“So this is it, huh? At long last I get to meet the UNX-001 Brigand.”
Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya walked down a long chute with displays projecting camera feeds and diagrams of the ship she was about to enter. There were directions keyed off her own rank that showed her the path to the bridge, inside the command pod of the Brigand. She had seen pictures of the ship — Nagavanshi would not let anyone in the crew live in peace without handing them a picture of it for some reason.
Yana’s opinion of it was simple: it looked like a piece of shit.
It was oversized and angular, clunky, reminiscent of an old converted hauler design.
The Union progressed well past those kinds of ships after the revolution.
So from the exterior alone, it felt like an anachronism.
She supposed that was part of the camouflage.
One of the directives had been that the crew of the Brigand needed to dress like a private company, rather than a military operation. As such, on the eve of their departure, everyone had been issued a uniform for a front company: Treasure Box Transports, with a gaudy TBT logo. The uniform for the bridge crew, like Yana, was a teal-blue half jacket with a sleeveless zip-down white shirt and a teal-blue skirt or pants, worn over their bodysuits, wetsuits or swimsuits of choice.
“I suppose I’m a big-shot company woman now.” Yana said.
Nothing had ever felt more ridiculous than pretending to be a capitalist.
Thankfully, she had some luggage. She brought a uniform and normal clothes.
As she crossed the docking chute into the ship itself, she found herself in a cramped hallway with bulkhead doors on every side. This was the edge of the “primary hull” and beyond it was the inhabited “secondary hull” of the ship, where everything vital was, and where most of their time would be spent. Beyond the docking room was the lobby of the secondary hull arrival area, where a gaggle of sailors congregated and seemed to be making acquaintances. Yana saw many fresh faces in there. Many sailors saluted her, which she turned down with a casual wave of the hand.
“Don’t be too formal right now. Save it for when we enter combat.”
The suggestion that there might be combat seemed to sober the excitable sailors.
“Captain, over here.”
There was no missing Chief of Security Akulantova, who towered over the sailors when she appeared from a bulkhead situated around the corner. She was wearing the ‘company uniform’ like the rest. However, she had a full coat, rather than the half jacket. One could appreciate how muscular she was even under concealing clothes. One curious detail about her biology took Yana by surprise. When she first entered the room her eyes turned grey for a moment: she must have brought up her secondary eyelids while getting used to the brighter lights in the lobby. Then her much more human-like blue eyes reappeared. Not once did her expression change during this.
“I would like to guide you up to the bridge. I’ve explored quite far already.” She said.
“Lead the way.” Yana said, smiling and gesturing toward the bulkheads.
Akulantova was an interesting person.
A gentle face, a charming voice, and that big body all together.
None of the parts were ill fitting. She wasn’t too big, and her voice wasn’t too chirpy and so on– Yana certainly had no criticism of her. She looked natural, the product of her labors.
Just interesting, as far as Yana was concerned.
“Captain, since we’re about to embark on a long voyage, I want to ask a question.”
“Would you ever order me to shoot a crew member?”
They were walking down a hall in the engineering deck, to the elevator.
Yana stopped in her tracks. Maybe Akulantova was too interesting!
The Captain answered quickly and emotionally.
In the next instant she realized how flustered she had gotten and felt vulnerable.
Akulantova smiled at her without any apparent malice.
“Nice answer. Maybe a little naïve. Don’t worry, if I ever have to, I’ll just use this.”
The Security Chief revealed her sidearm. It was a launcher for ‘baton round’ rubber bullets.
On a ship, live ammunition was rare. It might over-penetrate, hitting crew and equipment.
Her launcher was a two-handed grenade weapon for most folks. For her, it was like a pistol.
“It might break some bones, but it won’t kill anyone.”
Yana sighed. It was hard to stay on edge when Akulantova was so oddly cheerful.
“There will certainly be difficulties ahead for us as a crew. This is a unique situation. But let’s take things calmly, as they come.” Yana said, giving Akulantova a friendly pat on the arm.
She sounded a bit stilted, but she tried to be her most Captain-ly self in that moment.
Akulantova put her rubber bullet launcher away.
“I’m glad. I will always follow the Captain’s orders, but I like when I have a nice Captain. When the Captain has a good heart, it means I can be a good-hearted Security Chief myself.”
She turned around, and whistling a quick tune, resumed leading Yana to the bridge.
