The Prime Empire - Parts 25&26

Winterborn woke to the soft trill of the alarm she had set sounding through her neural implant. Was it really 0500 already? She silenced the alarm and checked the ship's time to confirm. She sighed heavily, looking at Fallborn lying so very still on the medical bench. She still held Rosa's hand in hers. Reluctantly, she gave the hand a soft kiss and stood from the chair.

As she left the med bay, she keyed into her neural interface, checking the current status of the ship—they had made good progress, leaving the orbit of Tre'brus shortly after she had fallen asleep. She hoped that Commander Val had managed to sneak in at least a few hours of sleep.

Winterborn stretched as she walked, her muscles sore from sleeping in the uncomfortable chair. She went over crew reports as she walked back to her quarters. She noted with satisfaction that security had managed to make limited headway on the alien data storage device that Julia —the Ven—had left behind. She cursed herself, angry that she still occasionally thought of that monster as Julia. Still, the news was enough to give her the mental pat on the back she needed.

She pushed open her door, looking at the stacks of books and paper that lay waiting inside. It was hard for her to be here now—the room held reminders of tenderness and love, and without Rosa, the room was bitterly overrun with memories. She swallowed her emotions, picking her way through the messy room and into the bathroom. She slid open the transparent aluminum shower door, starting the stream of water, programmed to her perfect temperature, with a mental command. She always joked that she liked to shower in water hot enough to boil seafood in, and with her pale complexion, Rosa had always noted that she definitely looked like a lobster after she stepped out. She stripped quickly, hanging her blue and red Terran uniform on the hook near the door.

She stepped into the shower, sliding the door shut behind her. The almost painfully hot stream felt like liquid gold on her skin. She sat down under the spout of water and let the warmth steal her mind away from the trials she had recently faced—the pain of seeing Rosa hurt, the stress of being the Prime apparent, the isolation in a sector of the universe previously unknown, the Ven...She let it melt away into the scalding steam.

After what felt to either have been five minutes or two hours, Winterborn stepped out into the cool air. She noted that her skin was definitely red, as she could hardly make out her smattering of freckles in the mirror. She grabbed a towel from the rack, drying herself off efficiently. Replacing the towel on the hook, she walked out into her now-freezing quarters. As she navigated the room—she really had to clean up this mounting mess—her breath caught. She saw a number of Rosa's effects on the small table in the sitting area. The lieutenant had a penchant for ancient toys—she was a bit of a collector, and even had something she called a 'Gameboy'. The one on the Captain's table was a reproduction, but she knew that Rosa had a few originals.

She shook her head, walking over to her closet. She selected a clean uniform from the rack and dressed quickly. She dried her shoulder-length hair, styling it as she always did, by parting it down the middle and combing to the sides. Satisfied with her appearance, she left her quarters and headed for the conference room. She called for the standard staff meeting, minus two notable absences. She also called Johanna Springborn to the meeting—she had been going over her service record and was surprised at her level accomplishment; she was barely twenty-one, but had risen through the ranks quickly and with distinction. She had been third in her class at the academy, a feat which would normally land you on one of the capitol ships., though postings on the Athena had been highly sought after as well. She had decided to give out a few promotions to both reward the exemplary actions during yesterday's trouble, and fill vacant positions.

She also ordered the standard assortment of breakfast items; she was ravenous.

Winterborn entered the conference room and was surprised to see Commander Val already seated at the table. She was both confused and gratified to see breakfast already placed upon the table, steam rising from the fresh-cooked assortment. Winterborn flashed a smile at Val, taking her seat at the table. She quickly dismissed her order for breakfast, save for the order for Johanna.

"What are you doing here already, Val?" asked Winterborn.

"I knew we would be meeting this morning, especially after the events of yesterday, Sir," she took a sip of coffee, "I thought you would be hungry. After all, most of us missed dinner last night."

Winterborn nodded, "Good thinking, Val. I knew there was a reason to keep you around."

Val laughed and took another sip of coffee.

The door to the conference room slid open, the young doctor walked through the door and came to attention. "Lieutenant Johanna Springborn reporting as requested, Captain."

Winterborn swallowed a mouthful of eggs, "At ease Lieutenant, we have breakfast coming for you. Steak and eggs alright with you?"

Johanna relaxed and flashed a smile at Winterborn, nodding. "Honestly, I hadn't even thought about eating until you said something, but I'm starving." She walked over to a vacant seat and sat down.

"Lieutenant," said Winterborn, "I would like to talk to you about a promotion. We're in need of a chief medical officer. You are the next in command in medical, and you easily have the qualifications."

Val cocked an eyebrow, not used to a promotion being offered without consulting her. She must have decided not to press the issue as she nodded her head, "You did a fine job yesterday, Lieutenant. I think you will do well in the position."

Johanna looked both pleased and nervous. "Of course, I've always wanted the position. I just...it's not exactly under the circumstances I expected."

Winterborn nodded, "Understandable. The events of yesterday weigh on all our minds. That being said, we have to move forward. You're the best for the position, and I need someone there I can trust to do the job well—that person is you."

