I wanted to share with you a snippet of my bestselling space opera series, The Alorian Wars. Below is the first few chapters of the first book, Broken Worlds. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Anki
Each step drew her closer to war, but it was better than waiting for death to kiss her lips and take her breath away with the fiery exhale of a Greshian war vessel. Anki grew up under a regime of fear, not of her own society, but the one coming for them. A childhood wrought from propaganda and secondhand hate formed the woman she would become, but Anki thought of it as strength forged over years of vilifying the Greshian populace. She had never met one of their kind before. The only images she had seen were constructed from pieces of newsfeeds spread across the Alorian stars. Muddled and grainy, those images showed a ghostly flesh-bound entity with seemingly god-like power. Physically, the Greshians did not appear to be much different than her people, but the seeds of contempt painted them as devils nonetheless. Was she prepared to stand face-to-face with the killers of worlds? It was what she yearned for, to stop the enemy in his tracks and proclaim herself the hero. It was not a romanticized notion of bravery that led her to enlist, but the realistic threat of annihilation that made her want to ship out on the next vessel towards the other side of the Alorian Galaxy and give her life to protect Luthia if necessary. Anki was not naïve enough to romanticize death, but she did not fear it either. As the old idiom went, it was what it was.
The moon started to set over Port Carreo, the largest naval port on Luthia. The area was surrounded by water, with giant pillars reaching towards the sky where the ships mated with Luthia to transfer goods without needing to enter the atmosphere. Where the pillars ended was an optical illusion, but Anki often wondered what it would be like to stand on the umbilical and look down upon the world she had never stepped foot off of. It was a dream of hers to take off and look out at Luthia as it grew smaller, less significant to the naked eye than it was when her feet were planted firmly on the ground. But the appeal of seeing the beautiful sphere of her world against a black canvas dotted with stars was pale in comparison to the reason she would ultimately leave her world behind. There was little doubt that she could behold beauty with a war going on, so she buried that desire deep inside and fought the urge to think about it again.
The political climate was evolving every day, and the latest news from the front lines sent a chill down Anki’s spine. The video feed portrayed a world afire, one so far off in the distance that its burn could not be registered without the aid of telescopes and graphic generators despite the perpetual night this time of year on Luthia. Still, there was a sense of doubt that such horrors could be displayed, even for the misdeeds of the hellish pale demons of the Greshian Empire. Luthia had been on the fence about standing up to the Greshians in the beginning, but doing nothing eventually led to choosing sides and with the loss of so many worlds during the Alorian Wars, it was only a matter of time before Luthia felt the burn of indecision.
Sweat poured from Anki’s black hair as she continued her run, her heart beating in her chest hard enough to cause her ears to ring, but she still had several meters to go before she finished her training for the day. She couldn’t afford to be seen as weak, not with her job in the Luthian Navy. Professional killers were as numerous as the stars, but ones with her specialty were a much rarer gem. Luthia had invested in a living weapon, training Anki to take the fight to Greshia or some outlying system, to end the massacre before it spread across the rest of the Alorian Galaxy. It was take the fight to them or worse, having the war in the Luthian system, threatening the lives of every soul on their solitary world. Even with all of her training nothing was guaranteed. If she had any hope for deployment, then she needed to be at the top of her game. War was coming one way or another, but Anki wanted to meet it halfway. The thought tended to bring a smile to her face.
A smaller version of her com-unit, a black and silver band strapped around her wrist, chirped to let her know she had an incoming message. Without breaking stride, she accepted the message swiping her finger across the acrylic glass and a holographic image of her superior, Sergeant Mallara, greeted her. “Good evening, Sergeant Anki Paro. You are receiving this message to let you know there will be a briefing in the morning and your presence is required. Please arrive with a travel bag in hand.” The message ended abruptly and Anki suddenly realized she had stopped running and instead was standing on the track panting for air. She didn’t know if it was nerves about her potential deployment, or if her attention span didn’t allow for physical exertion and life-changing news to be processed simultaneously. It was frustrating either way and she silently chided herself for relenting with the exercise regardless of how brief it had been.
She closed the connection on her com-unit before the message started playing again. This was the fourth mandatory briefing in as many weeks and each time she thought she would be sent out on a vessel to put her skill set to proper use. Each of those times she was sent back to her dorm, disappointed. Still, it stood to reason that eventually she would get the call she had been waiting on ever since she arrived at Port Carreo. A girl could hope, at least.
