More than a Blockade Runner
The CIC was quiet, save for the low hum of the ship, the cruiser Falchion. Its captain, David Mallow, slowly paced around the central holo display, not needing to say anything, he crew adjusted to the blockade duty.
There was a sudden tone, snapping David’s gaze upward towards the sensor readouts, a small marker appearing against the void with “Unknown” printed beneath it.
“Sensors, what the hell am I looking at?”
“I’m finding out, sir.” The sensors officer said as he typed furiously at his console, bombarding the target with scans. “Looks like… small craft, high engine output. Coasted in cold, just went hot. Probably a blockade runner, sir.”
“First one this week. Helm, plot an intercept course. Get fighters hot in their tubes. And get me a signal open to them.” David barked, hearing a small chorus of “Yes, sir,” as he pulled the private phone from the central display. The communications officer gave him a nod, and David started, “Attention unidentified vessel, this is the INC Falchion. You are currently approaching the blockade line. Respond and change course or we will attack.”
There was a long pause as his threat flashed across the void, until the sensors officer shook his head, saying, “They’re accelerating, sir.”
“Launch fighters, tell them to follow the runner and disable the ship if they start to charge for a Jump.”
And now the race began, as the Falchion’s four fighter craft sped out of their launch tubes and sped through space, too far from the runner for David to say with confidence who would win this race. David wasn’t one to grumble, he knew that getting his own ship so soon after graduating from the Academy was better than most got, but he was still a young man, and felt the need to feel the desire to fight, to prove himself. Little of that happened while chasing smugglers, and sometimes when he head reports of fighting on the front lines in the Korath system, he wanted to be a part of those battles.
Finally, just before the runner reached the blockade line, the minimum safe distance to start plotting a jump, the icons of the fights closed over the runner and the speakers crackled to life with the voice of the flight leader, “Got ‘em surrounded sir. They’re powering down engines, no sign from their Jump drive.”
With the runner stopped, the Falchion closed the distance and uneventfully docked, the fighters landing after the cruisers replaced their guns in keeping the civilian craft in line. There was an order given for the crew of the runner to assemble at the hatch, an unknown number of them, while David and the Falchions attached marine squad waited on the other side.
There was a solid clanking and a low hiss as the docking tube attached and equalized the pressure between the two ships. The marines, moving with a practiced precision, opened the airlocks and paced across to the blockade runner, before opening their hatch and spreading out quickly, three staying at the airlock room to keep the three members of the runners crew under guard as the others began a careful sweep of the ship. With the crew secured and the room clear of dangers, a marine gave the all-clear signal, David’s signal to cross.
He took a step inside the captured ship and stopped, his gaze locked on the captain’s. He didn’t stop because of the two crew members there, they looked like the ambitious kind that seemed to crew these blockade runners. No, what made him pause was her.
It might have been only a second that their eyes locked, but it seemed to last for hours, and he almost lost himself in those bewitching green eyes like he once did so long ago. He couldn’t define what emotion stopped his steps, because he couldn’t define what emotion he felt. He felt… empty, as though his emotions had been pushed away and bottled up somewhere that they could not affect him. He just knew a mute surprise.
“Name, captain?” He asked as he lifted his chin, his posture becoming more distant, official, and authoritative, not ready to admit to any present that he had no need to ask.
He saw a flicker of something pass over those green eyes, her dark lips fluttering so briefly that most would be unable to tell before she returned his “Artreya Neeches, captain of the Academic Exercise.”
“David Mallow, captain, INC Falchion. We’ll process your case in my office. Marine, would you kindly provide an escort?” He half turned towards the hatch, seeing Artreya take a position behind him, one of the marines take a position behind her in turn. The silence weighed heavily on him as they traveled to his office, the only sound any of them making was their boots clanking against the deck.
He motioned for the guard to wait outside as Artreya stepped into the office/ living quarters, letting the hatch slide shut behind them and putting a low-level lock on the door, before taking a seat at his station, still in silence.
Artreya broke the silence first as she sat down across from him, running a hand through her dark locks, fanning out over her dusky skin. “Well David… you got your own ship.”
“You have yours,” was all he said in reply to her, eyes focused on his monitor, trying not to be distracted by her.
