This chapter contains mild sexual content.
Fatima’s voice sounded across the ship, in every hall and every room.
Everywhere it was heard, the crew was unprepared to respond to it.
Murati in particular had Karuniya’s legs wrapped around her waist, her lips giving deep, sucking kisses on her neck, when the alarm sounded. Murati had just barely thrust inside Karuniya when the pair of them were so suddenly startled by the flashing lights and the voice. Each of them wanted to jump a different direction and they fell off the bed together, hitting the cold ground. All around them the dark room was tinged red by the alert lights.
“What the hell?” Murati cried out. Karuniya barely clung to her, breathing heavily, still dazed with passion.
Code “Semyon” meant an all-hands on deck combat alert.
“Solceanos defend!” Murati shouted, uncharacteristically. “We’re under attack!”
Karuniya’s eyes drew wide open for the first time since they hit the bed.
Upon realizing the gravity of the situation Murati and Karuniya scrambled in opposite directions for clothes.
There was no time — they had to react immediately. Murati had hardly buttoned up the sleeveless TBT shirt and put on a pair of pants when she ran out of the room, sans jacket, hat, a tie, her shoes or even underwear. She was still struggling with the buttons as she went, but the urgency of the situation did not allow her to tarry any longer.
“Good luck!” Karuniya shouted after her.
“I love you!” Murati shouted back.
She ran as fast she could, cutting through the commotion in the halls to reach the ship’s Bridge.
There Murati found a bedraggled group of officers in varying stages of undress getting to their stations.
A group of young gas gunners with bleary expressions and half buttoned shirts ran past everyone down to the bottom of the bridge to access their weapons. Semyonova wandered in wearing a bathrobe over a bodysuit. There were several officers that were wearing camisoles or tanktops, workout pants, or simply underwear. Fatima Al-Suhar at the sonar station seemed to be the most aware of the group, along with a sick looking Alexandra and a jittery Fernanda: this trio was also perhaps the most fully dressed of the officer cadre, since they were assigned the night shift.
The Captain had just taken her seat, along with the Commissar beside her.
“We absolutely have to develop more readiness than this.” Aaliyah grumbled.
She was barefoot and had a long coat fully closed over whatever she was wearing under — if anything.
Ulyana was still fiddling with the buttons of her shirt even as she took her place in the Captain’s chair. With clear consternation in her face and in clear view of everyone, she did her buttons one by one over what was clearly a quite risque semi-translucent lace-trim black bra. She had the time to put on the uniform skirt, but no leggings.
“I guess we should all sleep with our clothes on from now.” Ulyana grumbled.
“Why do you sleep with all your clothes off?” Aaliyah whispered to her.
Murati clearly heard them, standing next to the command station, and cleared her throat audibly.
This noise sent Aaliyah’s tail up into the air. “Captain on bridge! Let’s get organized!”
For a bunch of half-asleep, half-naked people, the bridge crew responded to the alarm in a few minutes total. This was a showing that could have gone much worse. At least they were now alert. Fatima looked like the wait had been nailbiting for her. She was catching her breath when she was asked to report. With a sweep of her fingers, she pushed the various findings from her Sonar display over to the main screen for everyone to examine more closely.
“I sounded the alarm after identifying distant mechanical noises over the sonar as a fleet of Imperial navy vessels. In all the fleet has eight vessels: four cutters, two frigates mainly acting as Diver tenders, a destroyer covering the flagship, and an Irmingard class dreadnought. All of the models save for the flagship are older designs. From the knocking sounds of their propulsion they are also in relatively bad shape. This fleet has been approaching at combat speed.”
For a moment, everyone hearing Fatima’s report froze up. Alex briefly and audibly hyperventilated.
Fatima looked like she wanted to hide behind the divider to the gas gunner’s stations.
Everyone’s bleary, terrified attention was on her and she was withering under their gazes.