As they traversed several tight hallways, Yana got the impression that while the exterior of the Brigand left a lot to be desired aesthetically, the interior was almost cozy. Many of the walls in the secondary hull had light blue coats of paint that evoked a nursery or a school. Most of the floors were a soft shade of red, maybe salmon pink. The air was treated well, it was not too dry or too humid; it recalled to her memories of living in the Academy dorm. Cramped, but homely.
That was one of the things that a technical diagram didn’t really convey.
The Brigand’s interior layout was not entirely unique. All of the day to day operations happened in compartments contained in an internal “secondary hull” surrounded by a second layer of much less traveled surfaces called the “primary hull.” Aside from the docking chutes the crew were not expected to ever be outside the secondary hull. From what Yana understood an innovation with the Brigand was that the Primary Hull had two sections along with the exterior armor. There were recovery systems in place to seal off breaches to the armor and first section of the primary hull, and route emergency ballast to the second section of the primary hull.
This meant that the Brigand could potentially take twice as much punishment as a normal vessel in combat. Given that a single torpedo at just the wrong spot could split even the most powerful vessel right in half, this was not as incredible as it sounded. Yana would still run the normal playbook: avoid combat if possible and avoid any kind of damage if possible.
Within the secondary hull, the ship was divided into several “pods.” Pods were not circular as their name would suggest — the nomenclature grew out of bathysphere designs, and once the ships of their ancestors grew into the fleets of today, it was retained. Most of them were rectangles.
The Brigand’s secondary hull was divided into two tiers. There were habitats on the top and bottom floors. Each habitat had living spaces, a bathroom with closed stall toilets and open showers, and a gathering area. Officers lived two to a room or by themselves in the top habitat; Sailors lived 4 to a room, with each person having a pod bunk with a privacy door, and a chest for personal items.
All rooms were small. The only privilege was having one to yourself, or, like the lucky lady Murati Nakara, who was on the crew roster as cohabitating with a certain Karuniya Maharapratham, being able to have a room to yourself and your wife. As the Captain, Yana had a room all to herself, but there was a second bed built-in that could be pulled out if necessary.
Apart from the habitats, the top floor housed the Command Pod, along with the Common Pod which housed the mess, infirmary, and a social area. There was also a Science & Observation Pod or “S&O” which housed the main computer racks, the labs and the all-important hydroponics section, with wall-gardens, root beds, mushroom pens, as well as the ship’s tree.
On the bottom floor, there was the Cargo & Reserves Pod or C&R, where all the goods they would need, along with spare parts and any other sort of thing were kept. Everything was stored in compacted containers and every single possible centimeter of space was used. So the part of it that was visible to the ordinary sailor was basically a cargo door with a slit in it to talk to the supply crew, who were packed inside in probably the worst conditions on the ship. C&R was particularly tight for the Brigand as they had at least several disassembled Divers and even more Diver spare parts packed into the back of it.
Between C&R and the ominous Reactor Pod, which was sealed off to everyone but a tiny handful of properly accredited personnel, there was Engineering, which took up much of the lower tier. Here they kept Divers and Watercraft that would actually see combat. Engineering was composed of the Hangar and various workshops. There was space here, allegedly, to deploy 18 Divers. From the schematics, it seemed like there were only 8 deployment tubes, so the other Divers simply waited their turn — or they used the hatch for the Shuttle, and just jumped out of a moonpool into the sea.
The Hangar could be turned into a football field with some ingenuity.
They had a single Diver squadron assigned to the Brigand with 5 active-duty Divers, 1 Reserve Diver, a few suits going unused, one Shuttle, and extra space. Most of their Diver suits were actually stuck in C&R, disassembled and packed tight in “zero-space” packaging, awaiting distribution to all the wonderful friends they hoped to make along the way. Having only 5 professional Divers available essentially put the Brigand on par with any other modern capital ship, which was not very impressive.
Hopefully, they would remain stealthy and avoid confrontations.
“You seem to be in your own little world, Captain!”
Akulantova smiled. They got off an elevator into the upper floor.
“Welcome to the command pod. I’ll leave you to inspect your bridge. I would like to get started configuring the security room. I like to set up the cameras just so. Good luck, Captain!”
With a big cheerful wave of her hands, Akulantova left her side.
On a nearby wall was a double-wide sliding door.