Anki started running again, this time with a second wind and thoughts about what it might mean to finally deploy. Her thoughts drifted to her father, the only member of her family still talking to her. She knew that the stress of her joining the Luthian Navy was a burden threatening to send him to an early grave. But she also knew he was proud of her and knew what she was capable of. It was the Paro blood in her veins that made her compete so aggressively with herself, and others. If he was honest, her father knew it was his fault that she took after him. It was a bond that could never break. No matter how far out in the Alorian Galaxy she might find herself.
The moon crept up the sky and a chill formed around her. There was a storm brewing and the cold front was pushing it inland. If she was lucky she would have time to get inside before the rain began to fall. Anki ran another five steps before the first drop touched the top of her head. That single drop was followed by a torrential downpour. If the weather was any indication, then luck wasn’t in the cards for her anytime soon.
Anki opened the door to her dorm. It was one step above a barracks room and about twelve steps below what she grew up living in, but it was hers; at least for the time being. She was greeted by the usual AI voice, “Welcome home, Anki. I have maintained the room’s temperature to your preferred setting. You have arrived before your schedule usually dictates. Would you like to receive a cold beverage before your shower?”
The question accompanied the sound of her soaking wet shirt hitting the floor with a moist thud.
“Not yet. Please set the shower to coolness two,” she instructed. She enjoyed voice activated living quarters and preset settings for her day-to-day activities. She knew this type of living wasn’t going to last once she finally shipped out, but as far as she was concerned she could at least enjoy it while it lasted.
The cold water trickled down her body, slightly warming as it filtered through her hair and down her back. Most people enjoyed hot showers to help loosen the tightness in their muscles, but Anki had always been slightly left of the common crowd. Cold showers also helped regulate how much water was used. It kept her honest when it came to conserving water, whereas hot water was far too comfortable to step out of at times. Of course, it could all be in her head and she would spend the same amount of time in the shower regardless, but some truths were just lies you finally convinced yourself of.
Anki stepped out of the shower and into the common space wrapped in a towel. The news feed on her media screen showed more propaganda, more images of Greshian terror inflicted on worlds she otherwise would not have known existed. She was sure whatever world was engulfed in the flames of war had once been as peaceful as Luthia before the great expansion of the Alorian Galaxy. She hadn’t even been born the first time another species revealed itself to her world. Hell, her father, who was born at the time, was too young to remember it, but at least he had been alive for it. Now it seemed that what once seemed like the next step in evolution was devolution as everything burned down around them. This was why she joined the Luthian Navy, to preserve a peace that might otherwise never exist.
She turned up the volume to listen to one of the reporters speak, “…unnecessary violence. Why should we cower before an empire we do not recognize as our authority? Luthia has a rich history of rising above conflicts and rebuilding our society much stronger than it was before. I believe the militarization of our Navy is only the first step at preserving our way of life. If it were up to me, I would militarize our entire society. We dare not allow a Greshian vessel to land on our terra without destroying it!”
It wasn’t a reporter speaking after all, she noticed, once the image moved away from the reporter. The man on the screen was wearing an armband that signified his support for the Luthian Survival Campaign. It was a fringe organization that had a religious affinity for war in the name of freedom. Though Anki didn’t consider herself to side with any kinds of organizations outside the military, she could at least admire the conviction in the man’s words. She found herself nodding her agreement without realizing it.
The newsfeed blacked out as the power failed on Port Carreo. Anki took a deep breath and waited for the alarm to sound. The staccato blast of a claxon met her expectation and without hesitation she left the comfort of her dorm for the relative danger of the incoming attack. Her weapon, perched near the door, accepted her embrace. Through clenched fingers she would rain violence on whatever was coming their way. This moment of anticipation and focus was a reflex of rigorous training, habitual movements predetermined and committed to muscle memory. This was why she had enlisted, to defend Luthia with her life if necessary, but the plan was to make her enemies die first. Deep inside, she knew the claxon sounding was most likely a drill, something to keep the blood pumping to match the horrors scrolling across the feeds as Greshia burned another world into nothing more than scorched pebbles drifting lifeless in the dark. Keeping the fires of patriotism burning made sense to Anki, it was familiar and exhilarating without the threat of actual death. But for a disconcerting moment she wished for something more, for a real fight, anything to let her stretch her legs in a real battle. The thrill of war− the pestilence of civilization− called her name and she wished to answer it with as much enthusiasm as she could muster… more if necessary.