“Are you absolutely sure this fleet is headed toward us? It could be a coincidence, right?”
The Captain was the first to break the silence. Fatima shook her head, her ears drooping.
“All evidence points to them matching our bearing from a long distance.” Fatima said.
“Captain, should we proceed as though this is a combat situation?” Aaliyah asked.
Ulyana put her hands on the armrests of her chair and took a deep breath.
“Yes, I trust Fatima’s instincts completely. If she says we’re being chased, then we are. What I don’t understand is what would compel a whole fleet of Imperials to suddenly tail us? Including that Irmingard class from Serrano?”
Murati felt a sudden weight in her stomach. Listening silently and wracked with guilt.
Had her tarrying in Serrano led to this? Had she doomed the mission and all her crew?
“It can’t have been anything we did. None of our actions in Serrano could have raised suspicion.” Aaliyah said. “Perhaps order has collapsed; these ships may have formed a fleet to turn to banditry due to the absence of a strong central Imperial authority after the Emperor’s death.”
“That makes a really dark kind of sense. God damn it.” Ulyana said.
That settled the issue of culpability immediately.
Murati’s panic simmered down to a small guilt and shame over her own reaction.
The Captain and Commissar continued to deliberate for a few moments.
“Maybe we can bribe them to go away then. But maybe 3 million marks won’t be enough.”
“Right now the overarching question is: do we run, or confront them?” Aaliyah asked.
Ulyana grunted with consternation and turned her head to the weapons officers.
“Gunnery, report! Fernanda, how’s the main gun? What’s the ETA on weapons range?”
Fernanda shook her head.
“Our primary armament is woefully ill-positioned to forfend attack from an enemy pursuer. We will have at our disposal only three 76 mm guns on the aft mounts if our positional relationships remain unchanged.”
“Of course, the conning tower is in the way.” Ulyana lifted her hand over face. She was clearly having difficulties. “But if we turn to commit to a fight, we may not be able to turn again and run. Helmsman, if we max out the engines now, can we get away from that enemy fleet?” By this point everyone had taken to their stations properly, so Helmsman Kamarik was taking the wheel of the Brigand as he was addressed, and Zachikova and Semyonova were also on station.
“My girl can outrun the trash, but not that Irmingard, at least not for long.” Kamarik said. “Newer dreadnoughts have bigger reactors, more efficient jets, and better distribution of mass. We can sprint away for a moment, but she’ll catch us in the long run; unless we’ve made any progress on those extra thrusters. Maybe that’ll give us enough of an edge.”
“Zachikova?” Ulyana turned to the inexpressive electronic warfare officer for comment.
“I’ve got some test software ready in my station. We can certainly try it.” Zachikova replied.
“We still have to do something on our end to create an opening to escape. Otherwise they will just shoot us with the dreadnought’s main gun, and we’ll be sitting ducks, if we even survive the attack.” Aaliyah said.
“Unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with you. We’ll have to assume we’re trapped for now.” Ulyana said. “At the moment, running is out of the question. Even if it becomes possible later, those guns remain a problem–”
While the Captain and Commissar deliberated, Murati stood in silence next to them, thinking about the tenor of their discussion as the Irmingard loomed distantly. Her mind was clouded. A mixture of fear, anxiety, and the frustrating need to act in the grip of both kept her cowed, but there were seeds of an idea, born of that frustration. Every part of her being was screaming at her that this was not right, and something was missing. She kept asking herself what the Captain and Commissar assumed about their situation. Why were they talking like this?
“Commissar, if they go all out, do you think the armor will hold?”
“If they hit us in the rear, we’ll sink, full stop. Not even worth thinking about further.”
They were wrong.
They were both wrong about the scenario!
Murati thrust her hand up into the air and closed her eyes.
In that instant, everyone who had been looking the Captain’s way turned their eyes on her.
She felt like the entire crew was staring at her at that moment.
Ulyana and Aaliyah noticed quite quickly.