Breathing in, steadying herself, Captain Korabiskya entered her Bridge.
There were few people at their posts.
Yana was an early arrival, along with the mechanics.
The Bridge was divided into three sections, each one a step down from the last. At the top, accessible through the door, was the Captain’s area and her seat. It was a rotating chair on a solid base, with a built-in computer terminal, and it was tilt-proof for when the ship rocked. There were additional seats that could be pulled out of the wall for the Commissar and (if present) the First Officer.
Yana took her seat.
She adjusted the armrests and the computer monitor’s angle.
Down from the Captain’s location, enough that she could see over the shoulders of her subordinates, were six stations set against the walls, three on each side. “Communications,” “Sonar and Sensor arrays,” and “Diagnostics & Electronic Warfare” stations on the left; “Torpedoes,” “Main Gunnery” and the Helmsman’s “Navigation” station on the right. Further down from them were six stations that were all for “Auxiliary Gunnery,” essentially just the gas guns that were used for close-in defense against ordnance. Those six gunners could control up to twelve guns at a time with the help of software and optics. In this way, all of the vital combat functions of the ship could be directed from the Bridge itself.
Aside from the stations there were two monitors that could be pulled down from the roof. One of them was closer to the Captain, while the second on the far wall was much larger and would allow everyone in the room to see the same picture if it were used, such as for important messages.
“Helmsman, how is she? Do you think she looks fierce?”
The Captain looked down at the navigation station. Abdul Kamarik had arrived early and was on the navigation computer, hammering away at the keys and calibrating the wheel he would use to control the ship. Like Chief Akulantova, maybe he liked to set things up for himself as soon as possible. From what she could see of his screen, he was deep inside the diagnostics.
“She’s a mysterious dame, Captain.” Abdul said. “Did y’know this ship has two additional hydros on the back? That’s why we have this weird diamond rectangle looking hull, I bet, to accommodate the extra back end we’re dragging.”
“Two additional jets? Are they full size?”
“Not like the others, these are smaller. I think the water system doesn’t connect to them all that great either, they don’t have any additional intakes for these ones, it would need water rerouted to them, which could stress the system out. I think these might have been meant for short term bursts of speed. Even if they’re not all full size, any additional thrust would push it faster.”
“That’s strange. Thank you for looking into it. I’ll make a note to follow up on this.”
He saluted her casually and started turning his wheel and documenting the results in the calibrator software. Yana saw how absorbed he was in his work and decided not to bother him.
When he first introduced himself at the Officer’s meeting, Yana had not really known what she should make of Abdul Kamarik. She was starting to think of him as someone who was very precise and knew his ships. Looking at him fiddling with the wheel, she felt assured of his ability.
Her gaze fell on the left-hand side of the room.
At first, her eyes glanced over a pair of dark, cat-like ears atop a woman’s head and it sent a shiver down her spine. That notion was dispelled quickly. When she noticed the gaze upon her, the woman at the Sonar & Sensor Array station responded with a charming, friendly smile, unlike the waifish woman who troubled Yana’s mind. Her dark hair was tied up in a bun in the back of her head with a white, lacy cloth. Her uniform was tidy, and well fitted; she had a full figure which, along with her impeccable makeup, lent her a mature, refined air, like a model in an ad campaign.
“Pleasure to meet you Captain. I love your lipstick. Coral, am I correct?”
Yana was surprised.
She had done herself up a little bit but did not think it was special at all.
“That’s right, it’s coral color, from the Rurik collection.”
“It’s the perfect color for your skin– Oh, I’m sorry, I hope that wasn’t awkward to say,”
“Ah, no it’s fine– well, thank you.”
“It’ll be fun to have a Captain who seems like a mature woman with a sense of fashion.”
She was beaming so widely, Yana almost wanted to turn away the praise.
“I try to give my crews a good time, as much as I can.” She awkwardly replied.
At that moment, the woman’s bushy tail stood on end suddenly.
“I almost forgot to introduce myself. Chief Petty Officer Fatima al-Suhar.”
Yana smiled at her. “Pleasure to meet you. Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya.”
“Oh, of course I know your name Captain! How could I not?”