She found herself under the naked sky. Twilight lingered with moments of static scorching the atmosphere as more men and women like her huddled behind cover, some armored and some not, but all armed for incoming. The sky bled electric light as another flash burned her eyes, blinding as quickly as it disappeared. It was another drill, but it felt different, and that difference was alarming. Something triggered in Anki’s mind and her perspective changed. Gone were the parameters of a known enemy. This was a different training tactic, this time the enemy was already at the door, but they weren’t waiting to be let in because it was too late. Luthia had failed to hold the door and now the sky was charged, primed to burn and to destroy. It was only a training exercise, but it felt like a dress rehearsal for something she wasn’t quite ready for.
Chapter 2: Brendle
Somewhere amongst the stars a predator drifted silently. Within its body were rumors of escalating war, nurturing a hatred bred across generations. Perhaps it was always like this, or maybe it was never like this, but history had a way of lying about itself in order to serve the agenda of those writing it into existence. The chapter on galactic domination was in an early draft, but that didn’t stop the Greshians from dipping their pens into the ink of empirical governance. History’s chosen children always had a longer tether from their parents, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. Why should it be any different when those children turned on their siblings and crushed them underfoot? Perhaps the parents were neglectful, or dead, the burden of their children befalling a much crueler fate. Or maybe the gods laughed at mortality as it blinked in and out of existence, this gentle turn around the universe no more exceptional than the infinite turns before it. Life was, after all, temporary.
On the Telran business was as usual. She scouted, seeking prey to devour. Her inhabitants, an arsenal of eagerly bared teeth, sharp and thirsty for blood, listened to the daily pontification of their captain, his voice calmly restraining an enthusiasm which would nauseate anyone who craved peace during such a hellish war. This was what the Greshians were known for, their infamy a reward for the devastating attacks on Alorian worlds who refused to assimilate into an empire aroused with the lust for power. If infamy was the reward, then the glean of destruction was the tally mark of consistent diplomacy. Worlds burned while others fearfully bowed before Greshian ships silhouetted against the starry backsplash of the Alorian Galaxy. Morale was measured by conquest and many onboard the Telran celebrated the sacrificing of worlds more than the gaining of territory. Their hearts were mended by chaos. Even the ones who wanted to refrain from such an existence learned that compliance numbed them to reality and eventually killing came as easily as breathing. Not everyone onboard believed in the cause, but belief was subjective, changing as easily as the wind in the mountain ranges of Greshia. Silence was compliance. It was good enough to pass for patriotism.
“Good evening, Telran, this is the captain speaking. It has been brought to my attention that enemy forces have been spotted trying to avoid detection through the scattered debris field of the planet Keshnara. Our intelligence tells us it is a very risky decision on their part to attempt to traverse this area of space. The largest risk was moving close enough to our ship to be detected. We are sending a scout ship out to survey the area and we will embark towards their relative location and annihilate them.”
“All right, sounds like we have some work to do. What do you think about that, Brendle?” Arender said from his console behind Brendle. The man was a new addition to the Telran who quickly found his place in Combat Control. Just like any other newbie, his enthusiasm flowed from his ears despite having no idea how the real world actually worked. To him, the targets were not people, but something intangible. Targets were quantitative and qualitative wickets for anyone keeping count of who was winning the war. There was no such thing as personal casualty, just the elimination of a potential threat, potential being the operative word.
“I suppose the Captain will have us hard-burn into that direction shortly,” Brendle said, his voice flat. He fought the urge to say what was really on his mind, that it was a killing spree that the captain was using in hopes of being promoted. Captain Elastra was next in line for a joint staff position and was willing to put his crew through anything to ensure that position went to him. It was politics of the worst kind.
Arender turned to look at his shipmate, hearing the lack of enthusiasm in Brendle’s voice. “Try not to be bummed about it. This is the whole reason we’re here in the first place. To kill the bad guys.” He nudged Brendle’s shoulder with a light tap. “Besides, what would you be doing back on Greshia anyway? Most people our age are working dead end jobs. Very few of them have any kind of measurable success. We are doing the work of the gods, planting ourselves on other worlds to expand the Greshian Empire. I bet to some of these worlds we look like gods.” He laughed as the joke lingered uncomfortably in the air. Arender didn’t mean anything by the statement other than to make Brendle feel better, but to Brendle it struck a raw nerve. He knew it was only because of the culture all Greshians grew up in. You were for Greshia or against her.
