FTL-33...Faster Than Life.

*Before…

We have one planet stop left on our milk-run through the back colonies to pick up recruits.
And we’ll have shore leave there including me since Belinda thinks that it’ll be a good idea that I get off ship even though the jump after that will be at command.
It feels good to get dressed in my uniform again.
Better than good because it feels like I’m back on track with things and I’m headed out from my bunk to go to my Sense-Nav section and I’m met there by Stillwater who smiles a little bit in that sort of unofficial and fleeting way before she’s all back to business again.
“Cadet Stone, you’re not on shift yet your rotation’s been moved to the next shift.”
“Yes corporal.”
“I’m here to pick you up.”
“Up corporal?”
“You’re coming with me; the commander wants to see you.”
“Yes corporal.”
She points for me to head off and I know where the command decks are but I’ve seldom been there.
And I have no idea why the commander wants to see me.

*And Now…

I’m nervous as we make our way past the auxiliary decks where I’m usually on my duty and training shifts and we’re more into the command layer. The design here is a little different with altered bulkheads and other things I’m presuming to keep things safer in case of the worst.

Or just updates to this ship itself as The Apollo was once a command cruiser but it’s now a training ship.

I’m not even sure if we fly these in actual in theater operations.

There’s a lot more uniforms here too and they’re crisp and perfect as are the aesthetics for most of the crew no matter the other stuff they have going on like ethnics or alterations/deviations from baseline human. Everyone here is crisp looking to the point of even obvious cyberware is detailed and polished.

Stillwater passes me off to an officer who takes me to the commander’s offices and that sort of looks like this combination of these really antique halls? Wood actual wood used in accents and panels and even railings. There’s carpet here too as well as there are all these glassed off cases with awards for him or the ship or those under his command and then there’s a collection of various campaign memorabilia from other commands. There’s a meeting room, and offices, guards and other things that I can’t see.

We pass from those outer areas to the commander’s office itself and that’s impressive. Stunning actually it’s large and it’s very clean as well but there’s a huge armor glass window to look out into space with HUD windows showing views of the lengths of the ship from forwards out and from back and beyond and one for each side as well as our undersides.

There’s feeds too for the aux decks including where I usually am doing my training shifts and of the mess halls and other places where he can watch the crew. The biggest of course is the one for right below the office which is that main bridge.

Of course he’s there waiting and he’s handsome as always.

I don’t mean any disrespect to him or to go to some sort of older man thing but he really is and it’s just everything that he gives off. Tall and well muscled but not a combat mod type just someone in good shape and then there’s his age which I don’t know but there’s just enough grey in his hair that it sets things off with how mature that he is.

You know that way people talk about real men? He gives it off like low level radiation.

And that’s all combined with the ease he has in being him. That’d from the way that his grooming and carriage is part of him and how at ease he is in uniform without it even looking remotely sloppy.

And still he’s a military commander and that still comes with the hints of him still being dangerous and capable.

I’m announced and I’m left standing there at attention and he turns from the screen he was watching and he gives me a nod. “At easy Ensign.”

“Yes sir.”

I stand easy which I’m not used to doing in a setting like here.

It feels different.

He checks me out and it’s that professional go over and he seems to be okay with what he’s seeing.

He moves and he heads to a side cabinet and gets himself a coffee or something that smells like it and it must be the real thing because of the powerful smell.

“I’m sorry to call you away from your shift. But you’re doing exceptionally well Ensign Stone and I am sure that they can spare you for the time it takes you to be here.”

“Yes sir, it wasn’t a problem sir.”

He sips and looks at me. “First off you’re getting a commendation your brevet rank will be waved as of now. You’re a full fledged Ensign for the short remainder of your time with us until you get to Grail.”

“You work has been excellent Stone. You’re still just in your first year of training and you’ve survived some very trying and unfortunate encounters, you’ve been innovative and calm as well. I’ve heard of your actions on the mass shore leave with the ship games and that you struck up a casual friendship with one of our new allies The Makere.”

He sips again and sets the cup down. “I’ll be blunt Ensign. You’re a rarity, you’re a survivor as well as a plainly good soldier and I think more. You do well at Sense-Nav and You’ll like do just as well in Shield Dynamics and defense.”

