That night, the uppermost echelon of the Brigand’s officer cadre met for the first time. Nagavanshi convened twenty-five of the officers at the uppermost point of the Naval HQ. She had a movable podium, a screen, and a flurry of charts, data, and mission objectives to give them all.
“All of you are here tonight because I selected you personally for the skills and experience that you bring to this crew. Tonight, all I hope to do is to instill in you the objectives of this mission. The strategy and tactics, I leave to you; all of you already understand the gravity of our situation.”
The Commissar-General was a poor presenter. She barreled from point to point. There was a list of names and places, maps to follow. All that Murati could gather is that they would move first through the Nectaris Ocean to Sverland in the Southern Empire, down to Campos Mountain for some reason, before moving up to the Imbrium, first in the Central Imbrium, and then back down through the Duchy of Veka and toward Solstice, and finally around the Eastern Imbrium from the Duchy of Skarsgaard to the Duchy of Buren. The Palatinate and Bosporus were not on the travel agenda.
Or at least, that’s what she thought was the route.
She supposed it could change.
After all, any situation where a ship infiltrated the Empire was subject to unplanned chaos. She had an inkling of why the Commissar was leaving the strategy up to them. There was no way that this mission could be planned conventionally. Ultimately, it would be up to the crew to make it work.
“All of this information will be programmed into the computers, but I wanted to go over it tonight as well in case you have any questions.” She said. But nobody attending seemed equipped to ask her any questions.
Murati and Karuniya had arrived together at the Observation Spire. As the First Officer, Murati was third in the succession of command after the Captain and the Commissar. She had never been afforded such a high position before, and the meeting felt like a chaotic whirlwind to her because of it. She could not fully concentrate with a mind filled with worry.
Between the magnitude of the mission, and the high degree of responsibility she would bear in the successful completion of that mission, Murati was almost reeling with anxiety.
At least Karuniya was probably paying closer attention.
She was promoted to Chief Specialist and was in charge of scientific consultation. She had a lab and everything to show for her status.
“Don’t worry, I have a great memory. Ask me anything when she’s done.”
Karuniya whispered, perhaps sensing Murati’s discomfort.
Standing next to Nagavanshi during the entire speech was the appointed Captain, Ulyana Korabiskaya. She was one of the few things that captured Murati’s attention. Murati was impressed by her on looks alone. She really got a sense of clean-cut professionalism from Korabiskaya. Her blond hair was perfectly kept with a hair claw, and her makeup accentuated the softness and openness of her facial features. She had an ornate uniform with many awards, and it was a perfect cut for her, making her appear lean and fit beneath the coat and skirt. Murati could even see some definition beneath the skintight suit over her exposed legs. She was a real veteran.
When she was called on to introduce herself by Nagavanashi, her voice was rich and confident. Murati was convinced she was an exemplary Captain.
“Greetings, comrades. I am Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya. Our mission is one of historic, revolutionary character. The sea is vast, but I hope to inspire you all to adapt to any difficulty.”
“Were her words a little slurred?” Karuniya whispered.
Murati scoffed. “Not at all! She sounded perfect.”
“Hmm, you sure look excited.”
Karuniya gave her a look.
“I am glad we have an experienced Captain. I hope to learn a lot from her.”
This seemed to satisfy her fiancé.
“I feel like I’ve heard her name before. I can’t put my finger on it though.”
“We can look up all her awards.”
“You do that then. I’m too happy about having my own lab to complain.”
After Captain Korabiskaya, the Commissar for the ship was introduced. Her stunning eyes, cat-like ears and tail marked her as one of Shimii ethnicity. She looked delicate compared to most of the people in the room, save perhaps Karuniya, but she was agile and elegant, evident even in the easy gait with which she took to the podium before everyone assembled.
“Greetings comrades, I am Commissar Aaliyah Bashara. Should you ever waver in your commitments, do not hesitate to come to me for guidance. More than enforcing discipline on the ship, it is a Commissar’s duty to insure everyone is motivated and committed to our cause. A thousand generations reside in us. Do them proud and fight for justice in our world!”
Murati felt a chill as she heard the Commissar speak.
Her conviction was palpable and moving. It lifted Murati’s spirits.
She had not realized that they were going in order of the chain of command.
So next, Nagavanshi called on Murati to step up.
For a moment, her head went entirely blank.
Karuniya gave her a gentle push. That got her going up the steps to the podium.
Standing before everyone, all Murati could think to do was stiffen up and salute.
“Comrades! I’m, uh, well, I’m Murati Nakara! First Officer and Diver Leader!” She went through her titles then thought of something to say. “Um, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle! Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, um, they always stood in opposition! And that fight, uh, it’s now open!”
Raising her voice several times during the speech, Murati ended up practically yelling and spitting at those in attendance. In the audience, there was a lonesome clapping from Karuniya that was awkwardly joined by Captain Korabiskaya moments later. Murati stepped down, turning beet-red in the face with embarrassment, and shambled back to Karuniya’s side.
“There, there,” Karuniya patted her back gently. “You were wonderful.”
