TRU WAS ON HIS WAY TO AN ENGINEERING MEETING WHEN CARGO CREW CHIEF, Lieutenant Warren Meske, trotted up next to him. He smiled, nodding once to Tru.
An awkward silence followed.
“Do you need something?” Tru asked.
He looked down, smiling. “Well, actually… If you aren’t busy tonight… I was wondering if you’d like to have supper with me.” Meske looked up.
“Was there something you needed to discuss?”
“Nothing in particular, no. I just thought that if you were interested, we could have dinner.”
Tru stopped short, his eyes narrowing slightly. “And by dinner you mean… As a Captain and Cargo Crew Chief?”
“N-No.” Meske smiled, blushing. “I think I heard wrong, sir. I’m sorry. Excuse me.”
Meske turned to hurry off
He stopped short but didn’t turn around.
“What did you hear wrong?” Tru asked
“It doesn’t matter, sir.”
“Actually, it does.”
Meske turned around with a sigh. “It… I didn’t hear it correctly, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you. I apologize, sir.”
“Chief, tell me what you misheard about me. That’s an order.”
Meske’s face took on a slight green color. Almost under his breath he replied, “You were homosexual.”
“And who told you that?”
“I’d heard it at the movie last night.”
“Petty Officer Kipling and Ensign Ra.”
“And where did they hear it from?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
Tru shook his head.
“I’m sorry if I offended you, sir. I shouldn’t have—”
“You’re not mistaken, Chief; however, you know the regulations about relationships between a captain and crewmen. I am sorry, Chief.”
Meske smiled wistfully. “Thank you, sir. Have a good afternoon.”
Meske hurried off. Tru put his hands on his hips, gritting his teeth in anger. Jackie had broken her promise and he would have to deal with it after his security meeting.
“Gracie, transport me to the Brig.”
He was transported immediately.
Jackie walked out of the women’s shower toweling her hair dry. Seeing Tru leaning against the wall across the hall made her smile. She flung her towel over her shoulder and walked up to him.
“Aren’t you hanging outside the wrong shower, Truman?” she quipped.
A slight nod of Tru’s head brought forward the security guard that had been waiting by the shower door. She looked at the guard when he grabbed her arm before turning a stony glare on Tru.
“What the hell—”
“While you’re in the Brig for a week, you and your evil twin need to have a discussion about what confidential means.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I told you my sexual orientation was confidential. I trusted you to keep it a secret.”
“You’re joking!” Jackie laughed until she noticed Tru wasn’t even cracking a grin. “You’re actually mad about that? I mean, I kept your other secret. That should make a difference.”
“If I can’t trust you to keep in confidence something like my sexual orientation, how can I trust you to withhold more important information? You may be my best communications officer, but you don’t deserve the honor of being a Merchant Raitor officer if I can’t trust you, Ensign Rhoades.”
“But… It was just—”
“There is no ‘but, it was just—’, Ensign Rhoades! When I say something is confidential, regardless of what it is, I expect it to stay that way! You need to think about that! You screw up again, and you’ll arrive at Righel Prime in the Brig. And this time, you won’t be transferred to another ship and crew. This time, I will personally see to it that you are dishonorably discharged and all pension revoked. Do I make myself clear?”
Jackie looked down.
“Do I make myself clear, Ensign?”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured.
“I can’t hear you.”
Much louder she answered, “Aye, sir.”
“Officer Lefavour, escort Ensign Rhoades to the Brig.”
The officer pulled on Jackie’s arm and they walked to the first adjoining hall. Tru noticed several officers had stopped in the hall to watch him reprimand Jackie.
He started to order them back to work when a voice yelled across the ship’s intercom, “CAPTAIN TO JUNCTION G-24.”
“Gracie, what’s wrong?” Tru asked.
There’s another fight.
Tru let out an exasperated breath. “Transport me there.”