“But command knows about you, some people have been looking into you and some have been watching you since the Mekker attack on the shuttle.”

It’s hard to just sit here and listen without responding and it feels really surreal to be getting praised like this.

My altered self aside I’m still me.

Inside I still sort of feel like the family disappointment.

“They and I want you to drop the bridge crew courses and apply for command.”

That shocks me. “Command?”

“Yes Erin, command.” he used my first name.

“Look command is full of mods and there’s even some folks in there that are considered fleet families with bloodlines dedicated to learning to be officers even with families marrying into other military families. And that’s actually great when you’re looking at a spatial navy spanning as many worlds as The Colonial Union. But...but while that’s all well and good that doesn’t ever replace those meant to do the job. You have a feel for this Erin, you have natural talent with this and more than that you’re walking in with actual live achievements and experience as well. You can’t train what you have into being, we can hone it but all the special breeding and pedigree doesn’t equal to it either.”

He stops and I do a big inhale and he holds up a hand. “You don’t have to answer now.”

I nod but hesitantly hold my hand up. “Permission to speak freely sir?”

“Granted.”

“I’ll do it.”

He looks at me. “That was fast.”

“Yes sir, but I think I really want this. I want to be there out in front when things happen and I’m not a combat mod sir but I want to be there. If I can make a bigger difference in command then i’ll take it.”

“No reservations?”

“Lots sir. I’m an ex-couch potato and network surfer sir. I thought that enlisting and taking an MOS that fit what I knew was enough for me...heck sir I even thought that that was extreme when I first was signing up.”

He smiles. “You really want to do more don’t you?”

I look him in the eyes. “I survived sir, good people didn’t and that’s just on this run.”

He looks at me. “You have something else on your mind Stone?”

I hold his gaze. “Yes sir, the mekkers went after us, went after training ships and they’re invading and attacking worlds, our allies like the Zodiac Colonies. If we’re not at war sir then we’re heading there aren’t we?”

He holds my gaze for a few moments. “And that’s why we need you. You can’t breed or teach that kind of instinct.”

I nod. I know he can’t say not without it being official but yeah...it’s there.

That unspoken thing that I’m finally getting.

He looks at me. “Well then there’s not time like the present.”

He walks to his desk and he has my new ranking and insignia already there in the boxes he has in his hands and he has the paperwork for my transfer from Bridge command to Fleet command.

I take off my Brevets and let him put everything on for my as in tradition.

“You knew I’d say yes?”

“Yes I did.”

“How sir?”

“Because everyone like you that I’ve ever served with or commanded has said yes.”

“Oh….”

It doesn’t take long and then he looks at me I salute and he nods. “Dismissed Ensign. Take the shift off and look at the command track courses and you can return to your regular duties tomorrow and then I’ll have your new schedule downloaded to you for the rest of the trip.”

“Yes sir, and thank you sir.”

I leave before it gets awkward with me staying too long and everything and I am still pretty stunned as I head back to my bunk already linking to the courses and downloads for the training offered and expected.

I grab some of the snacks from my locker and crawl into my pod linking to some light background music and get things transfered to my pods holoscreen to read rather than have it in my head.

How things change right? Before outcopy was something I’d have likely have avoided and just used my OBC.

Now I like reading and I like being able to have that separation between me and the data.

I nibble and read and enjoy the extra rack time while reading the huge amount of training and options that are there. I know a few things right off that I’m not going for and that’s Engineering, Medical, Security, Marines and the Specialists.

I’m already thinking Fleet and Ship command as my MOS and maybe MOS in Tactical.

The secondary classes though for all of them are densely packed from the basics in most other specialties with a lot of attention towards all these courses that range from combat basics to gunnery and ship weaponry and leadership and the list goes on and on.

I just watched some lectures for Fleet Command where they are talking about piracy and laws and what we can do and what we can’t do like in the case of The Balkorans.

That’s interesting but it’s also fresh enough to be frustrating.

I’m not sure that all the discussions of laws and trade and what we can do where and why would be something I’d enjoy.

