Go fuck yourself, you drunk, womanizing cad.
Yana found a response written on a massive computer window left open in her room’s wall.
Her overnight partner, Aaliyah, was long gone. There was no trace for her. Even on the bed, any fluids they expelled in their passion would have been evaporated by the room as part of its cleaning routine. Yana sighed heavily, sinking into her bed. At least she would be leaving soon.
Maybe if she survived all of this mess she would skip town and move to Lyser.
Throwing her casual clothes on the ground, she laid in bed in her wetsuit for hours.
She asked herself, constantly: What should I feel about this?
For the past five years she had avoided work on ships.
Nagavanshi was right. She blamed herself for the Pravda. Nothing would change that.
Yana had thought the best medicine was to disappear.
She had served ten years in the military, from cadet to Captain. She had been promoted faster than any of her peer group and completed many more assignments. For years she had been obsessed with work. It was her right to retire to a peaceful life. And she had some good years, some great parties, some amazing exes. Fun stories to tell. Those first few years of drinking away the memory of the disaster that had befallen her served to erase her past; but also her future.
Now that she was older, she felt pressured to change herself. To become somebody.
Old habits die hard.
“That’s just stupid excuses, Yana.” She told herself. “I keep wanting to do this shit.”
Anyone who wanted could judge her, for the drinking, (for the womanizing.)
None of them could hurt her more than she hurt herself.
None of them could her feel more ashamed than she did.
And none of them could change her or what she felt.
In fact, no one had even tried. Everyone, including herself, found it easier to give up.
Until Nagavanshi — that woman was a demon.
She had a way of dominating anyone.
Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya of the UNX-001 Brigand.
Why was she doing this? Nagavanshi had placed so much importance on this ship.
Yana almost felt scared. To think that she would be responsible for a crew again.
After all she had done, for years, to avoid any responsibility for her actions.
“It’s Nagavanshi who wants me there. She said all that crap, didn’t she?”
There was a part of her, buried deep beneath the detritus of the past few years, that felt a strange thrill at the idea of commanding a ship again. And it was a ship on a historic mission, too. Nagavanshi had called her a hero. She had praised her so much. That praise pissed her off; it was so presumptive. Yana did not see herself that way– but she hated that she couldn’t feel that pride.
“But what if I could earn it again? What if–”
Nagavanshi’s voice in her head interrupted her thoughts.
What if she could redeem herself?
That was what Nagavanshi had explicitly offered her.
Could she ever actually redeem herself? Was she redeemable at all?
Yana grit her teeth, shook her head. She could not keep thinking about this.
She was so exhausted. Her head was pounding.
Manipulating the wall computer, she summoned a gentle violin melody.
All around her the lights dimmed.
“Wake me up an hour before the meeting.” She murmured as she typed the words.
Yana threw herself back against the bed, shut her eyes, and had a long, dreamless nap.
Hours passed. All of the darkness of the past few hours washed out of her body in sleep.
She awakened a few minutes before her alarm, in time to hear it go off and feel annoyed.
Purged of emotion, and cured of her headache, Yana felt as ready she could ever be.
Standing at the door to her wardrobe, she hesitated, fingers hovering over the door handle.
“Nagavanshi said it can only be me. So, let her bear the responsibility then.”
Disabusing herself of the burden of her fate allowed Yana to throw open those doors and push aside the cocktail dresses, the tailored blazers and pants, the erotic lingerie, and other regalia of the life she had pursued. Behind all of it was her military uniform. Thankfully, her figure had not changed overmuch from when she was active duty. She had kept fit enough for uniform.
For the first time in years, she donned a full bodysuit, dress shirt, uniform skirt and coat. Her rank insignia, a yellow bar with three circles with a small star inside for Senior Captain, shone proudly on both the lapel of her coat, and just above her breasts. Her blonde hair was again tidied up behind the back of her head with a claw hair clip. Professional; confident; maybe even austere.
Maybe even too austere. She dabbed a bit of red lipstick on before leaving the apartment.
Having just a little bit of party girl in her would not hurt crew discipline.
With makeup, her face looked remarkably like she remembered it before the Pravda.
Was the woman staring back at her truly 36 years old? Had that much time passed?
Yana touched her own face.
“God, I still look like a girl.”
Having lost perspective on this, her idea of a girl was herself, in her late 20s.