“Got any ideas, First Officer?” Aaliyah asked.
“Yes, I believe I do. I think we’re looking at this the wrong way.”
Murati lowered her hand slowly. She was a bit embarrassed and couldn’t hide her troubled expression.
“You have the floor then.” Ulyana said. “Try to make it quick though.” She winked.
“Right.” Murati took in a breath and centered herself. She remembered her speeches to the peer councils, where she petitioned time and again for a ship. Those speeches that Karuniya admired so much. “At the moment, it is not possible that the Irmingard class sees us as a military vessel. The Brigand was classed by the Serrano tower as a cargo ship. Our main guns are hidden, and we have never moved at combat speed since we left Serrano. We have an advantage there; we don’t know the Irmingard’s intentions, but they on the other hand are unaware of our capabilities.”
In a battle, initiative was important, but initiative was enabled by information.
Maybe an enemy with perfect information could have taken the initiative against them.
Murati believed the Commissar and Captain to be overestimating the enemy’s information.
Or perhaps, they simply filled themselves with anxiety without thinking realistically.
“You’re right! That’s a sharp point.” Ulyana said. “They wouldn’t expect a Diver attack! Hell, they wouldn’t expect an attack of any kind right now. We could do some damage with that. Maybe enough to get away from them.”
“If we can surprise them, maybe.” Aaliyah said. “That said even if we catch them off-guard, we can’t withstand a direct hit from the Irmingard’s main gun to our rear. So trying to lure them into a trap might still be a moot point if we have no defenses against their counterattack. We could just be dooming our diver squadron to be captured for nothing.”
“I don’t think the Irmingard will shoot us.” Murati said. While her superior officers watched, she started to talk, uninterrupted, disgorging the contents of her mind. “Their objective just can’t be to destroy us. What does that profit them? It makes no sense! You said it to me yourself, Captain. In the Empire, it’s all about the money. We can’t know whether they’re bandits or not, but I think you’re right that they want something from us, that they stand to gain from this. Why randomly attack a cargo ship? Why sink it? It would cost them ammo, time, fuel rod erosion, parts wastage, especially with those old and janky ships. I think that Irmingard is calling the shots, and it rounded up this fleet to come after us. I believe they have an agenda that will prevent them from shooting. Violence at this scale is never random.”
Ulyana and Aaliyah stared at Murati, who for a moment thought she must’ve said something wrong to get that kind of reaction. They then looked at one another, deep in thought. A few seconds of deadly silence lasted from when Murati stopped talking, to the Captain standing up from her chair. She seemed to have hatched some kind of plan right then.
“Murati, I’m betting it all on you, so don’t let me down.”
She spoke so that only Murati and Aaliyah could hear, and she winked at the two of them.
Then she turned to the bridge and began to give off orders, swinging her arm in front of her with a flourish, a determined smile on her face and a renewed vigor in her voice. “Al-Suhar, I will need up to the minute updates on the position of the enemy fleet! Keep an eye on them! Helmsman Kamarik, retain this speed for now but match the Irmingard’s once it comes within a 1 km range. Semyonova, send out a line buoy to trail behind the ship and when the time comes, demand to speak with the Irmingard’s commanding officer on video. Geninov and De La Rosa, prepare the weapons but you will only shoot with my explicit orders. Zachikova, have your software ready to go as quickly as humanly possible. And Nakara, get your squadron ready to deploy immediately, I want you out of the hangar the instant I command it. Get out and there and give that flagship hell! We’ll escape once you’ve bought us an opening.”
For a split second the bridge officers were in awe of this sudden display of authority.
Never before had their Captain Korabiskaya spoken so powerfully and decisively to them.
With that same vigor that she showed them, the officers began to respond in kind.
Even Aaliyah seemed taken aback with the Captain’s swift turn and remained silent.
Letting her assume command, unassisted, the only voice heard: a Commissar’s respect.
