At the first sound of the emergency klaxons, Commander Hastati Graves was awake and alert, flying out of bed. His uniform hung before him, and in the span of a minute he had thrown it on over his skivvies and was sprinting for the Bridge. He was joined by his Comms Officer, Haylee Banks, with whom he shared a single knowing glance. Otherwise, the only interaction was the beat of their boots reverberating in the hall; and there were many more, just like theirs, coming up behind the pair.
On the Bridge, Haylee made a beeline for her station. Commander Graves slowed to an authoritative stride, straightened out his jacket, and activated his own console at the aft of the Bridge. Other bodies began filing in with the same purposeful haste: they knew their roles and what needed doing. It put a brief smile on Hastati's face. Haylee scared it off with the first words spoken since the alarms, "Antares Fleet is under surprise attack by Drathonians. Standard complement and formation, approximately twenty ships."
"Sound off!" Graves demanded, his eyes too busy with the three-dimensional tactical map to bother examining the Bridge for missing crewmen.
"Banks!" "Sheldon!" "Chiba!" Communications, Sensors, and Ordnance. That was only three out of four. Where was Navigation?
"Artamanov!" No answer. "Chiba!" Commander Graves didn't wait for the affirmative that regulations dictated, but spoke right over his subordinate, "Prime the main and secondary weapons. Target the most immediate threat.
"Banks, transmit: SchrÃ¶dinger to Wolfgang Squadron, we are immobile- repeat immobile. Proceed without us. You know the drill."
A trio of voices responded in near-harmony with, "Aye." He watched on his tacmap as the indicators for those of his Squadron- Einstein, Rosen, and Bohr- winked out of existence for a fraction of a second before reappearing on the periphery a few thousand miles from the core of the erupting conflict.
"Sir!" It was Sensor Operator Sheldon. "We have four enemy craft bearing straight for us!"
"That many?" Graves murmured under his breath. It was an odd tactic, but nothing about this was normal. "Chiba! Fire at your discretion. Keep us alive long enough for--"
"Sir, I'm here!" declared Grigori Artamanov as he stumbled through the door, panting. His hand fumbled futilely with the buttons of his shirt, which was only done up a third of the way. He was headed down to his seat at Navigation, but Hastati impeded him with one hand.
"No, you stay right here." Grigori did as ordered, watching the screen helplessly has the enemies approached and the Commander buttoned his shirt for him.
Sheldon cut in again. "They're firing, Commander! Missile payloads inbound and weapons charges detected."
"Who is she?" Graves asked in a voice only Grigori could hear.
"I only have so many hands," Chiba grumbled, switching his focus to the pulse arrays which he utilized masterfully to disable the incoming missiles. There were few that could manage all the weapons systems on a Mars-class simultaneously- and none that could do so as efficiently as Sanosuke Chiba. He could not, in spite of his superb skills, stop the lasers in any way. The Bridge rattled when SchrÃ¶dinger was struck by the energy weapons, and set off more warning sirens. Hastati was unfazed, but he noticed Grigori becoming ever paler.
"Sir, what- what do you mean!?" Graves was halfway done with the buttons.
"We can't take another one, sir!" Sheldon again, always so urgent in his delivery. "We need to jump!" What the fuck are you doing, Commander!? seemed to be the underlying question in the Sensor Officer's voice. His eyes widened. "Sir! They're charging again! We're done!" Hastati did not move, standing stolidly with one strong hand clamped onto Artamanov's upper arm even though the Navigation Officer struggled fiercely to make it to his seat.
"Sir! I have to jump us out of here!" Artamanov was confused and pleading, on the verge of tears, as he should rightly be.
The other were shouting for Graves's input, but he either didn't hear them or chose to ignore them. "I asked you a question, Ensign Artamanov! Who is she?"
"Who sir! WHO!?" Grigori was breaking into panic.
"Give me the name of the woman that cost us all our lives."
"Enemy fire detected!" Sheldon shouted. All eyes were on the viewscreen but Hastati's- burrowing into Grigori's- and the Navigation Officer's own wide with fear and empty of understanding. The deathblow came as a giant white light, growing and growing until it consumed the entire viewscreen. The Bridge gave one last shudder then everything went dark.
