Roger watched as the scotch rolled off the lip of the flask and into an ornate glass. He filled it half way and then screwed the cap back on to the flask and shoved it into his uniforms inside pocket. He sat at the bar in his ready room just off of the bridge. Stars flickered before him as he looked at the video wall that arched up the side of the room. The smooth optical membrane reproduced any light that was read by its sister membrane which lay on the outside of the hull. These membranes covered most of the armor plating in the spire and it’s neighboring towers, a safe alternative to windows. Rogers fingers slowly glided across the glass counter top. He hit a small key that caused a screen to rise from the counter, a keyboard lighting up beneath the glass. He logged in and opened the courier that was tagged as urgent.
Department of the Navy
    *Date: 1500 hrs 12.12.2234
    *From: Major Ashley Kinsley, Personnel Coordinator, TWS Zerachiel
    *To: Captain Roger Norman, Command, TWS Zerachiel
    *Subject: Ship Manifest Amendment
    * Body:
    * 1) This memo requests the amendment of Ship Manifest of Tribunal War Ship Zerachiel.
    * 2) Five members of the crew were killed in action on December 12th 2234 by explosive
    *ordnance on entry to the Eridany System, in the attached document, the ships manifest *has been properly amended to display the units in question as killed in action. The *document awaits the signature of senior staff member Captain Roger Norman.
    *3) Thank you for your time and be advised that out of the nineteen casualties three are *still in critical condition and may need amendment in the near future. Burial services will *be scheduled once TWS Zerachiel is out of combat action.
    * Attachments: zmanamend.cct
    Roger opened the attachment, pulled a plastic pen from the lip of the counter, signed the amendment on the screen, swiped his identification tag on a reader and replied to the memorandum. He saved a copy and put it in an outbox that would send the manifest to Fleet Command as soon as they were in range of a transmitter. He took a sip of his scotch. A few moments passed before the door chimed. “Come in.” he said, putting the glass down and closing the monitor before him.
    Alexus entered the room, “Captain, you called for me?”
    “Yes Alexus, please, take a seat.” He said, pointing to a stool on the other side of the bar. “Want a drink?”
    Alexus smiled, “Aren’t the alcoholic beverages inaccessible until we’re in the green?”
    “The mess hall’s alcoholic beverages are inaccessible until we’re in the green, this is my personal stash.” Roger said, opening a cabinet. “What would you like?”
    “Do you have whiskey?” She asked, leaning over the counter to see more clearly into the cabinet.
    “Of course I have whiskey.” He replied, “What kind?”
    Alexus sat down and looked at the bottles that were clamped down in the cabinet. “Anything will do, considering I’m on duty and shouldn’t be drinking, but I can’t refuse an offer from the captain now can I?”
    Their blue eyes met and an invisible battle of dominance played out within their instinctual urges. “I’ve been a ship captain for enough years to know that sometimes numbing the mind is beneficial, and the reason I asked you is because I know you’re not the tight ass type that would pull the rule book out and slap me across the face for even considering this kind of thing. I’d have a cigar on the bride if there weren’t so many of those people hovering behind my back. Take the Counselor for example.”
    “Counselor Allard is definitely one of those people” replied Alexus as she took the glass handed to her by Roger. “I’d say he has a rather large pole up his ass.”
    Roger unscrewed a bottle of whiskey and began pouring it into the glass, making sure that the spout was closer than normal since their current gravity would pull it at a sharper angle than usual. “Well, there isn’t much you can do about people like that except hope they can’t find a restraint fast enough in an evasive situation.”
    Alexus laughed. “You’re cruel, the last Counselor wasn’t as bad as this new guy, I don’t think he deserved that fate.”
    Roger was smiling, as he put the cap back on the bottle and stuffed it back into its restraint. “Well, I’ll have to agree that Pearson wasn’t as much of an ass, but I still can’t stand the Tribunal, ever since I was a kid I could never stand them. Being from the outskirts of a system means I didn’t have much contact with them, even when I got my first command I wasn’t dealing directly with the Tribunal. It wasn’t until I was commissioned to command these high risk preliminary insertions that I had to piggy back these bastards.”