“We’re not fighting to score a kill here! Let’s make like the pistol shrimp: punch and run!”
Captain Korabiskaya sat back in her chair, pushed herself up against the seat and sighed.
All around Murati, the bridge came to life again. Every officer turned their backs and their gazes fell deep into their stations, working on their computers. When they communicated, they spoke from their stations with clarity rather than turning to face the Captain again. There was no complaining. Having received clear instructions from the Captain, they set about their tasks. It struck Murati that this is what every other bridge she’d been in was like — these folks could all be professional when the situation demanded. All of them had great achievements on their records.
They could rise to the occasion, even if they were eccentrics personally.
There was a reason they were all selected to be on this ship.
Maybe, they could pull this off if as long as it was this crew — and led by this woman.
“Captain Korabiskaya, ma’am,”
Murati stood in attention at Ulyana’s side and saluted.
“My squad will be ready. Have Semyonova let us know when to deploy.”
“Godspeed, Murati. I’ll do everything I can from here to give you a good distraction.”
Ulyana smiled at her, and Aaliyah saluted back at her with a small smile as well.
The Captain’s face was bright with hope as always, but also steeled with determination.
At her side, the Commissar sat with her eyes deeply focused, a rock of stability.
They had developed a silent trust. Everyone in this room was developing this trust too.
Murati had never seen them like this, and she felt conviction rising again in herself.
That deep, clear, commanding voice, the radiance in her eyes, the grace of her movements. Ulyana Korabiskaya truly was a seasoned ship’s Captain. She was everything Murati aspired to be. The feeling Murati had in her chest when she witnessed her taking command is what she always wanted to instill in others. That ability to dispel helplessness and move these disparate people toward a single justice. Spreading her wings to protect them, while inspiring them to fight at her side. Ever since Murati saw this same thing when she was a child in the care of Yervik Deshnov.
There was no room to falter when she was commanded by such a gallant Captain.
In fact, she felt ashamed that she ever had doubt in Captain Korabiskaya.
The Captain had been right. Murati was still not ready. She had a lot of work to do.
It wasn’t enough to just know how to fight. She had to learn to lead people too.
Nevertheless, as she left the bridge, her determination to achieve that seat burned brighter.
Since being detected, the Irmingard class and its escorts trailed the Brigand through open ocean for what felt like an eternity before coming into range of a trailing line communications buoy that Captain Korabiskaya had ordered deployed from the aft utility launcher. With about a kilometer separating the enemy fleet from the Brigand, and closing, it became increasingly clear to the Captain that the enemy had no intention of shooting first.
She could breathe just a bit easier.
Murati had been right. Ulyana should have thought of the bigger picture.
Anticipating her video call with the enemy, Ulyana took a moment to complete dressing herself, donning the teal TBT uniform half-jacket, and tying her blond hair up into a ponytail, as well as quickly redoing at least her lipstick. She had enough time to make herself professionally presentable, if not comely, before the situation accelerated once more.
Communications Officer Semyonova had hailed the enemy fleet through the comm buoy.
Minutes later, the bubbly blond had a dire expression as she turned to the Captain.
“Captain, we’ve received a response. The Irmingard class is identifying itself as the Iron Lady, an Inquisition flagship under the command of one Grand Inquisitor Gertrude Lichtenberg. She has acquiesced to speaking to us, but is it really okay for us to link up with her?” She asked.
It took all of Ulyana’s inner strength not to respond too drastically to that information.
She wanted to scream. An Inquisition ship could mean they messed up somewhere.
“I can’t think of a single justifiable reason they would be tailing us.” Aaliyah said.
Ulyana let out a quiet breath, thanking God for the good timing of her Commissar.
Aaliyah was right. Looking back on everything that happened in Serrano, nothing should have caught the attention of the authorities to such a drastic degree. It was not possible that the dock workers could have ratted them out, because Union intelligence money was part of their bread and butter smuggling gigs, and the Empire would have had them all shot, not made a better deal. Murati’s stubbornness with the homeless people would have never provoked this kind of response. Ulyana could only reasonably assume that this was a personal action for this Inquisitor.