Dim blue lights activated all along the perimeter of the Bridge ceiling and outlined the various consoles along the floor.
"S-sir, what happened!?" Grigori had dropped to his knees in panic. With one swift tug, Graves righted him, and resumed where he had stopped, halfway up Ensign Artamanov's shirt. All eyes were on them.
Hastati explained. "If that had been an actual ambush, Ensign Grigori Artamanov, we all would have died because you slept in another woman's quarters."
"I, how- how did you...?" he fumbled his words, grasping for understanding.
Commander Graves finished buttoning up the shirt and smiled. It was not a pleasant or friendly smile. It was the smile of a shark, grinning at the sight of food. "This, Ensign Artamanov!" he shouted, "Is NOT a man's shirt, but a woman's! You, still bleary-eyed from your night of debauchery, managed to take her shirt and wear it all the way to my Bridge. Luckily for the crew of SchrÃ¶dinger, it was not in fact a real ambush, but a simulated drill for the benefit of Wolfgang Squadron. And we- WE- the lead ship of the Squadron- MY SQUADRON- have FAILED in our duty to LEAD because YOU," Graves pointed quite angrily at the Navigation Officer, who cowered, "Could not have had the common sense to keep it in your pants!"
It was stunning that Hastati had any breath left to relinquish after that; when he did, it was not a sigh of irritation, but the rumbling exhalation of FURY. "For Hymn's sake, you could have at least had the intelligence and forethought to take her to your quarters right down the hall!" Hastati lashed out with a hand and Grigori flinched, expecting to be struck. Graves had not thrown a punch, but had gripped Artamanov's jacket in one powerful fist and yanked mightily. There was a great tearing sound that might as well have been the very air torn in twain. It was the only sound on the Bridge, and it seemed to echo awfully in everyone's ears.
Where Ensign Grigori's rank patch once stood proudly on the jacket there was now a ragged hole. The violent outburst which had come upon Commander Hastati Graves so suddenly was already over. His voice was even once more. "For your failure as a member of my Bridge Operations, and your conduct unbecoming of a United Terran Republic Officer, you are hereby demoted to Warrant Officer and will be reassigned to a ship outside Wolfgang Squadron. Dismissed, Warrant Officer." If Grigori had any desire of questioning the decision then, it was utterly destroyed when the Commander flung the ripped Ensign sigil to the floor and planted his boot on it. Artamanov managed a weary salute and dragged his sorry ass off the Bridge.
Hastati Graves turned to face his Bridge crew. "You all performed admirably. I had fully intended to write up a beautiful documentary of your many skillful efforts on today's emergency drill, but it seems not all are prepared to serve the Republic like you."
Beau Sheldon requested permission to speak; it was granted. "It seemed unnecessary of you to impede Ens- Warrant Officer Artamanov's efforts to rectify his mistake. He could have made the short-jump in time."
"Could he have?" Hastati's gaze fell to each of them, asking them all. It was an open invitation to speak.
"Probably," Sheldon assured without sounding too positive.
"Possibly," was Chiba's cold, flat input.
"Doubtful," added Banks.
"There we have it, then. Damned either way." He sighed silently. "Be that as it may, you still all performed exceptionally. There is little to go on, but it is exactly the excellence I have come to expect from you all. Good work. You have R&R until I have found a replacement for Artamanov."
"Sir... Doesn't that usually take weeks?" inquired Sheldon.
"Usually, Sheldon, but my methods are unusual and my specifications even more stringent. It will not take long for me to find the man- or woman," he glanced at Haylee Banks as he said this, "To fill that seat.
"You're free to go when the second shift arrives. If you'll excuse me, I have a dismal report to file and a Navigation Officer to find."
The Antares fleet is one of the United Terran Republic's finest fleets, aside from the Battle Hymn fleet. within this fleet, a small group of friends try to hold ties while serving their duty aboard separate fleets, while battle the adversities of war, and the troubles of running a fleet.
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