    “Well, unfortunately they’ve been in every aspect of my life. I was adopted by a family that was  integral to the Tribunal in my home world.” Alexus said as she took a sip of the straight alcohol, she cringed “That’s good stuff.”
    Roger smiled, “Well I’m a Captain, you can’t expect me to have low grade whiskey. Anyway, there actually is a reason I asked for you to come.”
    Alexus unconsciously straightened her stance. “And what was that reason sir?”
    “Well, you’re the only person on the bridge that I can trust, even though you’ve been dealing with the Tribunal your whole life, you don’t live by their creed. That fact alone proves to me that you’re someone I can trust.” He took another sip. “Alexus, I’m not sure what’s going on here. We’re in a system that’s sympathetic to the Ehud, which we all know. My orders are to rendezvous with a class three transport vessel named “Antioch”. That’s all they let me know.”
    Alexus frowned in contemplation. “They didn’t tell you anything else? That’s the worst mission briefing I’ve ever heard of.”
    “Exactly my concern. I was told to meet this transport and escort it out of system. Now, I’m presuming that this ship has something on it that obviously has to be protected, but how the hell do you hide a Tribunal class three transport in Ehud space without attracting attention?”
    “They said it was Tribunal marked?”
    “They said I’d recognize it when I saw it.”
    Alexus shook her head. “Who the hell gave you these orders?”
    “The Grand Counselor who delegated Jeffery Pearson as Counselor of my vessel. He told me that I would get the mission parameters in an electronic correspondence. I was expecting something a lot more professional. So here we are, drifting head long into a system filled with people who’ll want our head, looking for a transport to escort back to the Jericho station.”
    Alexus took another sip of her drink. “I can understand your apprehension. Not to mention the great welcome we got on our way in.”
    “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.” Roger said, unzipping his uniform and pulling the flask out of the inside pocket. “It’s confirmed that five staff members died in the explosion on deck six.” He then took the bottle and filled Alexus’ glass. “One of them was Maria, I’m sorry.”
    Alexus dropped her head. The hum of the engines were all that could be heard. She looked out to the stars at her left. “We aren’t on the best terms this month, Maria and I.”
    “I noticed...” Roger replied, “If you want to take leave of your responsibilities to grieve I’ll be glad to sign the forms.”
    “No.” Alexus replied firmly. “I can’t let this impede my job. Besides, if I wasn’t working it would make things worse. I’ve lost friends before. I wish I could know what they died for.”
    Roger sighed, “I know how you must feel, like you just want to get up and go, leave this ship and everything it represents. Look, I’ve had you on three of my ships. We’ve been through dozens of battles together. You’re the best navigator I’ve ever had and you’ve become a close friend to me even though we’ve mostly had a business relationship. No other staff member has been with me as long as you have and you’ve earned my trust countless times. I’m getting tired of this war Alexus. I’m sure you are too. When we’re done with this mission I intend to go commercial, and I wanted to know if you would be my navigator.”
    Alexus smiled, a tear rolling down her cheek. “Of course I would Roger, just let me know when and where to be and I’ll be there.”
    “That’s good to know Alexus. I’m sorry about Maria, I wanted to be the first to tell you. We’re going to have burial services once we’re on our way back to the Jericho system. Now, we’ve got to get back to work. Scruff that down and straighten up.”
    Alexus sniffled, wiping her face of tears and shot the rest of her glass down. “Yes sir.” She said, standing up and pulling her uniform straight. “Ok let’s go.”
    Roger downed his drink and stuffed the flask back into his pocket, zipped his uniform and closed the liquor cabinet. He got up and straightened himself out, pulling his uniform tight and fixing his collar. “After you.” He said, yielding to Alexus.
    “You’re so kind.” She said mockingly and walked through the door and back onto the bridge.

The End

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