That was the face she saw looking back, the face that surprised her.
For some reason she expected she looked much more wearied, worn.
“I guess there’s a little bit around my eyes.”
Yana really had to strain to see the tiny wrinkles there.
Nevertheless, she dabbed a little concealer from her makeup kit around her eyes.
Seeing herself in uniform, all made up, and moving on to a new ship, it surprised her. All of these touchstones to a past she felt had been completely obliterated, gave her a tiny bit of hope that allowed her to gird herself for the future. To go back to the Naval HQ, after half a decade of military abstinence. She almost enjoyed how she looked in the coat and skirt.
She struck a pose with her fists on her hips, leaning forward.
Mustering up her most commanding voice, she pointed a finger at her reflection.
“Launch torpedo #8! Go for the enemy’s forward ballast!”
Even more surprising, she found herself smiling in front of the mirror.
“My, oh my.”
She winked at her reflection before departing her room.
Nagavanshi had not given her a specific time she should appear at the HQ, so she figured she could make it in by 1800. That was the second shift at the offices. To simulate “night,” a concept which was scientifically understood but not experienced beneath the sea, the lights around the station started to dim. By 1800 the Station would start to transition to its night life. People would open up co-op bars and even tiny pop-ups in the halls and plazas. There was music and dancing, and a flurry of colors provided by party drones, balls of LED lights with basic programming.
All industrial production in the Union was controlled by cadres of workers that answered to the central Union government. This is what gave the Union its name at first. It had risen out of labor unionization. This continued to be the case, but the Union allowed home-made goods, and anyone who wanted could apply to purchase or trade the raw materials to make their own textiles, alcohol, and computerized devices. When there was a surplus, some materials were even free.
For alcohol in particular, there was an additional restriction that home-made drinks could not be sold during the “day” when people worked. So walking the halls at night, one would see all manner of tiny places open out of personal rooms or shared workspaces, selling their own brews.
Yana was tempted, but she valiantly resisted. She had work to go to, after all.
Her journey took her past a few makeshift clubs, like the ones she would have loved to frequent on any other night. There was beautiful music and gorgeous singing, people dressed in the nicest outfit they owned (or could borrow), close dancing. There was a tight, sweaty, sensual atmosphere to the clubs that, in the most intense places, would even waft out into the hall.
She pushed herself to walk faster and avoided looking through those doors.
For people who lived in and worked either in small, thriftily organized spaces, often by themselves or in tiny groups that would rarely deviate from their work; or worse, out in the terrifying void that was the Ocean surrounding the Station; there was something about the clubs, which formed in open or mid-size spaces, that gave the inhabitants like Yana a lot of comfort. Even the most packed club felt lived in, organic, in a way the Station halls and room could not be.
“No clubbing for you. You’ve decided to be a responsible adult, remember Yana?”
Finally she reached the elevators and took them up to the docks and the Naval HQ.
During the day, the Naval HQ was a chaotic flurry of activity, but at night, it was downright serene. Aside from a few Rabochiy still moving cargo, and a paltry few security officers patrolling with rubber-grenade rifles in hand, there was little traffic, and one could see how broad the thoroughfares were in the Docks and around the Naval HQ. Up above, and all around her, the glass panels looking out onto the berths were brightly lit and allowed Yana to see many ships at rest.
None of those berths contained the ship in the picture, the Brigand. (Her own ship?)
Yana wandered into the Naval HQ, where a receptionist was organizing the front desk, perhaps for want of anything else to do. When Yana arrived, she quickly made herself available.
“Commissar-General Nagavanshi is waiting for me.”
“Oh! Authenticate in the elevator and then tell it to take you to the Observation Spire.” The receptionist said. “While you’re here, by the way, did you see too many people outside?”
Yana shook her head.
“Great! Time for a break.”
With that, the receptionist pressed a button on her desk, and a window appeared on an LCD panel on the adjoining wall, indicating that the reception was closed for 25 minutes.
“Enjoy your break.”
Smiling, Yana ambled past the reception desk and into the elevator.
Inside, a robotic voice acknowledged her presence.
“Senior Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya.”
It had detected the computer chip embedded in her coat. Her credentials still worked.