“I know. I was just hoping this would be a short hop to the next station. I guess I have a lot on my mind,” Brendle said. He ran his hand through his brown hair and pulled it away with the feeling of sweat between his fingers. He wiped it away on his pants and looked at Arender. “I’m feeling a little homesick is all,” he said.
Arender leaned forward and placed a friendly hand on Brendle’s leg, the warmth of it making Brendle a little uncomfortable. “If you’d like to talk about it, I’m always here.” There was an innuendo hidden behind the look that followed, but it was innocent enough to not rub Brendle the wrong way. Arender’s deep green eyes were locked onto Brendle’s own in an intense gaze, almost hungry. Brendle could only imagine what thoughts were pouring over his mind, but he wasn’t interested in the kind of companionship Arender was offering. For some, the yearning for companionship battled one’s ability to maintain a sense of sanity. For Brendle, he knew there was nothing to gain in empty relationships. There was the hope for something better once the Telran got back to Greshia. But he couldn’t help but wonder if he could hold out that long. Sometimes the days felt like an eternity and he wasn’t getting any younger.
“Thanks, but I think it’s better if I just deal with it on my own.” He turned away from Arender, letting him down easy, not wanting to make a big deal out of the slight exchange. Brendle had nothing against the other man’s attraction to him, but it wasn’t something he could ever see himself reciprocating. There was something about the female form that worked his mind in a way male bonding never could. It was one of the reasons he missed home, whom he left behind, the potential life partner he had found in Saratia. He thought of her often, but last he’d heard she was married with a baby on the way. Her parents were traditional Greshians, a man and woman with only one child, no plural household or auxiliary companions. It only stood to reason they would force single marriage onto their only daughter in hopes of expanding their family with a grandchild. Brendle once thought it would be he who held her hand through life, her forever mate. But life forced him into another direction, one that led him to the Telran. He didn’t regret his decision, but he wasn’t fully aware of everything he would have to give up when he signed his life away either. If anything, his life had become a kind of proxy-existence. It wasn’t horrible, but neither was it fulfilling. It just was.
Arender cleared his throat and stood. “I understand. Maybe you could try calling home. It might do your heart some good to hear a familiar voice.” The coy smile hid a bit of hurt that still lingered in his eyes.
“Maybe so,” Brendle said, returning the smile.
“You mind if I take a break? I’ve been holding in a piss for the better part of an hour,” Arender said, a chuckle muffling the last few words. Brendle could tell he had hurt Arender’s feelings, but not enough to bruise his ego. He just hoped it didn’t make working with him awkward. Things were hard enough with a dark secret sitting on his chest, but he knew he couldn’t confide in Arender no matter how much they got along. There was too much at stake and Brendle didn’t even have a clear grasp of exactly how he felt. He just knew he didn’t like the idea of destroying entire worlds for the gain of a government he was hardly a part of.
“Yeah, go ahead. I’ve got this.” Brendle distracted himself with his console, the screen reflecting green light off his pale face. He could make out his reflection and the tear daring to fall from the corner of his eye. Loneliness was a bitch.
“Thanks,” Arender said, turning to leave. He closed the hatch behind him and left Brendle in the dark quant silence of the empty room.
Brendle took a deep breath and released it slowly as he contemplated the murder of what he assumed were refugees of a war they didn’t want to fight. The room felt darker as he was alone in Combat Control. He stared at his screen, the illumination of it casting deep shadows in the otherwise darkened room. It was his job to help navigate the ship and to pull the trigger when the time came and he wished it was not. The navigation aspect of his job was the only one he deemed useful to preserving lives. Beyond that, he was nothing more than a heel to the throat of the enemy. His position had been forced on him by his superiors who said they saw potential in him. Brendle couldn’t help but agree, though the potential he saw was one where he refused to fire upon innocent people, which would result in his being spaced. It was a disheartening thought, especially considering he had seen one of the crew being spaced shortly after he checked onboard the Telran. The screens captured every moment of the sailor’s lungs collapsing as they strained to take in air. The frost covering the exposed flesh of the man’s face had been the moment Brendle finally looked away. It was a memory that haunted his dreams for weeks afterwards. War was hell and so was being assigned to the Telran.