But she only smiled and shook her head. “A tiny three-man cargo ship like mine doesn’t quite compare to a cruiser like this. Admiral Chev always did like you.”
“Chev always liked you too,” he said, his voice softening, before it returned to a cold formality. “Are you or any member of your crew Orellian Alliance citizens? Is your ship registered in the Orellian Alliance?”
“No and no. I learned that much from the Academy, read up on every bit of interstellar law before you do something legally questionable.” There was a confident smile on her dark lips, and she nodded to a decoration hanging beside his desk, “That’s nice. Did you have that made?”
David followed her gaze, to a ceremonial falchion with the profile of the cruiser worked into the back of the blade. He shook his head, saying, “No, it came with the ship. One of the previous captains had it made and it’s stayed with the ship since. Sort of like handing the keys over.”
“So when did you get handed the keys?”
“Two years ago. Was on an anti-fighter cruiser as first officer for a few years, took the same position over here, took command from the previous captain when he got transferred to a desk. Doesn’t… doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, actually.” There was a quiet chime as David was talking, the Marines having finished their examination of the Academic Exercise’s cargo and sending the information to their captain. David spun his monitor around for Arterya to see, asking “This look right?”
“It’s all there. I’m sorry if this is too personal but… were you… did you fight at the Orbweaver Shipyards?” Arterya said, in reference to the attack that started the war, the overwhelming surprise assault on the Orellian port, the ships docked there, the brutal and costly battle.
David didn’t immediately answer, his gaze falling on a nondescript point on his desk as he felt the memories rising to the surface, the brief dive into his past bringing more memories of his Academy days to the surface. “We were… in the third wave, after those two battleships jumped in and drew the battle out long enough for their defense station to come out from behind the moon’s shadow. That’s when they called us in. It was… hard. Our energy cannon was in the barrage that dropped the station’s shields, and we unloaded almost everything we had at it, but we lost shields, almost every installation on our port side, and half our maneuvering thrusters. Luckily we were able to duck behind a battleship and limp away before they could start causing major hull breaches, stayed next to an anti-fighter cruiser until the battle was over.”
He shook his head out of the past, a brief motion, blinking as he suddenly rushed back into the present. “So you’re a smuggler now?”
“It’s only smuggling if you get caught. And I take a little more legitimate cargo than illegal things, about 60/40. Not that you’ll ever find or prove any of it right now, so don’t bother. The Academic Exercise is my first ship, bought it five years ago. It’s a good ship, runs quiet, high engine output-to-mass ratio. Couple of rough spots, but that just gives it character. Kind of reminds me of you sometimes.” Artreya said as she leaned forward, arms propped on the desk.
“Really? How so?” David said without much interest, eyes on his monitor, his attention more focused on the steady clicking of his keyboard as he typed.
“It’s quiet, doesn’t like to let it show that it’s feeling anything, and always tries to come through for me.” There was a smile on her lips as she spoke, “Do we really need to go through this? I know you, David, and I can tell when you’re avoiding something.”
He sighed, pushing his keyboard away and turning to face her, leaning back in his chair and pausing before he finally found his voice. “Why’d you leave?”
“You shouldn’t have to ask that, with how long we’ve known each other, you should have known just as well as I did that the Academy wasn’t for me. I was never going to fit. I probably wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did if it wasn’t for you.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me? You waited until I was out on a training trip, and then you left before I got back. I didn’t know what happened to you… it was a week before I could convince an instructor to look up your student files for me. I thought… I thought that it was because of me.” The words came in a rush, David’s shoulders trembling as his emotions became uncorked.
“It was because of you,” She said as she hid her face in her hands, sighing. “I always hated goodbyes. I just thought that would hurt less.”
“Hurt who less? You thought… you thought that I wouldn’t want to look for you? That I would just stop caring about you just because you were gone? That I wouldn’t want to contact you at all? I’m sorry, I thought that I meant more to you than that.” He was angry now, nostalgic memories replaced by a simmering rage.
Artreya didn’t say anything, though from the trembling of her lips, David could see that she wanted to. After a moment she got up, turning away from him and hugging herself, head hung low. David’s shoulders slumped as he watched her, and he knew he’d done something that he always hated to do: hurt her. He knew her, and knew that for everything he loved about her, he knew that she would never apologize, would leave the words unsaid, keeping it internalized.