Why their cargo ship specifically?
It was berthed nearest, perhaps, so the Inquisitor saw it and saw it being loaded with some goods, like Marina’s crated up Diver. So perhaps it made a juicy target in that way. The Brigand, as a cruiser-size hauler, was among the biggest ones that would have been at the port of Serrano. Or perhaps they were simply unlucky, and the Inquisitor had just set out the same way and found a target to slake her corrupt appetite for civilian money.
There had to be an explanation for everything. Ulyana had to get in this woman’s head.
“Commissar, I’m going to do my best to keep them occupied for a bit.” Ulyana said.
Aaliyah understood. She took off her peaked cap, put it out of view, and stood away.
That way it would be only Ulyana and Lichtenberg talking, or so she hoped.
“Semyonova, open video communication. Zachikova, watch the network closely.”
Zachikova grinned. “Let them try anything. I’ll slap them so fast their heads will spin.”
Semyonova nodded her head solemnly. “I’m connecting us to the Iron Lady.”
Ulyana adjusted the arms on the sides of her chair to bring a monitor up in front of her face. This monitor and its attached camera would project her face and show that of her opponent. For a moment it showed nothing but diagnostics, until Semyonova swiped a video window from her station to Ulyana’s. That feed was murky at first, but when the connection went through, a woman appeared on the screen with a pristine silver wall behind her. There was a shield emblazoned on that wall that was visible in the feed, the surface of it bearing a symbol of a cross and dagger.
“Greetings, Captain. I am Gertrude Lichtenberg, a Grand Inquisitor of the Imbrian Empire. I take it that you are in command of the hauler registered in Serrano as ‘Private Company Asset TBT-009 Pandora’s Box’? Quite a grand name for a humble workhorse of a design if I may comment. So then, Pandora’s Box, who am I speaking to today?”
Though her face remained void of emotion, Ulyana kicked herself internally.
Why did she let Semyonova decide the ship’s name that they gave to the Serrano tower?
She should have known the flighty blond would pick something silly.
For a moment, Ulyana hesitated as to whether to give her name to the Inquisitor. Thinking about it briefly, however, she felt that Imperial intelligence wouldn’t have had information on individual soldiers. They were probably concerned with people more important than that. While Ulyana was known as a war hero to the Union Navy, she wasn’t a household name. There was no chance an Inquisition computer would identify her immediately.
“I’m Ulyana Korabiskaya.” She finally dared to say.
Gertrude Lichtenberg gave off a strong presence, even through the video. In Ulyana’s mind, it was not just the uniform either. Certainly, the cape, epaulettes and the tall hat helped; but it was the strong features of her face, like her sharp jawline, regal nose, piercing eyes, and olive skin that really gave her a degree of fierce handsomeness. She was the first Imperial officer Ulyana had talked to face to face. Her easy confidence and almost smiling demeanor directly traced to the incredible power she boasted. This woman commanded one of the most powerful ships on the planet.
“We’ve been tailing for a while, Captain Korabiskaya. You’ve clearly been aware of our presence but maintained speed all the same, and even matched us when we neared. You know we’re pursuing. While I appreciate being able to talk face to face, I would like to request that you slow down for an inspection. We could arrange to meet in the flesh.”
Ulyana gave a prearranged signal to the bridge crew, laying back on her seat.
Helmsman Kamarik began to slow down by miniscule amounts, fractions of a percent.
Semyonova, meanwhile, sent a text message down to the hangar. Ulyana took notice.
“We are slowing, Inquisitor. May I ask what your intentions are in this situation?”
“You say you’re slowing?”
“Indeed, I’ve already given the command.”
Lady Lichtenberg narrowed her eyes and grunted lightly.
