Sergeant Jena Foster was stood just outside her pick-up point with Ensign Zircon Herne to her side, the pair laden down with bags. There were other soldiers and staff members of the ISV Herne nearby, ready to rejoin the flagship for another decade of service. Jena didn’t pay much attention to the others though.
Natasha was teary-eyed, the small pocket pack of tissues she carried with her almost depleted already. Simone was dealing with the chef, thankfully, an arm wrapped around her shoulder as she tried to cheer her up with the prospect of teaching the agent how to cook. Fixer was there to see them off too. Though that was mainly as he’d be getting the next shuttle up to his vessel, the IXV Shuck, to oversee some checks as that ship underwent maintenance.
Then there was Handler. Her lover would be joining Fixer for those checks, but she was definitely here for Jena’s departure. Her hair had been tied back, and for a change she was in her formal GFIA uniform consisting of a short grey jacket, white leggings and black knee-high boots. Jena was in her own uniform, and the pair exchanged a look. They knew how this was going to go down.
“You’ve come a long way since I first met you, Sergeant. I wonder what rank you’ll be at next time we meet.”
“And what utterly stupid thing I did to get such a rank?” Jena added with a smile.
“I doubt your promotions will be through diligence to filing systems or friendly interactions with the autocrew.” Handler gave a wry look to the soldier. She then glanced up, and Jena knew that her transport ship was coming in. Natasha must have seen it too, the dark-skinned chef flinging herself at Zircon for a goodbye kiss. The rapid expression of feeling didn’t startle the android, he simply followed programming to reciprocate and comfort.
“Take care of yourself, Handler. Until we meet again.” Jena gave a lazy salute, then winked to Simone. “You too, Agent.” There would be no kisses goodbye. That was decided that morning before breakfast. Simone only broke that rule a little. She blew a kiss in the blonde cyborg’s direction. Chuckling, Jena blew a peck back, then one for Handler.
The transport ship had comfortably settled behind them by the time Simone had pried Natasha away from Ensign Herne. He made no motion to wipe the deep red lipstick kisses from his own lips just yet.
“This is Transport ISVH-017 for the ISV Herne. Only returning crew may board this vessel. Any attempt by civilians to board will be firmly denied.” The transport’s control AI announced.
“Natasha, it’s been a pleasure.” Jena gave the sobbing woman a hug. “We’ll send word when we can.”
The response she gave was in a thick voice, garbled by tears and emotion.
“She said to look after Zircon.” Simone translated.
“We’ll have each other’s backs.” Jena promised, breaking away as she ship prompted her and Zircon to board. She paused at the airlock to glance out at the spacedock and the backdrop of Asrat City beyond. With a nod to those gathered there to send her off, she boarded the ship before the AI could reprimand her for holding up proceedings.
Directly behind their seats were luggage droids to ferry their belongings back to their rooms. Procuring a gift bag from one of her suitcases, Jena dumped the rest into the cargo bay before taking her seat. There was no window view, which she was a little glad of. She’d gotten most of the tears out the night before. She didn’t want to risk more.
“Any regrets on leaving, Sergeant?” Zircon asked as he settled besides her.
“Always. I know where my place is though, at least for the moment.” She held out a small box for the android. “A present.”
Looking curious, he took it in his hands. “You already gave me a gift.” The soft jumper was stowed away in his bag.
“This is for a different reason. Open it.” Jena prompted.
Slipping the ribbon off the rectangular box, Zircon opened the lid to reveal two items. The first were a slender pair of tinted glasses. The second was a small pip for his jacket, steel in the shape of the numeral II.
“I made the arrangements after talking to you about it, and both the Commander and the Admiral were happy with you being my second.” Jena clasped the android’s shoulder.
“And the glasses?”
She grinned. “I just thought they’d look good on you.”
“Do they?” He asked as he slipped the arms over his ears.
Jena stared for a moment before sighing.
“They do not look good?”
“Quite the opposite, Zircon. I think I’m going to have to beat the girls off you with a stick.”
Jena lingered on the transport, waiting for the others to exit before grabbing the heavy gift bag and stepping off the vehicle with Zircon in tow. Admiral Roland and Commander Romanov were stood between the ramp down and the hangar doors.
“Sergeant Foster, Ensign Herne.” Zaha said with a smile. “I thought we’d have to send out a search party for you.” She raised an eyebrow as the soldier lifted her gift bag.
“I wanted to get you both something, as thanks for all your assistance.” Jena stated with a little embarrassment. She pulled out the stone tankard and offered it to Treshka.
“Hah! I’ve got one already, but thanks. One for each hand now.” The muscular warrior grinned, hefting the mug in her hand. “Just to check though, you didn’t bring any alcohol on board I’d need to confiscate on board, did you?”
“No, Commander. I split the last six bottles with some friends last night.”
“Damn. I’ll have to dip into my own stash then.” She grinned.
Jena offered the bag to her admiral. Zaha looked inside and smiled. “Good coffee, a jar for them, and… a place mat?”
