|Publisher:||Double Dragon Publishing|
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On the Northern side of the planet Rezer, within the lavish building that was Government Headquarters, (upon which the Government's motto 'For Our Children, Our Future' hung in limp folds, thus rendering only the capital letters readable,) Captain Joliffe of the Rezer Merchant Fleet sat and squirmed in extreme discomfort. He was waiting for his brief meeting with a minor functionary to get the details of his next transport mission. The Rezer Government was a busy institution 'constantly working for the good of society', with the result that society's unimportant figures were frequently ignored.
Joliffe fidgeted on his hard, lumpy seat, trying to find a position in which his backside could fit comfortably onto the chair. This, as Joliffe knew from past experience, was a forlorn hope; all of the chairs were semi-conscious entities from the Krecht Furniture and Office Company , which claimed to design psychic furniture that could mould itself into any shape for the total comfort of the occupant, regardless of their physique.
The flaw was that each psychic chair quickly picked up the attitudes of its work place, and in the Governmental offices they moulded themselves in strict accordance with the status and importance of each individual. The press, the rich, the famous, and the powerful, were all supported in total comfort, and were even massaged gently to improve circulation.
Joliffe, who had no influence, money or power, and who was therefore almost at the bottom of the social system, had to the fight the chair's sincere attempt to give him piles. But he would be damned if he would admit defeat and get up; he wasn't going to give thesnotty little bastard the satisfaction of winning.
Joliffe was a trade captain, and his job was to transport the sort of mundane goods that every home needed, but which most people took for granted; light bulbs, buckets, polish, mops, brooms, and strange plastic appliances that seemed to serve no useful function whatsoever, were just some of the items that were delegated to the Rezer Merchant Fleet, and the more insignificant the cargo, the more chance there was that Joliffe would be the courier.
Joliffe's career hadn't climbed as he had once hoped towards the prestigious Rezer Space Fleet, which transported goods for the vast corporations and Governments that controlled the galaxy, but had instead left him a captain of the common Merchant Fleet. As a man, he could be described as one who did his job well, who was punctual in his work, who gave no reason for complaint, and who was continually overlooked by the promotion's board.
It was only the ongoing war between the neighbouring Hedarian and Jerotta Empires that had kept the Rezer Merchant Fleet and Joliffe with it, so busy in recent times, as the war had shrunk much of Hedar and Jerotta's commercial business as more and more of their trade ships were commandeered for military duties.
Rezer itself was officially registered as neutral. The planet's strategic importance was virtually nil, and it only existed, commercially and politically speaking, through its various trade franchises. Fortunately for Rezer's economic welfare, the two military empires had agreed to a treaty that recognized all merchant ships as non-military targets, although this didn't always stop the mad, the bored, or the macho in either fleet from using the occasional passing vessel for target practice.
Joliffe glanced at his watch and sighed again. The wait was, as usual, tedious in the extreme. As he sat and wriggled in the chair, he wondered how much longer he was going to have to wait, what his cargo and destination would be, and how much longer his backside could withstand the chair's vicious onslaught.
Captain Byrne, commander in chief of the Hedarian Ninth Galactic Fleet, master of the Command Vessel Tynus , looked in complete bewilderment at the information being relayed to him by the ship's sensors. Around him were his senior officers, all as tired and as tense as he was, and all trying to make sense of the information that the ship was relaying.
The problem was in itself quite simple; where Byrne had expected to find the enemy battle fleet, based on information received from Central Intelligence and the Tynus ' own computer predictions, he had instead found nothing. Apart, that is, from any number of meteorites, comets, space dust, a few quasars, various atoms, a smattering of protein and liquid molecules, tachyons, electrons, elemental particles, and the edge of a Black Hole, all set against the infinite background of Deep Space. There was absolutely nothing of any importance such as, for example, a vast flotilla of enemy ships intent on killing Byrne and destroying his armada.
'Comments, anyone?' he asked the bridge officers. They looked at each other, looked at the screens, and gave an almost invisible group shrug. Finally Vona, the second officer and one of Byrne's few friends, broke the oppressive silence:
'Brilliant,' snapped Byrne, 'Two years training, six years in the field, and that's the best you can offer me; the blindingly obvious.' Vona kept her face carefully impassive. She and Byrne had played this game before; create friction to generate feedback and ideas from the rest of the crew. The second part of the gambit was to enlarge on the first blunt statement.
'The obvious usually is the truth,' she pointed out. 'All our resources point to the enemy being here. The enemy is not here. Therefore both our spies and tactical computers have got it wrong, or else…'
'Or else there's something obvious we're overlooking.'
'It's certainly not the computers, sir,' volunteered Menza, the ship's android. 'All our systems are working properly.' Feresh, the First Officer, looked around doubtfully at the blackened walls and burnt-out computer terminals that littered the vast bridge.
'Are you sure about that, Menza?' she asked. 'That last strafing run really knocked the ship about, and we've missed the last scheduled overhaul by months. We can even hear the engines from up here now, and that's never a good sign.'
'We are not operating at peak efficiency, but we are still within acceptable limits, and all systems are functioning,' replied Menza, who periodically linked himself to the vessel to carry out diagnostic analysis and to check on the efficiency of the ship.
'But are you working properly?' asked Vona. 'You could have sustained some damage during the last attack.' This was said to annoy Tarkel, the ship's senior Computer Officer, who rarely spoke except for when directly - or indirectly - criticized or questioned.
'Menza is working as per usual, and so are the computers,' he snapped. 'If anything is wrong it's with Central Intelligence. Again.'
'That is unlikely' responded Menza. 'Central Intelligence have an enviable record for the information they provide to their troops, unlike the Jerotta, whose attempts at sabotage and espionage are rarely, if ever, successful,' This sort of statement had impressed Byrne once, as it had many other raw cadets, as a sophisticated, logical and unemotional android could only deal with the undiluted truth.
Copyright © 2007 Jon Hartless.
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