Hayden decided work would be the balm for sorrow. Though he spent most of the trip dreading his new assignment, it was time to do what Iris would tell him to do. The fitting way to remember and honour her was to put forth his best effort in whatever personal hell Admiral Thomas had prepared for him.
After locating an information synth, he learned the berth number of Scimitar and made his way through several security stations into the military wing of the aging facility.
Holding his small bag, he stood before airlock door 563 and tried to, if not stop the butterflies in his stomach, at least persuade them to fly in formation.
Hayden was shocked from his thoughts by a woman’s voice.
“The inside of the ship smells a lot better than out here.”
He turned to see a petite young blonde woman wearing filthy coveralls. The left side of her head was shaved, and an elaborate glyph of some kind was tattooed on the exposed scalp. Her remaining hair was long and pulled back into a semblance of a military-approved ponytail.
“You are looking for the Scimitar, aren’t you?”
“Uh, yes,” he stammered. “I’m Second Lieutenant Kaine.”
She broke into a grin. “Ooo, the brand-new officer, straight from the factory.”
She wiped her right hand on her coverall and extended it to him. “I’m Midshipman Cora Symes, Engineer’s Mate, though there isn’t actually an official engineer. I guess that makes me one, though I’m not commissioned, so they can’t give me that title. Not that titles matter much on this ship.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her, and, with only a slight hesitation, took her offered hand and they shook.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Midshipman Symes.”
“Oh, everyone calls me Cora.”
He grinned even wider at her rapid speech. “That sounds good. You can call me Hayden.”
She seized his bag from his other hand. Before he could object, she walked past him and opened the airlock door.
“The cap’n will be mighty glad to see you. We’ve been waiting three days and were beginning to think you wouldn’t arrive. Headquarters often doesn’t follow through with what they tell us.”
“They sent me by the slow boat.”
“Oh, no worries. You’re here now, and that’s what counts. We are a bit understaffed in the officer department. Actually, we pretty much need more people everywhere, though I was lucky enough to get two additional junior engineering techs last month.”
Was she pulling his leg? Why would HQ allow a ship of the line to be neglected like this?
She smiled at the look of shock on his face. “Not too many want to serve a tour on the frontier. Things aren’t nearly as exciting or civilized as the inner systems, but I like it.”
“I’m afraid they didn’t give me a choice.”
“Your first assignment. I get it. Don’t worry, I doubt the cap’n would leave you behind, no matter what he threatened. Only his bark is mean, and he hardly ever bites. Besides, there are still repairs to make on the gravity plating and some tuning of the light-gate drive, so we won’t be going anywhere for another day anyway.”
She grinned at him while Hayden remained in the airlock, fascinated by how she could fit so much speech into a single breath.
“He’s waiting for you now.”
“Cap’n Pavlovich. He’s on the bridge.” She pointed to her left. “Just go that way, through three hatches and down the last ladder. I put the sign back up yesterday. If you get lost, ask anyone.”
Hayden looked at his bag in her hand.
“Unless you want me to take you there?” she said.
“Uh, no, that’s okay. I’m sure I’ll find my way.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You look like a smart one. I’m heading past your quarters on my way to engineering, so I’ll drop your kit off. See you at mealtime.”
She abruptly turned and disappeared through a hatchway.
Shaking his head, he turned in the opposite direction, and, with little difficulty, found himself outside the hatch to the command hub. He was debating if he should knock first or simply enter when it swung open on its own.
Standing, hunched over in the doorway, was a startled bear of a man. He was easily over two metres tall, and his rumpled uniform couldn’t conceal a muscular body. His pale, lined face was covered in an unkempt jet-black beard, while his head was shorn. Dark brown eyes glared from beneath bushy black eyebrows.
“Who the hell are you?” His voice was loud and threatening.
Hayden noted the rank epaulette on the man’s collar and realized this was Yegor Pavlovich, commanding officer of the Scimitar. He snapped to attention and saluted.
“Second Lieutenant Kaine reporting for duty as ordered, sir.”
The captain stared at him, betraying no emotion. “Well, it’s about time. Come in.” He retreated through the hatchway.
Hayden self-consciously ended his salute and followed.
Pavlovich towered beside him and gave him several seconds to take in the scene of the small, cramped bridge of the ship. Everyone stopped what they were doing and gawked at him.
“Attention! Our new monkey from Central Command has arrived. Mister…er…”
“Right. Anyway, he is your new first officer. Fill him in.”
Annoyance clouded Pavlovich’s brow. “Some of my crew are in the station’s stockade, making us more understaffed than normal. You are now the second ranking officer aboard, and, by default, my XO. I am going to take a dump, so these fine people will bring you up to speed on your duties. I will see you in the ship’s mess in one hour, where we will share a meal and open our orders.”
He started to depart but abruptly reconsidered and moved closer to Hayden. Speaking quietly, he said, “You stink. Get a shower before supper.”
Without waiting for a response, Pavlovich exited and slammed the hatchway shut behind him. The newly minted executive officer turned back to the bridge crew, who had resumed their previous activities.
What the hell kind of ship am I assigned to?
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