She saw a few buttons on the wall, but those manual controls were only for the publically accessible floors. In order to access the highest levels of the HQ building, one required credentials that had to be authenticated by machine. Yana had been authorized, so she could verbally select a normally classified destination. Those who were prohibited access didn’t even have the option.
“Observation spire.” She said.
There was no answer from the elevator.
“Observation spire. OX-1917.”
“Location not recognized!”
The elevator was not a thinking entity — no machines could think for themselves, no matter how advanced. It was designed to receive certain input and to take action in response. Clearly it was not working. Yana sighed. She got closer to the control panel and found a manual input for location codes. That was also the location of the elevator microphone. She put her lips near it.
“Location not recognized!”
Grumbling, she put the manual code in for the Spire into the elevator.
Finally there was a slight vibration as it got going.
So much for the glitzy, computerized future.
There was a significant amount of computerization in the Union. They had less manpower than the Empire and less space. Any job a computer could handle was a job that a human did not have to do and freed those humans up to do jobs a computer could not be programmed or trusted to perform — such as firing weapons or offering good service. It was plain to see however that some automation decisions had been poorly thought out, poorly implemented, or both.
Once the elevator got moving it quickly raised Yana through the interior structure of the Thassal mound, and the core pylon holding up the mound and the station. She was lifted up to a point just over the docks. She exited out onto a room with a domed roof that appeared as if it was glass. In reality, it was all LCDs displaying feeds from high-powered cameras outside, making it seem like they were windows and that she was under a dome of glass. A central set of steps led up to three tiers of bulbous observation rooms that offered their guests an unimpressive view of the outside. It was all dark and murky, no matter how well lit or how powerful the cameras.
She could see the outline of at least one ship out there in the dark, however.
As she stepped out of the elevator, she saw a few people loitering about the area in uniform.
Two approached her. One was Nagavanshi, who had a friendless look on her face as usual. Beside her stood a woman in uniform.
Black coat with red trim, and a skirt, over a body stocking.
“There you are, Korabiskaya. I want to introduce you to the Commissar here–”
The Commissar accompanying Nagavanshi was a young woman. Her light olive skin and long dark hair looked devastatingly familiar, as did a pair of fluffy cat-like ears sticking out of the top of her head. Her slender figure, gentle orange eyes and thin, lightly reddened lips brought Yana back to a place she would have rather forgotten all about, and a time similarly fraught. Clubs, liquor pop-ups, the dimly lit station streets. Sweet words, invigorating conversation. A bedroom, the pair desperately undressing. Lifting her up, teasing her, gently nipping the tips of her breasts–
Yana wanted to sink through the floor and be crushed by the sea outside.
And the woman staring daggers at her looked no less mortified, but far more furious.
“This is Commissar Aaliyah Bashara. You two will share command of the Brigand.”
Nagavanshi introduced them. She seemed unaware of the volatile auras between them.
Aaliyah extended her hand silently when prompted.
Filled with a desperate need to cause no further trouble, Yana took the hand.
They exchanged a single, extremely stiff shake, before averting their gazes.
“Her role will be to help you with discipline and personnel decisions. I still expect you to take charge of strategy, but she is a great strategist also and will advise you. I fully vouch for her.”
Curiously, Aaliyah did not have a matching Naga armband. Nobody else in the room did.
That was perhaps the only comforting observation Yana had made of the situation.
“I’ll convene everyone for a briefing in a few minutes.”
Suddenly, Nagavanshi turned around and left them, heading upstairs.
An awkward silence ensued as Aaliyah and Yana stared at one another.
“Got anything to say to me?”
Aaliyah moved first, crossing her arms. Yana withered under her piercing glare.
Despite thinking over everything she could say, the words practically stumbled out of her.
“I hope we can have a professional relationship.”
It was so bad! The worst thing to say!
Aaliyah’s face softened at first as if she could not believe what she heard. Her ears stood on end, and her tail was curled. Then her shaking hands became fists. She bore her fangs.
“I’ll be perfectly professional. A word of professional advice: if you think a girl is so easy you can just fuck her and leave without aftercare, maybe you shouldn’t whisper so many sweet words to her and make yourself out to be so sensitive and caring and oh so in love. Be honest about playing me. Playing me so hard, you didn’t even want to see me wake up, or even two hours later.”
Like Nagavanshi, she turned around and walked away the instant of her last words. Yana was left standing there speechless, mortified, unable to mutter an apology.