat said this that made Kelly think it was a joke. He cracked a smile and began to chuckle but it died just as fast when he saw Treat frown at him. Kelly swallowed.
“He… uh, must be quite a guy, sir.”
“He’s something,” Treat said and winked at them. “And he’s your new Squadron commander.”
Kelly felt like something had just shifted in the universe. There was a giant hole in the rationale of the galaxy and it was pulling him towards it. Miek was Commander Price and he was in the brig for recovering an Idris from Vanduul space. That all seemed utterly ludicrous and for just a split second, he wondered if he was still asleep on the shuttle out to Vega.
“Huh,” Treat said, looking up from his mobiGlas and fixing them both a curious stare. “Well, you’re in luck.”
“Luck, sir?” Voss said, raising a brow and putting her hands on her hips.
“Yeah,” Treat said, once more staring at his mobiGlas. “Seems you’re about to see some action. I’m assigning you rooms. Meet me back in the hangar bay in twenty minutes.”
“Action? Already? We just arrived!” Voss said, her eyes wide.
“Yep. Someone must think you’re pretty damned good,” Treat said and winked at them. “Sending you the information now.”
Kelly felt his own mobiGlas buzz and when he looked at it, he suddenly had access to the ship’s inner network. His bunk was assigned as well as a fighter. A Merlin.
This was going to be interesting.