Malik joined the Noctis Accipiter in its contented hum as the ship finally came alive. He'd been up with the sun, which made for good company, and the two had belatedly explored the ship together.
Malik made it a point to memorize a ship within the first day of his arrival. However, much of the previous night had been spent installing the regiment in their new quarters. Though the Noctis lacked a sequestered barracks, an attendant had informed Malik that the bunks had been rearranged so his regiment would have some measure of separation from the rest of the crew. Malik promptly re-rearranged the cabin so that his men were interspersed with Amalia's. By the time that was sorted, the sun had long since set.
The sun lead the way, guiding Malik from the top of the deck stairs to the stern of the ship. The masts were sturdy, and the sails... by god, those sails entranced Malik everytime he so much as glanced at them. Three on the mainmast, three more on the foremast, two on the mizzenmast; and a pair of top and headsails that reminded Malik of the wings off a mantis.
Completing his circle, Malik followed the guardrail back to the main set of stairs that led between the ship's three decks. Descending down into the middle deck, Malik braced himself for the worst. This was no military ship, as Amalia had reminded him, but the soldier refused to let the vessel depart under-equipped.
In the end, the situation wasn't as bad as Malik feared. A standard military frigate carried twenty-eight guns, The Noctis had 20 cannons fit, and being the sleek beauty she was, the ship was agile enough that a clever maneuver or two could easily make up the difference.
Sometimes that's all it takes, Malik thought, rubbing at the augment that had replaced his left eye. Guns weren't everything; he was living proof of that.
Completing his inspection of the mid-deck, Malik made for the galley, but passed it by when he heard the murmur of conversation coming from within. He wasn't interested in meeting new faces yet.
The lower deck, with a few exceptions, housed the crew. And any space not claimed by a hammock had been stuffed with supplies for the upcoming voyage. There was hardly enough room to turn sideways, in what would have otherwise been a vast, fairly open chamber.
Captain Vega hadn't been kidding, he realized. The ship and her crew were in for quite the long haul.
The ship's engines came alive shortly before noon. Malik stood on the deck, overlooking the starboard railing, watching as the dock fell away underneath. The soldier didn't often get philosophical, but he was always humbled by take-off. Even the largest city was nothing more than a drop in the bucket of the vast, unending universe. Humans thought so grandly of themselves and their accomplishments. The nobility strutted around in their castles, considering themselves to be so high above the wretched poor that huddled in their shacks and hovels.
But from where Malik stood, everyone was the same, insignificant size.
A rush of footsteps broke the spell over the soldier, and he turned his pair of narrowed eyes on a young woman. Very young Malik realized, she hardly looked old enough to be granted service at any reputable drinking establishment.
"And who do you think you are, staring me down like that, hm?" the girl challenged.
"Captain Wescott of the R.V.S. Arrebatou, Commander of the 34th Volantian naval regiment, and senior military officer aboard this ship. And you are...?"
"I'm Thea Penna ... the navigator," she added after a pause.
Malik gave the girl an appraising look. "Is this your first time on a ship?"
The girl snorted, a bit too forcefully Malik thought. "Of course not. I'm the navigator. Speaking of which, I have to go... navigate things," and she was off.
By that point, the Noctis Accipiter had left Volantis' atmosphere behind and was sailing smoothly through the ocean of space. Malik set about organizing his men into shifts and integrating them into the ship's crew. He could tell many of them weren't pleased by the arrangement, but there was no grumbling. Malik's men were professionals, and above that they were Malik's men. That meant they were something more.
It was getting on towards the evening meal when a shout came down from the crow's nest.
"Something approaching off the port bow! It's hailing us, Captain!"
Amalia burst from her study, making a beeline for the railing. Pulling a spyglass from somewhere within her large coat, she flicked it open and peered through it.
"Koranian colors," she muttered, "But that pod's too small for a navy ship. And that seal on the flag..."
"Royal insignia," said Malik. He appeared to be squinting, but a careful observer might have noticed the iris of his augmented eye constricting; zooming in on the approaching on the approaching ships. "Someone inside that pod is very important."
The Captain's telescope shut with a loud click. "What do you think, Westcott?"
Malik rubbed at his left eye for the second time that day. "Let them approach. If they're hailing us, they probably don't mean us any harm."
"But," he said this as Amalia started to turn away, "have your men stand ready. We're not taking any chances."