As much as I hate to admit it.

I lived.

And because of that I can’t see myself just being that...passive.

And then there’s MOS Tactical which was talking not just weaponry but formations and fleet maneuvers and how to use space itself in stellar combat.

I even nap and sleep on it some.

I sign into MOS Tactical when I wake up and by the time I’m up and washing my face in the bunk’s head the others are here and congratulating me.

It’s a lot of hugs from Carrington and Sunshine and we’re talking about what it was like for the meeting and it’s a little embarrassing.

Sunshine says. “It won’t be long before we’ll be saluting you.”

I shake my head. “It’ll be a long time before that and you’re going to to do fine, both of you.”

Carrington smiles at me. “Well I knew that this was going to happen.”

I look at her. “Well I didn’t.”

She smiles. “I knew it from the day you survived the tekker and took it out and saved people. A lot of people knew it Erin.”

I blush. “I was scared to frak.”

“And you still did things, you still lived and you kept doing things.”

Sunshine nods. “And it’s you Erin you’re still going to be doing impressive and amazing things.”

I’m really blushing and I finish getting dressed. “I’m going to go and hit the gym and then get some food. I’ll see you later okay.”

Ships are worse than small towns for gossip and even worse when people have cybernetic access to social media.

I’m getting congratulated a few times as head to the PT center and I start working out. I go through the approved basic routines set up by the PT program that measures your fitness and progress via your OBC.

And then it shows you and recommends all these different exercises for you to do and once you reach a certain level with those then you sort of level up.

Most of what I’m doing is cardio work endurance is needed in the field as well as just on duty the longer you can last is literally mission critical. There’s toning weights and then there’s my three favorites. Cycling which is done on a stationary bike and VR and I learned to like cycling before I joined up and then there’s swimming because I just like to swim but I also like just being myself in a bathing suit. And lastly is Zero-G-confidence which is exactly as it says it’s like an on ground confidence course but designed for zero-gravity and that again is mission critical kind of things.

I get an alert from my training shift over to do the zero grav course again.

I’m 6 seconds short of their desired time.

I make that up in four attempts, I had been trying before but this is different this has timed requirements.

Which makes sense but I wasn’t expecting it.

I finish and I shower and change then I’m off to some of the other training areas to do some VR sword work and then some range work and that’s monitored as well and that does make me try harder.

There’s training help with the range training and monitoring and I use it.

That’s different it reads my body through my OBC and it gives me corrections to make in my stance and posture and I get a bell chime tone when I get it right.

That, that really helps, there’s even a tutorial like that for shooting breathing.

Which I honestly didn’t know was a thing.

I end up shooting longer than I had planned to getting a really good feeling for what the help application is showing me until I’m doing it and my scores improve some.

I head out after weapons check and cleaning to the mess hall feeling pretty good about all of that.

I’m still a nerd or a geek or whatever I like scoring well in things that I’m being tested for.

I hit the mess hall and I get some food.

I’m trying a few of the things that I don’t usually have this time trying to test my colonial and pretty regular palate. I like pasta and that’s always in several options I go for the angel hair with shellfish. Shellfish is actually pretty common in space sometimes more than it is on colonies, it grows fast relatively speaking when it’s grown at all often it’s cloned protein and one of the easier ones to do from things that I hear. It’s not a popular food back home at all. I do like the sauce which isn’t much more than I think thickened broth but it really goes well together especially with bread to dip it in.

I have a decent sized salad too with various greens that I don’t know and haven’t tried before and some other veggies in various combinations.

It turns out I don’t care for mushrooms in any for and not just the ones from home. I also dislike horned melon a lot and I like the white courgette.

Dessert I can’t help myself but I go with the chocolate soy cake which is like a cheesecake but mostly protein based. It is actually really good and dense and thick and it’s covered with a real heavy glaze that’s poured icing and it’s topped with shaves of real chocolate I have that with a large dark soy-caf and take it the the common lounge one deck below.

I don’t go here much and it’s just a walk down a staircase from the mess and it’s an alcohol free lounge where you can take your food or things you’re working on or just come here and be with friends, one half has a sort of game and hobby area and the other is comfy seating and booths. I get a booth near one of the other recruits that’s there and playing a guitar and he’s singing.