Tru materialized at the back of a crowd of crewmen cheering and egging on whoever was fighting. Tru pushed between them and the crew instantly stopped cheering as he passed. By the time he got to the center the grunts and punches and cursing of Aris and Gaxean Petty Officer Rachel Kipling were the only sounds.
Across the arena the crowd had made for the women to fight, his Senior Security Guard, an Avinion named Exum Zalet, and two security officers pushed out of the crowd. They pulled the women apart, but that didn’t stop them from trying to continue their fight.
A week of dealing with fights, lack of sleep, and pent up frustration made Tru bellow, “STOP! NOW!”
The bellow echoed through the hall as if he’d just screamed through a bullhorn. The inhuman volume of it shocked the entire crew into silence.
But Tru didn’t hear the volume of it. Losing control of his emotions surprised him. He paused to force back the anger that was swelling inside. He realized he couldn’t handle seven months of his crew behaving like this but he also wasn’t going to allow this crew to change him into a person he didn’t want to be. Whatever it took, Tru was going to find a way to make them get along.
Tru walked into the center of the crowd, meeting eyes wherever he looked.
“I consider myself pretty laid back, crew,” Tru told them. He was too furious to notice how they cringed each time his voice lifted to the same, almost deafening volume. “However, I am not about to let you take control of my ship while I sit idly by. I will not continue to tolerate the insubordinate behavior all of you have shown these last two weeks! You are adults; not children, not larva, offspring, or whatever you call your immature young! Starting today, everyone involved in a fight will be thrown in the Brig, regardless of who started it or for what reason. Anyone who encourages fights like this crowd just was, will be confined to your quarters when not on duty. And if we reach spaceport and you have been confined or arrested for fighting I will order you dishonorably discharged. Not transferred, not demoted, discharged. Have I made myself very clear?”
There was a moment of silence.
His chef, Andrea Kauffman, started to say, “But, sir, Aris—”
Tru snarled, “Yes or no!”
A couple muttered replies.
“Either answer or you are off at the next space port, crew. What is your answer?”
“Yes, sir,” resounded around him.
“Union Rep Kar’esh, I want you to stay behind with me and the ladies. Everyone else, disperse! Quickly!”
The crowd hurried away. Tru turned to the females, noticing Amanda was moving through the crowd toward them. She stopped opposite of him, holding her hands behind her back. Tru turned his attention to the females.
“She stole food out of the galley and I caught her,” Rachel told Tru.
“That isn’t true!” Aris retorted.
“What food, Rachel?” Tru asked.
“Oh yeah. Listen to her! Probably fucking her too!”
“For insulting your captain, you’ve just added a day to your time in the Brig, Aris,” Tru told her.
Aris’ jaw dropped. Rachel started giggling.
“And for not remaining professional, so have you, Rachel.”
The giggling stopped. Aris smiled smugly.
“Rachel, what food was stolen?”
“Two apples and bananas and I seriously doubt she was going to eat them.”
Tru looked at Aris. Her puppy dog face had become more dog-like and she was growling at Rachel.
“Aris, what happened?”
Aris looked at him. “Oh, I get to tell my side now?” she snipped.
“You just added another day.”
She stared at him for a moment, and then shook her head. “I don’t know why we were fighting.”
“Every time you dodge the question, you will get one more day in the brig, Aris. You are now at three.”
“And so is Rachel.”
Rachel stopped laughing.
“I was just walking past her,” Aris said.
“Four days for both of you.”
“That’s not fair!” they cried out together.
“FINE! I stole one apple.”
“Why not just replicate one?”
“I… Well… I… Hadn’t thought of that.”
“Perhaps you should next time, Aris. You have five days in the Brig.”
“Or is it six now?”
Aris clamped her mouth shut, her dogface starting to reform. Tru looked at Rachel.
“You have five.”
Rachel opened her mouth. Tru’s eyebrows lifted.
“Aye, sir,” Rachel said, looking down.
“You two will accompany Chief Zalet and his men to the Brig. Zalet, add a day each time they try to argue or resist.”
With a solemn nod, Zalet and his guards left with the two. Tru turned to Kar’esh.