“At any rate,” Yana tried to steer the conversation away. She had a hunch that Fatima was prone to chiding herself for silly things. “You’re setting up your station, I see. Do you need a pair of specialized headphones? For your ears, I mean– maybe the ship wasn’t designed for–”
Fatima quickly rescued Yana from her awkward attempt at being inclusive by lifting the headphones up from the navigation computer’s controls. Each speaker was separated and included a clip that was adjustable for human ears and Shimii ears. This way, Fatima could easily listen to the hydrophone and perform all of her duties with the same degree of comfort as anyone.
“Thank you for your concern Captain. I should’ve brought it up sooner–”
“It’s fine, you’ve done nothing wrong. At ease.”
Yana smiled. She was a good soul, that Fatima. That was the Captain’s instant impression.
While the Captain was conversing with the Helmsman and the Sonar technician, there was one additional person in the command room who was making slightly irritated noises while fiddling with a console. Situated at the Torpedo computer was a tall, slim woman, with wide shoulders and long legs. Her silky brown hair had been messily braided into a bun in the back of her head, with what looked like a chain around it from which hung a little squid symbol. Her slightly angular face had a honey-brown complexion, and she had odd eyes: one brown, one blue.
“Having trouble there?” Yana asked, in good humor.
For a moment, the woman looked back at her with surprise before returning to her labors.
On the computer screen, there was a simulation of a torpedo.
She was moving around a joystick, which would be used to guide such torpedoes.
“This thing’s gate is just like, crap? I don’t know. It’s weird. I might have to pull it apart.”
“Please do not pull it apart. We can file a maintenance request.” Yana objected.
The Torpedo officer sighed and turned back around to face the Captain.
“Listen, I’m a professional gamer, ma’am. I need my joysticks to be exactly right.”
Yana directed a concerned, frowning face at her subordinate.
“You’re a torpedo tech; this isn’t a game. Name and rank, now.”
Though she could have pulled up the roster, Yana liked to hear it from the soldier’s mouth.
Again, the woman sighed with exasperation. “Chief Petty Officer Alexandra Geninov.”
Hearing that name piqued Yana’s curiosity a bit.
“Not Geninova?” She asked.
“Nope. I didn’t care about changing it.”
“Ah, I think I understand, sorry.”
“S’fine, I said I don’t care. Shit’s all fake to me.”
Yana came from the same ethnicity as the patronymic half of Alexandra’s clearly mixed heritage. Her own surname, Korabiskaya, was easily recognizable as such. She supposed that the officer’s name indicated a softening of certain conventions in her community, which was good. It gave Yana sympathy and respect for Geninov, who had a clear grasp of herself.
“Well, I’m Captain Ulyana Korabiskaya. It is great to be working with–”
Geninov quickly worked at dismantling that bit of respect Yana had found.
“You can just call me Alex, Captain.” She tapped her fist on her chest, smiling. “Three-time winner of the All-Soviets Video Gaming Championship. And may I also add, in each of those events, I won, individually, Climbing Comrades, Constant Attack I and II, Leviathan Fury–”
“That’s great, Petty Officer.” Yana interrupted. “You will not take apart your station.”
The officer stared at her with narrowed, annoyed eyes before returning to her joystick.
Yana had never played a video game herself. She had never grown up with such things.
As such she neither knew, understood nor cared about all of this nonsense.
Judging by her fetching looks, which seemed wasted in this whole gaming scene, Alex may have been young enough to have played a lot of games in her teens. While there were definitely traits about her which seemed quite admirable, this gaming thing was a black mark far as Yana was concerned. She hoped to hear no more of it, but she knew that was wishful thinking.
She supposed this crew was going to be a handful.
Yana was already noticing a pattern. Some exceptional people here, by certain definitions.
“Communications officer isn’t here yet, so I’ll just do this myself.”
There was a minicomputer attached to the side of her chair that could be brought around to the front of the chair and locked in. Yana brought the computer forward and pushed the screen until she could lock it at a good angle for visibility and comfort. The interface was pretty standard. There was a list of programs, routines, scripts and other potential clickables, largely unadorned, which appeared before her after she authorized herself. She touched to select an item.
Bringing up the ship’s stock activities, she started to issue a ship-wide “roll call.”
It was that precise moment that a new face came tumbling into the room.
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry for being late! It will never happen again!”
At the door, breathing so heavily she almost seemed like she would choke, was a woman in a disheveled state, her TBT half-jacket falling off her shoulders, and her beret on the floor next to her, and her long, yellow hair thrown about. Her soft, round face was quite rosy with effort, a glossy coat of red just barely applied on her lips — and shadow applied on only one eye.