“Don’t test me, Captain. I want you to actually slow your ship down, right now.”
“I’m afraid this old thing can’t just stop instantly without a turbine breaking.”
“That’s none of my concern. Slow down for detention and inspection this instant.”
No threats of shooting? Ulyana felt like any ordinary police would have drawn a weapon.
Especially an Inquisitor with the world’s biggest ship-mounted guns to potentially draw.
The Captain was starting to believe her counterpart truly didn’t have intention to shoot.
Ulyana continued. “Are we charged with any sort of wrongdoing? Are there routine cargo checks in place now? And here I thought Sverland would be a good place to do business in the current climate. Being frank, our reputation is at stake, so we can’t be delayed very long. In tough times like this, we need to prove our reliability.”
Something about what she said clearly struck a nerve with the Inquisitor.
Though she was not sure of which part, Ulyana could see she was getting under her skin.
Sounding as irritated as she looked, the Inquisitor responded, in an almost petulant voice.
“You’re quite mouthy for someone I’m a few minutes from detaining.”
“Aside from speed, tenacity and courage are what our customers expect from us.”
“Listen, mercenary, I’m neither fooled nor impressed with your little cover story. We all know what you mean by transport company. I have no idea what rotten deeds your crew have participated in, and I frankly don’t care. All I want is to inspect you, get your roster, and be on my way. If you’ve got nothing to hide from me in your cargo hold, then you’ve got nothing to fear. Slow down considerably, or we will be forced to slow you down by our own means.”
Mercenary? What did she mean by that? They were pretending to haul goods!
Was transport company really a euphemism in the Empire? And a euphemism for what?
Nevertheless, Ulyana was getting what she wanted. There was still no mention of the guns.
In any other situation, those guns would be all the leverage the Inquisitor would ever need.
Trusting in Murati’s assessment, she called Lichtenberg’s bluff and continued to push.
“Inquisitor, if you shoot us, it will jeopardize our valuable cargo, and nobody profits.”
At that moment, for the first time, Lichtenberg’s stone visage suddenly shattered.
Her eyes drew wide and for a moment, her breath seemed caught in her throat.
She was not quick to any issue any more threats. In fact, she was not speaking at all.
“I believe we can come to a suitable agreement.” Ulyana said, pushing her luck in the Inquisitor’s silence and the sudden moment of anxiety her opponent experienced. “We’re on a tight schedule, and our cargo is our life, but I’m able to part with a tidy sum of cash instead. Purses are probably getting a bit tight in the Inquisition right now, are they not? I’ll pay a nice fine so we can overlook all of this unpleasantness and go about our days.”
“You bastards; you fucking animals; you’ll desist at once. At once!”
That reaction was unexpected. Seeing the Inquisitor so filled with frustrated emotion.
Lady Lichtenberg suddenly started shouting. “Captain Korabiskaya there is no way for you to run from this. We will hunt you to the end of the Ocean. If you run from me I guarantee you that your life is over. My men will board your filthy little ship and slaughter every illiterate merc stupid enough to have taken your money to do this job. I’ll personally make you taste the floor of the coldest, darkest cell in the foulest corner of the Imbrium, where you’ll be interred in lightless stupor until your skin and hair fall off. Stop right now, or I will make you beg to be shot!”
Ulyana blinked with surprise. Never before had she been so verbally assaulted in her life.
However, the sheer brutality of that reaction belied the inexperience of its source.
Everything Murati suspected was confirmed.
Inquisitor Lichtenberg could not turn her ship’s mighty cannons on the Brigand.
Confident in herself, Ulyana mustered up a smile, despite the accelerated beating of her heart and the ringing of the Inquisitor’s furious voice still abusing her in her ears. And as the Captain’s pretty red lips crept up into that smile, the Inquisitor froze in mute fury once more, eyes slowly drawing farther as she failed to elicit her desired response.
