Klingseis Chapter Seven
I should be awarded a promotion for even making it to this meeting.
After lunch, I made it back to my quarters with half the time I needed to clean my dress uniform remaining. It came down to treating it like a trauma case. Stop the major bleeds and ignore the minor cuts and scrapes. On the way back, I stopped by the commissary and blew some credits on a new pair of heels, much quicker than polishing the old ones. Instead of taking the time to press my uniform, I carried it to the bath and turned on all seven showers as hot as they would go to let the steam and gravity work out the wrinkles.
It worked, sort of, although it did make polishing the brass a pain since I had to dry them off first. A half-wrinkled, spit-polished dress uniform that has a hint of ship bathroom smell. I look like I earned my commission on my knees during an admiral’s birthday party.
I’m currently having the pleasure of sharing a lift with two of the most cheerful crewmembers on the Ironsides, Hale and his senior non-commissioned officer, Staff Sergeant Darden. She supervises half the Marines on this ship. The ones who are worth a damn, at least. I doubt any of her men were responsible for jumping my pilot. She wouldn’t put up with shit like that.
It’s almost hard not to laugh when you notice the difference between Hale and his Lieutenant. His protruding midsection and pale complexion is a sharp contrast to Darden’s muscular physique and ebony skin.
Darden and I are on good terms, although we don’t exchange any pleasantries beyond a semi-friendly nod. She’s infantry, I’m a fighter jockey. She’s enlisted, I’m an officer. The top brass usually don’t enforce the fraternization rule between officers and enlisted who aren’t in the same chain of command. Thankfully for that, or half my pilots would be sitting on their ass in a cell. But still, it’s like we live in different worlds and just pass each other on occasion. Making friends doesn’t seem to be a top priority for Darden, anyway. I’ve never seen her at any of the normal hangouts. In fact, I’ve never seen her out of uniform. I’m pretty sure she sleeps in it.
The lift mercifully opens onto the deck outside the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Briggs, our esteemed executive officer, and Ensign Richards, our communications officer, are chatting about five meters from the lift door. They look like they had a pleasant journey.
We all step out into the back side of the bridge. For security reasons, there is only one lift that connects to the bridge, but the Ironsides’ transit system is designed to allow multiple lifts to enter and exit the transit paths throughout the ship. You tend to forget about that until your lift halts and waits for another to pass every once in awhile.
Bridge officers buzz back and forth, gliding across the multi-tiered room without even looking down to ensure their footing. The efficiency of a well-tuned military is a wonder, sometimes. Directly ahead, a transparent bulkhead provides a clear view of this system. Yuelon Prime, the sole planet in this system, is just a dull shadow in the glare of the star.
As I look around the room, a tall, thin figure catches my eye port-side, in the aft-corner by Navigation. The Hycain ambassador is hard to miss. At two and a half meters, he towers over everyone else on the bridge. He is also the only one in the room with brown and grey pulsating fur. That tends to catch the eye.The muscles around the Hycains’ hair follicles contract with each exhale, causing the hairs to straighten and then relax again on the next inhale. Due to their higher breathing rate, the Ambassador looks to be constantly out of breath.The straightening and relaxing of his fur is almost agitating. I have to consciously slow my breathing so as not to keep pace.
My grandmother told me she once saw an animal on Earth that reminded her of a Hycain. “It’s like watching a massive porcupine inflate and deflate ten times a minute,” was her exact phrasing. Nana Klingseis’s generation, the Terrans, weren’t exactly the most tolerant people. I’m not quite sure if she was racist, but she was definitely headed in that direction.
The ambassador is wearing elegant red robes, typical of his position, cut light and loose to allow his braided hairs to extend and fall without restriction. I’ve heard that Hycains never cut their hair. The easiest way to tell their age is how creative they get with their braiding. If that is true, this is by far the oldest Hycain I’ve ever seen.
I realize that I’ve been standing in one place staring at the ambassador just long enough to be insulting. I force my feet to move but I can’t tear my eyes off the lone alien on the bridge. His presence is interfering with the strategies required for walking in dress heels, like looking where I’m walking. I somehow manage to make it to Richards’ side without twisting an ankle. He fails to notice me and immediately moves to catch up with the rest of the group who are slowly making their way to the bridge’s conference room. I slowly start shuffling after him while cursing his flat shoes.
I look up to see Commander Prendable now standing with Briggs outside the conference door. I scanned the entire bridge less than a minute ago and didn’t see him anywhere. His inexplicable appearance makes me wonder if the rumors about my commander are true. Ever since the attack on Hycai Prime, he has enjoyed celebrity status in the fleet. I know him to be an incredibly capable leader, but I still find it hard to believe that he actually killed a Ralgoth with his bare hands.
But even if Prendable is a typical human, he certainly doesn’t behave like a typical commander. I rarely see Prendable off the bridge. It’s common for the CO to avoid fraternization with his crew, but I’ve been stationed on this vessel for over two years and can count the number of times we’ve been in the same room on my fingers and toes. He seems to actively segregate himself from the rest of the crew, deferring most nonessential matters to his XO.
I stop beside Richards and give him a quick elbow to the side to let him know I’m here. The ensign is more than just my link to the bridge, he is one of the few people on the Ironsides I would consider a friend. Sometimes when the hours on patrol drag on, and the action on the bridge quiets down, we’ll try to entertain each other over the comms with long tales of our time in the Academy. Richards gives me a quick smile and raises an eyebrow, a nonverbal way of asking if I know what’s going on. I just smile back and shrug as I turn back around to survey the rest of the bridge
I hear the faint scuffle of footsteps and feel that Richards is no longer beside me. When I turn back around, everyone is filing into the boardroom with Prendable waiting at the door.
Son of a bitch.
My nervousness over these department head briefings, along with the Hycains’ love for tiered flooring are making walking more difficult than it needs to be. I do my best to gracefully cover the ten meters of deck between me and the door without losing my footing again. A recessed area of the deck for routing cabling does its best to trip me up before I make it to the door, but I manage to stay upright.
I put on my best smile and squeeze past the Commander into the small room. “Sorry, sir.”
Prendable just smiles and nods and closes the door behind me.
He appears to be in a good mood, so maybe this will go quickly.
Prendable neglects to take his seat, and rather stands at the front of the conference table. The ambassador, who was just lurking in the adjacent corner of the room, now stands behind the Commander. Someone needs to put a bell on these people. They are either magically transporting to different locations, or I’m spacing out. The Commander doesn’t even look back at him before he continues speaking.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the former leader of the Hycain people, and the current Hycain Alliance Senior Ambassador to the Unified Peoples of Earth, Muli Linco.”