"It's full of possibilities," The girl snapped. "But I guess a soldier wouldn't see that."
"But that's precisely what I said, Miss Navigator," Malik said with a smile, "A sea of possibilities, starting with my choice in words."
The girl, Thea, frowned, "You said it was empty."
"Yes. For leagues and leagues in every direction. Empty space just waiting for you to make the first move. And isn't that exciting?"
Malik's words seemed to occupy the girl's thoughts, so he left her to them. Turning away from the side, Wescott began to cycle through his mental checklist for the day. He'd completed his inspection of the ship. His men were fully integrated with the ship's crew. He'd run them through their drills after the Koranian refugee was safely aboard. The only thing left on Malik's docket was to begin his weekly report, but, aside from the unexpected arrival of Lady Xura, there was little to report at this stage in their journey.
He'd almost forgotten how uneventful sailing was, when there were no battles to fight. No wars to be won. No impossible odds to beat.
Malik could feel the urge seizing him, and he reached for his weapons, taking comfort in their weight at his side. With practiced ease, the sword came free, its steely whisper sending a shiver down Malik's spine. Once his father's, the sword had been given to Malik when he enlisted.
Caught up in the moment, Malik began to work through a series of poses. Thrusts, feints, and parries were woven together in a dance of steel. He was back in the war. Around him, his crew fought, outgunned, but never outmatched. Another parry, riposte, and the enemy captain went down, dropping his sword to clutch at his abdomen. And suddenly he was up again, brandishing a pistol. Malik's own sword came up, and his fingers twitched, pulling the trigger nestled in the crosspiece. At the base of the blade two small barrels, easy to miss if one wasn't looking out for them, discharged. The captain went down again, for good this time. Prying open his hands, Malik snatched up the pistol, the very same one that now hung at his belt, and fired three shots in victory.
"Malik! What in the blazes-?"
Amalia was in front of him, arms outstretched, shock and confusion battling across her face.
"You've probably just woke up every crew, captain, and star within twenty leagues!"
Emotion, not exhaustion, had Malik breathing heavily. In an instant his weapons were away, and he bowed, low, to Vega.
"My apologies, Captain. I- I don't know what came over me. It won't happen again."
Turning on his foot, Malik briskly strode away, leaving a speechless Amalia to stare after him.
"I'm not the Captain of this ship, Twynam."
"May not be the Captain of this ship, but you are the Captain of this man. No disrespect intended. Are you sure you don't want me me to relieve you, sir? It's been three days."
Malik continued to scan the vast emptiness in front of him, as he had been since his exile had begun. He wouldn't have tolerated such blatant lack of self-control in any of his men, and held himself to an even higher standard. When morning marked the beginning of their second day on the high seas of space, Malik marched straight to the mainmast. Onlookers might have said he marched straight up the mast as well. He relieved the watchman on duty, and settled in for his self-imposed punishment, refusing food, drink, and sleep.
"I am sure. You can, however, instruct Welch to relieve me at noon."
"Aye sir. Very good."
Truth be told, while many viewed it as punishment, Malik didn't mind staring into the void for hours on end. He almost felt guilty at the admission, but reminded himself it was no different from what he'd have assigned any other member of his crew.
They'd passed only one other ship on Malik's watch, a Zellerian trade-ship returning from the Praetorian Nebula. Aside from that, all space had to offer were distant planets, asteroid reefs, and of course, the endless stars.
"And... a cathedral?"
Malik's implant whirred, zooming in on a stationary object off in the distance. It was too large to be anything but a ship, and yet, smack in the middle, an ornate church distended.
From the bottom of the ship.
No flags flew from either the ship or the cathedral, meaning Malik had no reason to be alarmed.
Or that he had every reason.
Malik's eye dialed back slowly, deliberately, combing through space as it did so.
There. Two advance ships.
Something about the whole procedure struck a chord in Malik's mind. It was familiar... something he had drilled into himself years back.
During the war.
Malik stood and rung the bell, the metallic clang echoing loud enough that even the boarding parties could hear. But they gave no sign of slowing. They knew what they were coming for. Or thought they did, at least.
"Boarders!" he bellowed. "Off the port bow!"
Wasting no more time in watching the ships, Malik turned and began to slide down the rigging, calloused hands ignoring any pain the ropes might have caused.
Talos, Malik's second in command, was already at the bottom, waiting for him.
"Your orders sir?"
"Deploy our regiment throughout the ship. Any of Vega's crew who can fight, will fight." Malik glanced portside, adjusting his eye and regaining sight of the approaching ships.
"They're splitting," he warned. "Heading for opposite ends of the boat. Let's hope Vega's men know how to use those damned guns of theirs. Now move."
"Sir? What about you?"
"I'm off to find the Captain."