His time onboard was only a small fraction of what he was expected to commit. There were no short-termers in the ever-expanding war of Greshian aggression. No one back home called it that, but it didn’t make it any less the truth. Brendle sat back, the cold fabric of his chair chilling the back of his bare neck, reminding him of where he was. In the dark, there was no warmth except the artificial heat generated by the ship. If the ship were to die, the crew would be next in line. It was anyone’s guess which way they would go, anoxia or hypothermia. Neither was appealing to Brendle. The thoughts of dying were just as haunting as the repulsion he felt towards his purpose on the Telran, and of those who supported it without question. He would never admit to being obsessed with death, but perhaps pulling the trigger too many times had turned him sensitive to it. It was a thought and nothing more.
Frustrated, Brendle opened his com and scrolled through the pictures of his family, which comprised solely his mother and sister now that his father had died. The Greshian Navy did not allow him to go home for the funeral and that was the catalyst for most of his resentment, but he was never fully onboard with the whole “take over the universe” mantra. It was a goal for empty-minded people, in Brendle’s opinion. Of course, his opinion amounted to space dust in the grand scheme of things. Still, he longed to be released from his duty and allowed to find a peaceful world to live in. That was, if the Greshians allowed any peaceful worlds to exist outside of their control. Somehow, he doubted it.
He unstrapped from his seat and floated towards the ceiling to stretch, the last mission still burning in his mind. The sensation of his finger pressing the launch command was a phantom feeling, even after so many cycles since their encounter with the rebellion force. The action of taking such a small, lightly armed ship was a miniscule thing. The memory afterward was a much heavier burden than he could ever have anticipated. Brendle’s fingers found his com-unit and he brought the light-weight piece of acrylic to eye level. His thumb swiped against the screen and scrolled over a short list of contacts finally resting on the sole person in his family who would still take his calls, his mother.
With a delicate touch, Brendle tapped the icon to record a message. His image stared back at him for a moment before he finally drew the nerve to speak. “Hi, Mom, I know it’s been a long time and I’m sorry about that. I know it looks like I haven’t been eating, but I have. The tubes of food don’t compare to your cooking, though,” he tried to smile at the camera knowing his mother would benefit from it more than he would, but his attempt at a joke fell flat so he combed his fingers through his hair sheepishly before speaking again. “You might have heard about the battle between the Telran and a rebellion ship. I just want you to know I’m all right. The fighting didn’t last very long… I’m not really handling it very well, Mom.
“I don’t want to be doing this anymore. I know I signed a contract and everyone back home told me not too, but I thought it was the best thing at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so an enlistment looked attractive, but there’s nothing here but the potential for me to become a monster. They made me kill those rebels, but before I launched the torpedo there was a message about refugees being onboard. My captain said it was a ploy to entrap us, but I’m not so sure… I killed those people, Mom. I’m sorry.”
Brendle dropped the call and sent it without thinking about the fact that he was confessing to a potential war crime. In his heart, he felt he was doing the right thing, but a sinking sensation flooded his mind soon after.
His quarters were cramped in a way that threatened claustrophobia. Brendle didn’t worry too much about the tight spaces, but sometimes he found it hard to make his way around without stubbing a toe or striking his head against an overhang. He did his best to make his accommodations homely, but his heart yearned to be free from his relative prison cell and home on Greshia. He wanted nothing more than the comforts of home, the ability to spread out and stretch without contacting another surface or person. It was a nice thought, regardless of how unlikely it was that he would make it home any time soon. His enlistment had not been forced, but his followership thereafter was an expectation that threatened his livelihood and life in general. Taking orders was easy so long as you agreed with the person giving them, for Brendle, it was quickly growing into a chore he no longer wished to succumb to. Unfortunately, there was no reasonable chance of escape for the time being. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought about Greshia, and what his loved ones were doing. Isolation played on his depression, but it was a tool for making sure the memories of home never faded, even if they did change every time he remembered them.
