Monday, 15 November 2004
Ensign Carla Sanchez stared across the officer's mess, her tray of food untouched. The object of her attention, Captain Bowden, was grimacing and rubbing a small scar on his chin. Carla had seen him do this before, always when he was about to make a difficult decision.
"Hi, lieutenant," said a gravelly voice behind her.
Startled, Sanchez turned to see Senior Astrophysicist Muellers settling into a chair beside her. Lieutenant, Carla thought. I'm a lieutenant now. It was still so new! Recieving a field promotion because her predecessor died in battle was a mixed blessing at best."Uh, hello, sir," Sanchez mumbled, stuffing her face full of mashed potatoes. She could feel her face redenning.
"So, two weeks after you come aboard the patrol ship, "Obama", you find yourself going from hydroponics to astrophysics," Muellers let out a dry chuckle. "I'm not surprised, considering your background. Captain Bowden would have you moved up eventually. I assume we are studying, yes?"
"Sure, I mean, as much as I can. Blockade duty around Marinus has given me more time for other things." Sanchez said between bites. Come on! Finish the plate, and get out.
"You're lucky, really. Having field experience will help tremendously when you take your A.P. tests. Do good enough on those, and you'll be sent to officer school. Won't that be nice?"
Sanchez nodded. Almost through. Just a few more bites of horrid meatloaf. Officer food was no better than what they served in the crew's mess.
Muellers, a career officer, was harmless in his way. He was entering his sixties and looked it. He knew a lot about astrophysics, which he unfortunately liked to share.
"Odd that. Most of the senior officers are carrying side arms. I must have missed that memo."
Chewing her last bite, Sanchez studied the dining hall. There were fifteen other officers in the mess besides her and Muellers. Seven of them were department heads. All seven were carrying pistols.
"Well, it's probably some obscure rule the Sec officers found we weren't following," Sanchez said.
Muellers made a sour face. "The sooner those Sec officers are off the ship, the better! Of course, they won't leave until this blockade is over. Which reminds me, the Marinus system, not only being a trinary system, has a unique catalogue problem..."
Carla felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. Once Muellers got started, it could be a while. It wasn't like she could tell her deparment head to shut up, either.
"Excuse me, Muellers. May I speak to Lieutenant Sanchez, alone?"
Muellers, obviously irritated at being interrupted, looked up to see the imposing figure of Third Officer McMinns. "Oh, of course! I'll be going then." Muellers jumped up with his tray and almost fled to a spot several tables away.
Muellers nervousness was understandable. McMinns was not only a large man, his body was packed with muscle. The Third Officer eased his huge frame into the seat across from Sanchez.
"Got a job for you, Sanchez," McMinns normally booming voice was muted to a dull monotone. He was staring intently at Carla, as if he was reading everything about her.
"Sure, chief. What's up?" Carla asked. She was one of the few members of the crew who wasn't put off by the intimadating Third Officer.
McMinns was far enough back from the table that Carla could see his holster belt and the black sheen of it's pistol. Carla felt a twinge of fear. The tab next to the hammer was glowing red for "lethal." Why in the hell was McMinns carrying a lethal locked pistol? There was no threat on this ship was there? What was McMinns going to ask her to do?
TO BE CONTINUED