“I imagine crew will complain about this new rule. I want you to verify that it doesn’t go against Merchant Raitor regulations. Alert me if you find anything.”
“That’ll be all.”
Kar’esh left. Tru finally turned his attention to Amanda. There wasn’t a hint of emotion on her face.
“Yes?” Tru asked.
“I was surprised to hear you yell, sir,” Amanda said.
“Now you know how to tell when I’m beyond pissed.” Tru walked away.
“It wasn’t just… That. Sir.”
Tru stopped, turning to her. “What do you mean?”
“It was the volume too. It was as if you were yelling through the speakers. It was very loud.”
“I was very mad.”
“It was more than that, sir.”
Tru scrubbed his fingers across his temple. He dropped his hand.
“I guess I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean… Well… Maybe it’s because you’re half Silerium that you were able to yell that loud.”
“And you’ve never heard a human or a Gaxea or a Drasparah or a Quiir yell that loud?” Tru snapped. “It has to do with me being half Silerium that I yelled?”
“No. I… I mean… I just…”
Tru shook his head, turning away. “Never mind. Go back to work, Wrigley.” Tru walked away. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
Amanda stood for a moment, and then trotted to catch up. She fell in beside him.
“Sir, Aris does this to herself. She steals food to antagonize the galley crew and she steals other female’s men just to be impossible or get revenge for some injustice she’s manufactured. To be fair to the crew, you should talk to her about her behavior.”
“It’s against regulations to interfere with a crewman’s personal life, Wrigley.”
“I wasn’t saying you had to interfere. Just talk to her, advise her, use your position as a ship counselor to council her. And stealing, sir, is against regulations, regardless of the monetary value.”
Tru narrowed his eyes, looking at Amanda.
She stopped short, turning to hurry away, “Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to be out of line.”
Tru stopped walking, watching her leave. “You weren’t out of line, Wrigley.”
She stopped, looking back.
“I’m just surprised,” Tru admitted.
“This is the first time I’ve heard you voice any concern about a crewman. Is Kipling your friend?”
“Do you know Kipling?”
“And what is Aris? A friend or foe?”
“A subordinate, sir.”
“Wrigley, this isn’t a test. I’m not looking for the right answer. I’m looking for the truth. What is your relation to those two?”
Amanda looked up. “I can’t stand either one, sir. Gaxea are rude and impolite; Paskian only think about sex and food. I’m sure they are both at fault, but it’s only fair to point out that Aris readily gets herself into trouble.”
Tru smiled. “Fair enough, but to keep it fair, I’d like you present when I speak with her.”
“Tell me when, sir.”
“After shift tonight. I was about to go to lunch. Do you have time to join me?”
“For what purpose, sir?”
“We need to brainstorm some ideas about how to resolve the tension on board; otherwise we may end up with some injured crewmen, or worse.”
Tru saw a faint smile play at her lips, the first he’d seen since he’d met her.
“And you… You want my opinion on this matter, sir?” Amanda asked.
“You are my XO, Wrigley.”
Tru walked past her. She smiled, but wiped it off when he glanced back at her. She trotted up to catch up with him.
“I think our senior security officer, Exum Zalet, may be able to help us in that area, sir. It wouldn’t hurt the crew to brush up on their defense skills and I know several are coming up for self-defense recertification soon. It would encourage them to channel their tension into some productive training. Under supervised conditions, the sparring may help them ‘beat each other up,’ if you will, without harming one another.”
Tru nodded. “So far it sounds like a good plan. Can you elaborate on specifics about how it would help the crew?”
Amanda smiled, working out the details her idea.
Speech given by Terallian Emperor Falu on 7 December 2141, moments before launching the first wave of attacks on Earth:
“Humans are reeds, the weakest in nature, and easiest to crush. They have not gained in strength, nor in numbers. Do not waver from your duty, do not take pity on them, because these humans are animals. They would kill your infant son, asleep and helpless in his cradle, if only to see the child bleed.”