Going by order in the chain of command, after the Captain, Commissar and First Officer came the Chief Security Officer. From one of the lower tiers, someone not among the assembled audience walked almost reluctantly up to the podium. Murati recognized who it was once she stepped on the podium. She was a woman nearly 200 cm tall perhaps, with broad shoulders and a broad chest beneath her uniform. Her skin tone was interesting. Her face was a slightly paler grey than her visible neck and hands, which were almost dark blue-grey. She had a sharp nose and tired eyes, and her long, white-blond hair was tied up in a sleek, tidy ponytail.
Murati recognized a curious physical feature. Atop her head there was a small, fin-like bump of cartilage peeking through her hair. She had a pretty voluminous amount of hair on her head, so the fin was partially hidden. Similarly, her earholes were hidden by tufts of hair, but the rainbow-colored, fan-shaped cartilage fins in place of the ears were partially visible.
“Good evening. I’m Evgenya Akulantova.”
She spoke with reluctance and scratched her head.
Her fingers were webbed together, and she was moving them idly.
“I’m the Chief of Security. I have some experience with this.” She said after a pause. Then she paused again. Every time Nagavanshi seemed like she was about to cut her off, she would start talking again with a sigh. “I’ve been in Security for 10 years. I’m not trying to hit anyone, you know? I’ve never had to hit anyone before. I think people look at my gentle face and calm down. I hope to continue deescalating conflicts. If I do hit you, you will not enjoy it.”
She stepped down from the podium with another long sigh.
Murati felt a thrill of excitement again.
That gentle, grey face was absolutely familiar to her.
Chief Akulantova was a Pelagis. Murati had met her, specifically, before aboard another ship. She was glad that Akulantova continued to have a career. The Pelagites were a very hard-done people, and it was heartening to know that they were represented in the military. As her appearance suggested, she was a human with fish-like characteristics. Murati carefully avoiding thinking too much about where she might have come from. It was usually a depressing story; and there were many varieties.
Murati walked to the edge of the crowd and tried to get her attention as she walked down.
Chief Akulantova was surprised to have been hailed and turned her tired eyes on Murati.
“Remember me? I was a Diver on the Comrade Kunduz.” Murati said.
The Pelagis’s thin blue lips and soft cheeks curled into a smile, bearing many sharp teeth.
“Kunduz was a fun one. I don’t remember you, but I hope you have a nice evening.”
She then continued walking toward the back again, where she slunk out of sight once more.
Karuniya took up Murati’s side again. “Friend of yours?” She asked.
“Acquaintance.” Murati replied, slightly defeated.
“Not everyone’s job is to keep up with your vast exploits, you know?”
Karuniya tried to comfort Murati, who turned her attention back to the podium.
While there were around twenty people in attendance, the chain of command extended only five people down: Captain, Commissar, First Office/Diver Leader, Security Chief and finally, the last rung in the chain climbed up to the podium. It was the Helmsman, a tall, dark-skinned, spindly young man with short, frizzy black hair. He had a pair of shaded sunglasses perched atop his broad nose.
Despite the audience, he was quite collected.
“You probably won’t ever need to talk to me much, but the good lady wants me to get up here, so I am. I’m Abdul Kamarik, the helmsman.” He shaped his hands into what seemed like it was supposed to be a boat. Or so Murati thought; really the gesture could have meant anything. The way he was rocking the figure he made with his fingers, Murati supposed it was a boat. “Like that. I’ve brought dozens of ships safely back to port over my career. So, just don’t sweat it. I’ve already got all the mission maps memorized.”
He spread his arms, bowed, and walked off the podium.
Nagavanshi took the podium again to address the audience.
“We will depart as soon as possible. I recommend you all make any needed arrangements in the next few days. I have done everything I can to give you a ship, crew, and equipment for your success. In the end, however, your choices will decide the fate of this ship. I believe in you, so be confident.”
On that enigmatic note, Nagavanshi left the podium herself and adjourned the meeting.
There was an eerie silence. Perhaps everyone, like Murati, felt that things were moving too fast. This may well have been par the course for the new era they were entering. After all, Thassal had come under attack from imperial forces very suddenly, so suddenly that it felt surreal. And the distance that Murati now felt from that event, as she proceeded to move on to the next stage of her life, and the next battlefield– nothing was more surreal than that. As she watched the people file out in a nervous confusion, it was the presence of Karuniya beside her that provided comfort.
“I think, despite everything, this might be destiny for us.” Karuniya said.
“It might not be materialist, but it’s what I’m thinking. After all, if we had stayed in Thassal, it’s not like we were going to have an idyllic married life for too long. You said it yourself to me: our war with the Empire is inevitable. With this though– it feels like I’m doing something.”
“Taking matters into our own hands.” Murati said.
Karuniya smiled at her.
“It’s better than trying to pretend like nothing has happened.”
Murati knew she was correct.
They were soldiers, and communists. There was no avoiding a Union war with the Empire. If this is the form it took; maybe it was destiny.