Yana thought she would have looked like a very bright, bubbly girl on a good day, but this was clearly a disastrous time for her. She looked as if she had buttoned only enough of her shirt to declare herself modest, as if she had run out of time to cover her round belly; some of the bold, erotically lacy design of her swimsuit brassiere was still partially visible even despite her efforts. One wetsuit stocking was piled up around her knee, while the other had gone up as far as her thigh.
Rather than the official uniform pants or skirt, she appeared to have thrown on what seemed like tight black exercise shorts that did not really go with the cheerful colors of the company jacket. Yana wondered if the shorts were part of her wetsuit and she had run out in her unders.
Yana smiled at her.
She tried to appear gentle and understanding, but the awkwardness of the moment crooked her lips into what seemed more like a grin than the motherly face she wanted. She could not keep her eyes from wandering afield as she looked over the situation. When the young woman at the door noticed this her face blanched and she looked quite mortified. She looked down at herself, squealed, and started buttoning down her shirt.
“I’m so sorry ma’am. I ran all the way over here. I overslept. It’s my fault. I’m a dumbass. I couldn’t sleep and then I took sleeping medicine and then I slept too much– AAAAAAH!”
With the girl clearly in distress, and unable to get a word in, Yana stood up from her chair to physically console her. At first she hovered over her, but this clearly failed to have an effect, the Captain had no choice but to go for the hug. She threw her arms around the woman.
“It’s really not a big deal. Take a deep breath.” Yana said.
She patted her in the back, trying to reassure her, as well as give her a handkerchief.
As she said this however everyone else in the room was staring at the door.
“All of you have things to do!”
Upon being admonished, Fatima, Abdul and Alex turned right back around.
At these simple acts of kindness, the young woman was so deeply moved she kept crying.
“Thank you so much Captain! You’re such a professional and I don’t deserve this at all–”
The young woman wiped off the running makeup on her face with the kerchief. She then blew her nose into it and coughed into it so hard it almost appeared like she would vomit. When she handed it back, Yana threw it over her own shoulder for a cleaning drone to worry about later.
In the next instant, the young woman, her face cleaned, was suddenly all smiles.
She saluted. “I’m Signals Specialist Natalia Semyonova! May I ask one final favor for this pathetic girl standing before you? Um, can we just all put this embarrassing episode behind us, and start over? Don’t you agree Captain? And uh everyone else in the room too, right? Friends?”
Yana cast a deathly glare at the three stooges in the nearby stations.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better dear.” Fatima replied. She sounded genuinely happy.
“I didn’t see nothin’.” Abdul said. Pretty genuine, acceptable disinterest.
“Sure.” Alex replied, grinning.
Yana put her on a mental list for lying so brazenly.
At that moment, Yana still had her arms on Natalia’s shoulders. This was unfortunate; because also at that moment, a pair of cat-like ears crossed into the room and captured Yana’s attention.
Those familiar ears were attached to a hauntingly beautiful Commissar.
A Commissar who had a low opinion of Yana and perhaps reason to suspect that she might not have good intentions in touching another crew member. The Captain’s eyes drew wide with guilt when the Commissar appeared; and the Commissar’s eyes drew wide with fury in turn.
“Captain Korabiskaya, what kind of situation have I walked into?”
Commissar Aaliyah Bashara crossed her arms and bared her fangs.
Yana raised her arms off Natalia as if she were being held up with a gun.
In such an uncomfortable scenario, she might as well have been.
“The Specialist was troubled, and I was trying to cheer her up.” Yana said.
“Cheer her up? Specialist, is this true?”
Natalia, in her continuing, near-total dishevelment, turned to the Commissar with all the blood rushing to her face, and seemed unable to respond to anything that was happening then.
“I’ll– I’ll go fix my clothes. Sorry for causing trouble!”
Aaliyah’s expression softened. Natalia walked away with a gait heavy with shame.
Leaving a void between the Commissar and the Captain.
“She’s trying very hard.” Yana said. Her voice sounded a little too desperate.
Aaliyah sighed and rubbed her own forehead with exasperation.
She accepted things, in the end.
“I’m watching you, Captain. Please behave.”
She turned and walked right back out of the bridge. Yana instantly felt as bad as Natalia seemed to. She wanted to collapse on the floor.