Sydney Chambers had subscribed to that mantra for as long as she could remember; it’s how she had gotten through many challenging episodes in her career — being trapped in a hyperspace anomaly and bringing down a respected but corrupt TSM officer being only the most recent. Yet, she had also come to rely on a modicum of stability … most notably, promotions coming on schedule and bringing with them new challenges and responsibilities.
Staring at the orders in her hands, though, she began to wonder if the responsibilities and new challenges that came with the clockwork promotions were, occasionally, less an attraction than a burden.
It had been more than four years since her commissioning, as oddball as that event had been … more than eight years since reporting to the Terran Space Military Academy to begin her career as an officer of the Terran Confederacy. The Academy years had been as routine as could be expected: Learning military discipline, learning the academic subjects that would be the foundation of her career, and rounding herself into the best physical condition of her life. Her memories of those years were golden; Sydney didn’t think of them often, but when she did, it was with warmth and happiness.
Then she’d been commissioned.
A commission, of course, was the goal of every midshipman and -woman at the Academy: To survive, to graduate and become an officer. Sure, some were there merely for the free education the Academy offered, arguably the most stringent and respected education in the Confederacy; at least a third of each year’s graduates served their minimal terms as ensigns and lieutenants j.g., then got out to seek their fortune in the private sector. While Sydney could understand the desire for wealth and bore no particular ill-will toward those who left, she had trouble understanding the apparent lack of commitment … the lack of patriotism … that was betokened by this approach.
For Sydney, being commissioned into the service of her nation was her life’s blood and despite the fact she had been in the middle of a legal proceeding — a legal proceeding in which she was the star witness against one Captain Hans Vattermann, accused of corruption and the theft of TSM property, the lack of which property was directly responsible for dozens, even hundreds of TSM combat deaths — when Sydney had received her promotion to lieutenant j.g., merely receiving that promotion had been the proudest moment of her life up ’til that time. Her subsequent promotion to full lieutenant, just two days shy of two years later, had thrilled her as well … a thrill that was only heightened when she’d examined the orders that accompanied that promotion.
Sydney had expected the promotion; she’d even expected to be re-assigned, since there were no full-lieutenant berths available aboard her then-current assignment, the TSM Wight. What Sydney had not expected was the nature of those re-assignment orders.
The orders placed her in command of a TSM fighting vessel.
It didn’t matter that her new command was tiny, smaller even than the Academy ship Hurricane whose commanded she’d inherited following the death of its assigned captain during her senior Middie cruise. It didn’t matter that her new ship was so tiny it didn’t even merit a name in TSM records, merely the registry number TSMAC-77923. It didn’t matter that her entire command encompassed only a dozen officers and enlisted.
What mattered was, the ship was hers. Sydney found herself so proud she could almost burst.
Except that now, following an uneventful two weeks of shakedown cruise in the form of a patrol through the core of the Confederacy, Ship Captain Sydney Chambers was staring at new orders. Orders hand-delivered by a fleet courier moments after the Attack Class vessel TSM Peregrine (unofficially so named by the crew of the self-same TSMAC-77923) had docked at the massive space station that was TSM Fleet Headquarters, one AU out from the red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri.
Orders that assigned the Peregrine a most uncomfortable duty.
“The Vega System?”
Sydney nodded at her first officer, Lieutenant j.g. Maricela Hernandez, standing next to her as she sat at the Peregrine’s command station. The two were the only ones aboard; Peregrine’s ten remaining crew had been turned loose on shore leave while the ship took on supplies. Sydney had been given no input in selecting the crew of the small vessel — Ship Captain or not, she was still only a lieutenant with four years of TSM service under her belt and not yet due anything in the way of staffing privilege. Still, after two weeks, she had no complaints about Hernandez or the rest of her crew … had even gained some level of trust in the XO’s judgment, leading to the present consultation.
Though she had shared only the “where” of their orders with Hernandez, not the detailed explanation of “why” that had accompanied the brief. That part she needed to digest, first.
“So it would seem, XO,” Sydney replied. “Apparently, Command wants us to get our feet wet right away.”
“But —” Hernandez began, then cut herself off and heaved a small sigh. “Vega isn’t Confederate territory, Ma’am. We won’t have any sort of support system there. For a ship this small that’s a heavy burden.”
“Which is why we were chosen for the assignment,” Sydney riposted. “Peregrine’s size makes it a lot easier for us to blend into the background — to make like a hunk of space junk and lurk around the system to see what there is to see.”
“Because Vega is such a cauldron of crap, they won’t notice one more thing?”
Sydney smirked. “Colorfully put, XO, but basically spot on.” Vega had never joined the Confederacy for the simple reason that there was no “Vega” as such; instead, every settlement, every space station, every industrial complex, whether orbital or ground based, remained “free and independent,” to use the catch-phrase popular in the Vega system itself. As a result, of Vega’s two habitable planets, only one had a world-wide government: Hannisbull, settled centuries before and ruled by religious zealots. The original settlers had organized themselves into a theocracy with the avowed goal of proselytizing the entire galaxy … beginning by re-uniting with “like-minded” souls everywhere.
The closest “like minded” souls were located on the planet Tonga, which had been settled by an offshoot group of the same sect as those on Hannisbull. There was only one small problem with this association: Tonga was not only inside Confederate space … it was a Confederate member state. Tonga’s “like minded souls” had argued and negotiated for years before recently signing an “Accord of Understanding” with Hannisbull. That accord spoke of reunification in only the most general of terms.
Hernandez frowned. “So this is a covert op?”
“Not specifically.” Sydney shook her head and referred to the digital reader she held, that contained the bulk of the order and its supporting documents. “We’re there to make sure that what happens in Vega, stays in Vega. You are aware that Vega has recently … ah, spilled over into the Confederacy, let’s call it.”
“Sure,” the XO acknowledged. “The Hannisbull-Tonga Accord of Understanding.”
“Exactly,” Sydney agreed. “Fleet’s response to that has been decidedly muted, don’t you think?”
“Muted? I’d call it non-existent.”
“You’d be wrong to say that,” Sydney said, and waved the reader in the air. “We are Fleet’s response.”