“You know… I thought my heart was going to stop when I heard your voice over the comm. Don’t know how I kept it together in front of my crew.” She said at last, her words interspersed with sniffles, the sound of someone trying to move past tears.
David rose to his feet, moving behind her, one hand squeezing her shoulder as she continued, “Seven years… and then we meet here.”
She turned around to face him, and he could see the wetness clouding her eyes, the lines that tears had trailed down her face in sharp contrast with her dark skin, and there were no more words, as if with one mind they fell into each other, each holding the other like they had wanted to for so long, like they had needed to for so long.
David softly pressed his lips against her cheek, and she turned so that her lips found his, and just as soon they were locked together in a kiss whose roots were seven years in the making. As they kissed, their hands weren’t content any more just to hold, had to explore, feel, to know that every feature was still present.
Artreya briefly, reluctantly pulled back, breaking the kiss just long enough to voice the question on both their minds, “Are these walls soundproof?”
David nodded, and she began to step back, arms resting on his hips, leading him as he followed the taste of her lips, until he finally stepped faster than her, arms curling around her hips, hands pressed against the small of her back.
Their bodies pressed together, and hands began to wander, finding clasps and straps and undoing them, clothes carelessly shed, forming a ring around the two lovers. Artreya tossed David’s undershirt aside, and let her fingers slowly play down his chest, a small grin on her lips. “Well this is new, I don’t remember you spending this much time at the gym even when we went together. I like it.”
“Well I had more time on my hands after you left. Glad you like it.” David returned her smile, letting his thumb travel slowly down her bare stomach, over an intricate, swirling tattoo. “Well this is new. I don’t remember seeing this before.”
“I got it six months ago, on a whim. Glad you like it.” She leaned into him, their lips meeting again, a kiss that seemed to blur the lines between them until they were almost one.
In what seemed like an instant they were on the bed, the cool, crisply folded sheets rapidly becoming disheveled underneath their bodies, with nothing now between them, nothing to keep them apart from one another. The heat from their bodies was almost unbearable, but he couldn’t let go, couldn’t deny the heat they both felt.
The experience was short, far shorter than it should have been, than it deserved to be. As they laid together, recovering from the rush of emotions, both knew that it could not last, that this was only a brief diversion before duty separated them.
“What happens now?” Artreya finally asked as they wordlessly decided as one to gather their clothes again, feeling the distance of the garments.
“We’re seizing your cargo. You’re to proceed directly to the Betel system and report to the navy there. If you don’t, your ship will be flagged to be shot and disabled on sight. If you can impress the commander, then you won’t be imprisoned, but whenever you enter or exit an allied system, you’ll have to file your cargo and destination with the system authority. Act suspicious and you’ll get hauled in for questioning. Fail to contact the system authority and a warrant will be put out for your arrest, along with a bounty. You’re lucky you and your ship aren’t Orellian, otherwise we’d just seize it and make you a prisoner.”
“It’s not luck, it’s good planning.” Artreya replied with a small grin as she turned away, but David turned her back to face him, both hands holding her shoulders, moved by a need as great as the one they had cared for just minutes ago.
“Promise that you won’t do anything illegal. Promise me you won’t try to run the blockade again. I don’t… I can’t lose you again. Please.”
“I promise… if you keep in contact, and tell me exactly where you’re going on your next R&R stop.” There was a saucy confidence on her face, and David couldn’t help but laugh and nod as they shared one last kiss, a kiss that neither wanted to break but both knew that they must.
She feigned an air of annoyance as he escorted her back to her ship, and watched stoically as it pulled away and made the Jump, the computer able to track the trajectory of the Jump and confirm it was heading to the nearest station. David breathed a small sigh of relief when he heard that, had not been sure that her willfulness wouldn’t take over and she would choose some other path.
Later that night he sat down on his bed, sighing as a message came through for him, forcing him to get up and walk to his terminal. It was orders from the top, to go to Staging Platform A421 in two days. David quickly typed a brief general order for distribution and sent it, before sinking back into his bed, surrounded by memories of Artreya, quickly soothing him to sleep.