“Inquisitor, kinky as it sounds, that’s just not my idea of a good time. Such handsomeness as you possess is wasted completely if you can’t read what your partner wants from you. I would not be surprised to find out you’ve been quite unlucky with love if this is how you flirt with a gorgeous older woman the first chance you get.”
Ulyana winked at her.
Lady Lichtenberg’s jaw visibly twitched in response.
Her lips started to mouth something, as if she were mumbling to herself.
Anyone else may have overlooked it.
For Ulyana, used to picking up girls in the loudest parties in the Union, it was clear.
You– You must– You must know about her. You must know who she is.
It was so strange and outlandish a thing that Ulyana second guessed herself if she saw it.
“Inquisitor, we’re detecting an approach!”
From outside the frame of the Inquisitor’s video feed, someone was getting her attention.
Somehow, despite everything stacked against her, Ulyana really had done her part.
“I’ll have to bid adieu, Inquisitor! Zachikova, deploy the acoustic jammer, now!”
“Wait! What! I’ll–!”
The Inquisitor’s furious gaze was cut off as Semyonova terminated her video feed.
Zachikova flipped an arming switch with a grin on her face. Fatima withdrew her earbuds.
On the main screen in front of everyone on the Bridge, the sonar picture of the enemy fleet, approaching past the kilometer range, suddenly blurred heavily as an absolutely hellish amount of multi-modal noise across a host of frequencies began to sound across their stretch of the Nectaris. One agarthic-powered munition fired from the utility launcher sailed between the fleets and began a massive attack on the acoustic equipment the ships and computers depended on. It was such a cacophony that the visual prediction grew muddy, the shapes of things deforming like clay as the source of the data the computers were using was completely distorted by the waveform pollution.
For a ship fighting underwater, this was akin to screaming at the top of your lungs to deafen an enemy.
Everyone for kilometers would have detected the noise.
However, as part of that gamble, their enemy would be completely blinded for a key instant.
It was all the cover that they could give their Divers as they approached the enemy.
In an age of advanced computing such as theirs, these diversions were short lived.
But every second counted in the informational space.
Once the jamming noise was ultimately attenuated out by the enemy’s electronic warfare officer less than a minute later, Zachikova shut down the munition on their end, and once again the main screen on the Brigand represented an accurate picture of what was happening around them. Six figures representing their Divers had been able to gain substantially on the enemy from the distraction, and the battle was about to be joined in earnest by all parties.
“Battle stations!” Ulyana cried out. “Get ready to support the Diver operations!”
Captain Korabiskaya led her bridge with the same crazed energy that led her to try to flirt with an Inquisitor. Everything they were doing was wholly improvisational, the enemy before them was qualitatively stronger in every way, and they had no way of knowing if they could even escape this engagement, much less throw off the Inquisition’s pursuit in the longer term. In truth, their mission could have been jeopardized forever at that exact moment, over before it began.
And yet, Ulyana’s heart was driven by this same insane hope that she had instilled in everyone else.
Murati Nakara had been right. Despite everything, they still had the smallest chance to succeed.
Now all she could do was to lead her precious crew and entrust Murati with the rest.
As the battle was joined, and Ulyana sat back in her chair to breathe for just a moment before she had to start directing their fire and taking communications, Commissar Aaliyah resumed her seat beside her and gently whispered, in a way that would draw the Captain’s attention to her.
Across her lips, a fleeting little smile played that warmed the Captain’s heart.
“Unorthodox technique, but well played. You were excellent, Captain.” She said.
“At least I maintained emotional control. But the Inquisitor was a poor opponent for a woman who has sweet-talked her way into as many wild parties over the years, as I have.” Ulyana said nervously.
For once, Aaliyah’s ears perked up, and she laughed a little bit with the Captain.
For a brief second, the pair of them could take comfort, as if in the eye of a storm.
Despite everything against them, they created a small chance to win, and Ulyana could savor it.