Chapter 3: Anki
The sun rose as a sliver of golden light while Anki made her way to Dispatching. The prior evening’s training mission kept her up most of the night, but it was invigorating. The feel of a weapon in her hands, the cool steel against dark flesh, was what separated her from her prior civilian life. Her father had approved of this life, if for no other reason than because she wanted it. Enlisting because I wanted to be was enough of a reason, she thought. Anki walked sunward, the light causing her eyes to tear. It was a good sign to see the sun this time of day. It was a temporary day, but evidence that perpetual night was finally going into hiding for the year. The sun brought life, and with it a peace as new beginnings fell into step while the circle of life spun its way across the universe. Anki liked mornings, solar tears and all.
Ships landed as she passed the landing area. Makeshift units were constructed for expedient life support as the wounded men and women found their way home to Luthia. Many of them were unconscious or dead when their bodies were carried off the war-torn transport vessels. Those who could move under their own power were the lucky ones, at least as far as life was concerned. Anki had seen enough desolation during her stay at Port Carreo to know she would rather return a corpse than endure the life some of these soldiers would lead with torn limbs and fractured minds. It was morbid curiosity that made her look out and witness the latest toll of war. She watched with expectancy in the back of her mind: this could be me, but not yet. She wondered if the thoughts were healthy or not, but it didn’t matter, all of this was inevitable one way or another. Every day ushered in the same scale of injuries, just different names to associate them with. The burden of war was carried by those lost and torn asunder, crippled by misfortune. Anki didn’t believe in God, but it didn’t stop her from saying a silent prayer as she moved past the landing area and closer to her call to deploy. She had learned to pray from her mother, too many years ago to recall. Praying was the thing she did when nothing else made sense. It would seem old habits were hard to break.
She found her way to Dispatching and found it was crowded and smelled of body odor. It wasn’t bad enough to make her feel sick, but neither was it a comfortable place to wait around for orders. All around her were men and women like her, junior sailors and marines, fresh from various forms of training waiting for the call to arms, eager to set out across the expansive galaxy to a region where the Greshian Empire was spreading like a virus. If the newsfeed was any indication, the virus had spread into their sector, into the galactic reaches that brought a more realistic threat to Luthian society. Screens showed more of the devastation as the newsfeed regurgitated the same old news in a different sector of alien stars and how the latest attacks would affect the world in the coming days. It seemed that the threat of annihilation was growing and everyone was distracted by something else instead of looking that threat dead in the eye and resisting. Maybe the distractions were other people’s way of comforting themselves, to stave off the fear building beneath their skin and inside their hearts.
Anki forced herself to look away. Instead, she fumbled with her com-unit, scrolling through her list of contacts until the screen stopped on her father. His face filled the screen with the prompt to contact him along the bottom. She looked at the image; the graying of his hair and the darkening around his eyes betrayed the memory she had of him when she was a child. For Anki, her father would always be the younger man of her youth, powerful and kind. Age didn’t affect her memories of him in any way. She wondered if other adult children looked at their parents through the same filter, the historical lens of how things were when they were children. Childhood wasn’t that great for Anki − she had endured the loss that a child should never have to suffer − but her father had brought her through it. Maybe that was why she remembered him the way she did. As she drifted into thoughts of him, her heart began to ache. She couldn’t help but regret not speaking with him more regularly. She knew he understood, but she also wondered if he felt the same pain from not hearing from her. That thought didn’t help ease the hurt of feeling like she was failing her father’s love.
“Anki Paro,” a voice said behind her. It was a woman, but sounded more electronic than organic. Anki turned to see a dispatcher standing with a file in her hand, a vocal modulator protruding from her throat where bare skin would have been visible above the uniform’s collar. “If you could please come with me,” the woman said; her lips never moving.
Anki stood and walked towards the woman, her breath caught in her throat as she struggled to take her eyes from the vocal modulator. She had seen injuries before, but this one affected her in a way she hadn’t quite expected. “Good morning,” she said as she approached the dispatcher.
“Follow me,” the electronic voice said as the woman started walking. Anki followed her into the maze of corridors. An industrial glaze of beige paint made each wall look exactly like the last as they turned corners until they arrived at the dispatcher’s office. It was quant in the way four walls of a military facility could be, meaning not at all. Anki had a hard time figuring out how the other woman could bear to be confined within the tight room all day every day. The feeling of claustrophobia she was beginning to feel in the waiting room was exponentially worse in the office as she took a seat. Even the chair was restraining in a way that was uncomfortable. “You’re a Marine, recruited into the recon and infiltration division, your designator is that of a tactical assassin. You have also received training in welding and salvaging before enlisting. Do you have experience with the latter?”
