“Ma’am, with all due respect, am I to understand—”
Admiral Canty dismissed him with a wave of a pixelated hand—the heavy encryption on the ‘tangle feed tended to make the holos look blocky. “You aren’t to understand anything, Captain.” It wasn’t often that someone could make Tanner’s rank sound derogatory. The Amphinome, the ship under his command, was the envy of the fleet, and it lent him a much revered status among other captains, not to mention his own crew. All of which made the admiral’s orders all the more confounding.
“You are a work unit,” she continued, “and your function is to optimize the other work units under your command to precisely execute my orders. In light of your otherwise stellar record, Captain Tanner, I’m going to ask you a question, but by God I’m only going to ask it once. Are you still capable of performing your function, or does the Amphinome need a new captain?”
No human back had ever been so straight as his in that moment. He was like a statue: cold, and not fully one among the living. “Fully capable, Admiral.”
“Get it done,” she said, and the holo blinked out before he could salute.
He exited his private comms office and made his way to the command center without making eye contact with anyone along the way. He moved briskly but was burdened by the invisible weight a captain always carried. This was the heaviest it had ever been. He’d sent his people into harm’s way, even to their certain deaths, and more than once. It was the uncertainty, now, shifting and quaking along the fault lines of his thoughts, that left him so unsettled.
“Plot a course to the zeta jump-point in the Kalausi system.” That turned some heads. They’d just come from Kalausi. “And ready the FTL,” he added. There was a bristled pause among the crew like the moment before a sneeze, and then they burst into motion. He turned to Commander Loo, his XO, and said, “Prepare for hostile action on arrival,” and then simply watched. The work units were functioning optimally.
The Amphinome entered FTL ready for a fight on the other side.
It was a well known fact that the Amphinome was the first and only FTL ship—military or otherwise—in existence. The ship’s unique power also made it uniquely dangerous. The peculiarities of relativity meant that using the FTL drive created an envelope for travel through time as well as space. Many scenarios had been wargamed. But not this one.
They emerged from FTL right in the middle of a fierce battle between two other ships.
“Orders, captain?” asked Loo with a voice drained of all luster.
“Destroy them both.”
“Sir!” one of the senior technicians called from their post. “I think you need to see this.”
Tanner slapped his hand down on the command console. “You have my orders!” From their current alignment, the hull marking of the two other ships were clearly visible on every monitor, to every crew member. The two other ships were both the Amphinome.
The goal now was to survive; defeating the enemy, in its usual sense, was no longer possible.