“For your cafetiere to rest on. I know it’s a little cliche, but… I know how much you like your coffee, Admiral.”
“You didn’t have to get either of us gifts, Sergeant. But thank you. I’ll put it them to good use.” Behind them, Transport ISVH-017 sunk down into the recessed bay to be returned to the rotation of ships for ferrying the crew back up. “The next ship will be here soon, so we need to get the formalities out of the way.”
Drawing herself straight, Jena saluted. “Sergeant Jena Foster, Third Class, reporting for duty. Permission to come aboard, Admiral?”
“Permission granted.” Zaha saluted. “Welcome back.”
“Ensign Zircon Herne, Third Class and Sergeant Foster’s appointed Second, reporting for duty. Permission to come aboard, Admiral?” Zircon saluted as well. The glasses gave the android a serious look from some angles, and softened his features from others. The two ranking officers looked a little amused.
“”Permission granted.” The Admiral saluted. “You’re breaking new ground, Ensign. Serve us well, as you always have.”
Zircon nodded, dropping his hand and moving to stand at ease just behind and to the side of Jena.
“Nice to have you back for another round.” Treshka added, thumbing behind her. “Get to your quarters, settle in and be ready to report for the staff briefing at fifteen hundred hours, ship standard time.”
At Treshka’s command, a set of directions popped up in-vision for the pair. They didn’t lead back to her old room, but to a new duplex room on the deck above. With joint salute to her, the pair started for their new home for the next decade.
“Transport ISVH-018 docking in five minutes.” The ship’s computer announced.
“Join me for coffee this evening, old friend?” Zaha asked, looking over the pack Jena had given her.
“Sounds good.” Treshka nodded, before a rumbling chuckle came from her. “I can’t believe she brought us gifts.”
“There’s a first time for everything. Maybe it’s a rural thing? Most of our crew come from closer to the center of the Galactic Federation.”
She mused on that. “Might be it.”
“You saw the orders that came in from the Central Military Command, yes?” Zaha asked.
“It’ll be nice to see Ural Two again, if only briefly. Simeon and the kids are on their way back now in our shuttle. Visiting the Ladoshan systems? Not so much.”
Zaha nodded. “Command commands,”
“And we obey.” The Trogadek finished with a wry smile.
The staff briefing room was a massive amphitheater located in the central tower of the Herne. The lower your rank, the further back you sat. On the stage at the front of the room stood the Admiral, the Commander, and Medenia, the Operations Officer. Behind them was a massive monitor ready to display star charts and tactical data.
“Welcome to some of our new crew members, and welcome back to the rest of you.” Zaha spoke, the ship’s computer working to carry her voice through the rows of seating. “We have been assigned our first orders for this new tour of duty. It is my responsibility to inform you of those orders.”
“Our first mission consists of two parts. We will be making a brief stop at Ural Two, to pick up a compliment of new Servitors. They are the newest models, and we will be using the training rooms on the ship to seek candidates to fly them. We will send some recommendations out, but if you wish to apply, drop by and book a session.”
“Ural Two is my home.” Commander Romanov spoke, her arms folded and her expression challenging. “There will be a short period of recreation time on the planet when we arrive. I expect all of you to be on your best behavior. You serve under me, and I will deal with any transgressions personally.”
“Thank you, Commander.” Admiral Roland nodded. “After that, we are being dispatched to the Ladoshan systems. The Ladoshan League of Planets wishes to apply for entry to the Galactic Federation. They are currently dealing with aggression from the Royal Denorian Military. This will hopefully be a diplomatic mission to ease strained relations and get both on our side, but we will be in a state of combat readiness from entering the system to leaving it.”
The Admiral glanced around the room. “Make the most of your downtime while you have it. Your duty rosters have been updated, report to your line chiefs if you have any issues. Meeting adjourned.”
A recommendation notification popped up in Jena’s field of view just as she was about to rise from her chair. Zircon touched her elbow, and she gave her Second a look.
“I have been recommended to be a candidate.” He stated. He actually managed to look a little perplexed.
“Likewise. How long will it take us to reach Ural Two?”
“One moment.” A vague look crossed his face as he sent the request to the Herne’s computer. “At maximum warp encapsulation, five weeks.”
“So we’re looking at eight or nine weeks, realistically?”
“Well… I guess we better book some time in the training machines then.” Jena replied, clasping his shoulder with one hand. Amidst the throng of staff moving this way and that as they sought to exit the room, Jena felt eyes on her. Glancing about, she noticed the Commander was watching the pair with curiosity. Their eyes met for a moment, then Treshka turned away to talk with some of the senior crew.
As the crowds dispersed, Jena wondered just what she would be getting into during her first full tour of duty.
Author’s note: And that’s the end of Jena’s story for now. It’s been a pretty wild ride and went on longer than I thought it would! This has been almost 60k words, and I think once it’s been redrafted, edited, and with additional content and stories not suited for the blog added it’ll push far beyond that number. Thanks for reading!