“Only a few months as a salvager. It was seasonal work to help with the finances.”
The woman scribbled some notes on a tablet, the words transcribing from script to typeface seconds later. “We like to combine skills with our crews. Not many people have experience salvaging on the ships. Would you be willing to ship with a smaller crew to take part in residual missions as deemed fit by Luthian Naval Commanders? It might take you longer to reach the frontlines, but with so many lost vessels we need to salvage as much as we can in support of the war effort.” The dispatcher never looked up when she spoke. She merely scrolled her fingers across the screen.
Anki took in a deep breath; salvaging was hazardous work, not that fighting in a war was not. Still, she expected to do what she had been trained to do, infiltrate and kill, not clamor around on a dead spacecraft and steal parts off it. “I suppose I can do that,” she said reluctantly. The words were bitter as they escaped her lips. “I was kind of hoping to ship straight to the frontlines, though.”
“Very well, you will depart Port Carreo in four days via umbilical conveyance to a personal transport carrier. You will muster aboard the Seratora which is in route to the latest disaster. Don’t worry, Anki Paro, you’ll get to the frontlines soon enough, and wish you hadn’t. Until then, I suggest you take some leave and visit family. You wouldn’t want the next time they see you to be with a handicap like a vocal modulator.” The dispatcher’s words cut like a knife. She hadn’t meant to stare, but she realized the other woman had noticed and was offended.
“I’m sorry for staring,” Anki said. Her face grew red and she felt ashamed.
The dispatcher, finally looking up at her, said, “Don’t be sorry, just don’t let this happen to you. No matter what people say, you’ll never be who you were before the Greshians destroy a part of you. They only took my voice and my dignity, but some days it feels like they took my life too. Keep your head up and don’t turn your back during a fight. Trust me on that one.” The dispatcher stood and Anki followed suit. There was an awkward pause and then the dispatcher spoke again, “Be safe out there, Anki Paro. Luthia would like for you to come back in one piece.”
“Thank you,” Anki replied and turned to leave. As she made her way through the beige maze she could see others like herself, receiving orders to ship out and defend Luthia against an empire the entire galaxy was growing to hate. She noticed with each passing of an office, that there was a script the dispatchers used before sending their people out to war. “Luthia would like for you to come back in one piece.” It was a kind of condolence for someone who might not return, but it was cold to hear it pronounced so mechanically. Anki thought she might be reading too much into the phrase, surely it was meant to be harsh and cutting against the morale of a soldier set to ship out. That was the problem with interpretation, it was too easily molded into something it was not, and then remolded again.
Anki shook the thought from her mind and reached for her com-unit. There was one thing the dispatcher was right about. She needed to say goodbye to her family. Or at least the only family she had left. Her father.
She initiated the call, listening for the deep voice of her father to answer, but instead she was transferred to a message collector. She always felt foolish leaving a message, but this time it was important. “Hello, Father. I hope you are well. I have received orders to deploy and the Navy is giving me a few days to visit before I depart. I’m going to schedule a transport home. I look forward to seeing you. I love you,” she closed the connection and continued her way to Port Carreo’s transport station. When she arrived, the line was already long. It was clear that many of the people had received the same departure orders she had and Anki couldn’t help but feel these were the people she would be going to war with, to give their lives to defend Luthia, or better yet have their enemies die for their planet.
It took almost an hour to arrange transport from Port Carreo to Surda. Even though it was half the world away, the transport time would be short and had no layovers. She could at least be thankful for that. She received her ticket. The departure time scheduled for early morning. With nothing better to do other than wait, Anki made her way back to her dorm. It was odd not having any friends on station, but even growing up she had been an oddity, not socially awkward, just reserved and enjoying her time alone more than being surrounded by distractions. Maybe that was why joining the Luthian Navy seemed like an easy choice, she thought as she lay on the bed and closed her eyes. Anki had no regrets in life, and she hoped she would leave none behind if she was to die, but loose ends had a way of becoming frayed. She knew more than anyone else, that she needed to see her father before stepping foot off Luthia. It was something on her heart she just now was willing to admit. And as her thoughts drifted home to Surda, to her father, she fell asleep to a place where dreams often haunted her with the same images as the screens depicted each day. There was no rest from the images of war, only a small reprieve from the action depicted.
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