Johanna smiled, "You honor me, Captain. In that case, I'll accept."

"I'll push the orders through after the meeting. Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander," Winterborn said with a smile.


Part 26

The freshly-minted Lieutenant Commander smiled warmly at the sound of the title. "Thank you, Sir," she looked from Winterborn to Val, "Thank you both."

"No thank you necessary, Commander," said Winterborn. "You have done well in taking command during a difficult situation. You've earned this."

The door opened to admit Lieutenant Ava, followed by a young officer—she was of medium height at 6' tall, and fairly slim in figure. She had hair the color of a wet street at midnight, and skin like oil-rubbed bronze. Her most notable feature was undeniably her heterochromatic eyes—one was hazel, and the other was green. Winterborn took a moment to recall her name, "Lieutenant Kali, it's good to see you," she greeted.

Val stood, "Sir, I asked Junior Lieutenant Kali to come here. You're going to need another personal aide while Rosa is incapacitated. I think she will serve you in that capacity well."

Winterborn swallowed back a potentially harsh response; she definitely didn't want to replace Rosa. The fact of it was, though, that Val was right—she needed an aide, and she couldn't wait for Rosa to return to duty.

She nodded and smiled, "We'll go over your credentials after the meeting. Until then, please be seated. Do you need us to order you a meal, Lieutenant?"

Lieutenant Kali shook her head, "No, Sir. I ate before coming. Though, I will take some coffee—I didn't get much sleep last night."

Winterborn cocked her head slightly, trying to place her accent. "Are you from New Australia, Lieutenant?" Her voice had the classic markers of an Australian accent, but seemed to be very slightly different.

Kali smiled a pearl-white smile, "Yes, Sir. My family has lived there for generations, and on the original Australia for generations before then."

Winterborn nodded, "My first ship's captain was from New Perth, she was the finest captain I've had the pleasure of serving with. I have nothing but respect for the people who call that planet home. Now, sit down Kali, we're all starving."

Kali sat down next to Ava, who immediately began devouring her meal of a hot fudge sundae.

For a few minutes, the group ate and drank their breakfast in relative silence, savoring the wonderful feeling of eating good food on an empty stomach.

The moment of silent appreciation was wonderful for Winterborn, but it couldn't last forever. She leaned back in her chair, patting her mouth with a napkin. "Commander Johanna, please apprise us of Rosa's condition."

She set down her drink, "Lieutenant Rosa is doing well as can be expected. As I told you earlier, she has suffered significant damage to the brain stem. We are currently using a combination of nano-therapy and gene therapy to mend the wound. The damage to her spinal column is expected to be fully-mended by the end of the week. If there are no complications, she should be back on duty in two weeks' time."

This prognosis was met with sighs of relief around the table. Winterborn's heart warmed knowing that she was so well-regarded. "Thank you, Doctor. Now," she looked at Ava, "I read in your report that we are making headway in the decryption of the data storage device—how long until we can crack the thing completely?"

"We have essentially just bypassed the first stage of security—we used the DNA of the Ven to open the first lock. Apparently, its own blood was the initial unlock method," she paused to take a sip of water, "Unfortunately we really have no idea where to go from here, the technology is extremely alien. Frankly, I think we'll need Quin'tel resources to get much further."

Winterborn nodded, "I will contact the Quin'tel Captain, Gul'bres. He may have resources that can be made available to us, though we may have to wait for the coronation to be complete. It seems he is a bit more of a stickler for protocol; he doesn't jump just because I am to be the Prime."

Val took this as a chance to cut in, "We are following the Vol'en'brus at maximum warp. At twenty times the speed of light we should expect to arrive at the nexus in about fifty-eight hours."

"When we drop out of warp I will be working with the Quin'tel to help navigate through the ceremony. I don't want to be caught flat-footed when the ceremony comes around. I suspect there will be a number of cultural landmines buried to catch the unwary." Winterborn took another mouthful of eggs, thinking on the difficulties to come. She wished that Rosa would be better soon. She would need someone to be at her side.

Johanna filled the silence, "There is another matter I wanted to discuss. I would like to begin study of the Ven. While I'm sure that the Quin'tel would be willing to give us plenty of information, I want to study this creature for myself. We can't afford to be caught flat footed by those things again."

"Send me a write-up of your proposed tests, I want to stay abreast of any research done on the Ven. I think they may just be the most dangerous threat in this section of the galaxy. Without the Quin'tel and their testing devices, we may never have caught the Ven at all," Winterborn shuddered despite herself.

"Yes, Sir," replied Johanna, "The report will be in your inbox by this afternoon."

"Very good, Commander. I'm already feeling good about this promotion. I think that covers all business for now, then? Oh, and Commander Val, please meet with the chief engineer to go over the latest engineering report—I think we may want to perform a general calibration check on all systems. We need to be in tip-top shape."

"Yes, Sir," replied Val, pushing her plate away and standing.

"You're all dismissed, " said Winterborn. She turned to face Kali. "I expect you to meet me at my office tomorrow at 0500. If you're going to be filling in as my aide, I'll want to get an earlier start and show you the ropes.

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