It’s in French and I’m not that well versed in that language but it’s pretty sounding the way he’s singing it and he’s playing in this sort of eurocentric way with the guitar I think they call Spanish?

I’ve seen him but we’ve never spent time together I think he’s one of the combat types by looking at his build. Handsome in that rebuilt and enhanced way.

It’s just nice though to listen to some organic music and savor my dessert and the contrast between that and the coffee while near one of the bigger widows watching the stars go by as we’re in FTL.

It really has this beauty to it that you really can’t Sim out. There’s something about being out here for real that is just that….real.

It looks so peaceful and beautiful but it’s deadly and dangerous and that’s just the natural state of things.

I’m reminded of tales of ancient earth and ships on the ocean.

Beautiful and entrancing.

Heartmoving and more.

A place that if you didn’t respect it you could and would most often die easily.

And like the oceans in holds wonders and terrors and borders friends and enemies.

Looking out the windows I’m sort of feeling all of that.

It’s like there’s just one more thing that makes everything that I left and gave up worth it.

I stayed there for a long time before heading back to the mess and dropping off my dishes and then headed back to my room and undressed and climbed into my bunk.

It was a pretty good day filled with surprises and some pretty big decisions.

The morning comes fast and it’s soon back to the routine. Up and PT, then breakfast and then getting ready for my duty shifts. It’s teaching by doing here with cadets like me learning the very basics in the auxiliary departments.

Instead my assignment gets shifted and I’m moved from Sense-Nav to Aux-Tac where I’m still looking at things with the same sort of way as Sense-Nav but this time it’s me and others looking at everything and learning how to do threat assessments and there’s a huge amount of stuff to learn and as we’re going and getting closer and closer to our last stop there’s more to look at.

More ships, more junk, more planets and masses and ice.

There is by times a lot of ice in space and some of it is large, especially at the outer periphery of a solar system.

There’s a barrier in many cases of slow moving this that were literally stopped as they came in system by solar wind.

It’s easy to see on sensors as you’re coming in with the star actually easily highlighting things.

But there are a lot of things.

And I’m almost doing the same thing as Sense-nav only this, this isn’t looking to steer and all of the asides of that this is looking at everything and listening and it’s non-stop.

Yes we have computers to do this but the first lesson we’re taught is that the human brain will develop threat analysis as we’re learning it though training we’ll have a feel for it that will sometimes even be faster than our combat computers and all of the database info we have.

We’re literally taught that “Gut instinct” is too important not to develop.

And it’s a lot busier.

My shifts are broken up with running too. Literally instead of sending e-messages and things through the coms we’re sent with hard copy to various departments with orders.

Because there might not be coms, there might not be power even, and we have to know the ships that we serve on.

I’m not the only cadet here in Tactical so I’m actually pretty far behind the others.

And there is a feeling of competition as well.

People here want to be here, they are looking to be the best, to be officers.

Even after duty shifts for us it’s more.

It’s into the classroom for Military History.

There is a lot of it and they’re very insistent on covering it all.

And after that more PT with hand to hand classes and firearms after that.

My days became three hours longer by the time that I get released and I hit my quarters and the mess.

It was nine days of this odd sort of fast moving crushing hell of busy and hard and exhaustion before we come into our last pick up and we pull into Kincade.

One of the oldest colonies and core planets in the Colonial Union.

Even at the meet up I’ve never seen space traffic like this.

There are space stations and mini-bases and platforms everywhere. There are bases in every planets locality and on many of the moons.

Home was settled, I thought that while sort of country like that we were really sort of like the standard for a world in The Colonial Union.

This...this is a solar system with more people than my brain can really get. Where mankind hasn’t had the limits of one planet and one ecosystem for a long, long time.

I’m like all the other “Farmers” and “Rock-hicks” just staring at it all as we’re settling into orbit over Kincade and I’m getting the socio-political term Galaxial even more now as I’m looking down on the daylight side of the colony and I can see cities.

Last stop to Grail.

If this is a colony even one of the biggest what will the fleet capital be like?



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