|| Home :: Robert Fitton :: Science Fiction :: The Nebula Planet|
He was on a continuous binge for three days and did not care who knew about it. After four and one half years of battle, confined within his ship, fighting occasional battles on twenty-three planets, and under the constant threat of Antarian attack, John Ross, Commander of Explorer Ship 14, wanted to push the limits of his physical and emotional stamina.
In the murky blue light he rapidly lost his concentration after the second brewmac. Months had passed since he had drunk so heavily and chased women like this. Still he drifted back to last week's peace treaty ceremonies on the Antarians home planet. The sole surviving city building's clear green windows reflected Antares VI's rugged mountain peaks and the looming crimson sun. Command engineers had constructed a long pavilion, amidst the rubble. The long surrender tables were positioned in a parallel fashion, under the blue glow of a newly constructed Command Sphere, designating the five hundred and six aligned planets.
Ross visualized the wispy, white haired Antarian cerbacs, in full dull silver uniform, as they marched in under heavy guard along the formcrete. Missing was Cerbuin Rafec, killed in Ross' final attack at the Maregault Star System. Every surviving cerbac must have felt the humiliation of surrendering on their home planet. Seated at the glossy, black slab tables, their pale faces wrinkled as the treaty was read. Further compounding the humiliation was Command's decision not only to send the treaty signing across Galactic Command on frequency channels, but throughout Sanctum. Antarian feelings mattered very little with the war over. Ross realized he was now not trapped behind ESS-14's command consoles, but tucked away little bar pit in the mother ship's belly.
He had remembered this low-lit dungeon pit from a few years ago, when he and Chris Keller, commander of ESS-19, stumbled in here after one of the Antarian battles. It was as if the same blue haze still hung over the tightly packed bar. Lindy, holding the mugs high in the air, moved his large two hundred and forty pound frame through the crowd. Ross stood as his second in command finally made his way back to the small round table.
" John, I swear you need a level one security clearance to pass through those idiots out there! I had my pocket picked three times, my ass pinched twice, and some barge freighter from Zosma tried to explain how she had some cosmic prevail dust for only fifteen marquees."
" So, what's the complaint, Lindy?" Ross took the bright blue brewmac to his lips. Not bad for a mother ship beer, but not as rich as the stuff found on the open space trade routes before the war. " I told you this place would be a good diversion for us."
" I can't believe it's actually over. No more fighting." Lindy smacked his lips. " They've shipped in this brewmac."
" I was just thinking that," said Ross, looking around the loud, darkened pit. " There are more women here than you want to know about. Half of them are loaded with transmuted eloviruses."
" Just what I need." Lindy took in more brewmac. " Spend a month in some medifac having my innards snipped by some genetic strand slicer."
Ross nodded as he continued to scan the pit. He remembered the tall blonde he had met here with Keller and how he had never seen her again. He was away from ESS-14 for three days back then, until his propulsion engineer, Frank Muldoon and some third rank personnel dragged him and Keller out of a docked pleasure ship before the ship left port. He smiled as he thought about the pleasure ship.
" What are you grinning about?" Lindy also looked around the pit.
" I was just thinking back to the last time I was on the mother ship," said Ross. He stroked his chin beard stubble.
" I bet," said Lindy and they both men surveyed the bar. " Where do you think they'll send us next, John?"
Ross raised his finger. He was looking at two young women with looped ringed ears and reized hair, neatly woven like a fabric.
" What do you think of reized hair, Lindy?"
Lindy turned around." I'm not looking at the hair."
" Neither am I." The women were dressed in silver metallic shorts and were alone. Ross stood and started across the pit.
" On the prowl. There he goes. Full Battle Alert," shouted Lindy, raising the mug to his lips again. " Full Battle Alert."
But as Ross began his move across the bar, two younger third ranks appeared and the reized haired ladies were escorted away. He turned and looked back at his dark eyed friend.
" Que sera, sera," said Lindy, laughing.
Ross returned to the table." I knew it was too good to be true." He held his brewmac. " Where are we going? Where is Admiral Ebert sending ESS-14?"
" Yeah, that was the question."
" Lindy, Galactic Command has five hundred and six planets, in four space sectors. There are seventy-two mother ships, not to mention the outposts, the colony vessels, and non-aligned planets. As well as the Antarian Occupied Territory. And you want me to tell you where Ebert is sending us?"
" After four years of war, we will be sent on a vacation. Map space. Visit the non-aligned planets we know little about."
" We deserve an assignment like that. Those Antarian bastards cost us too many lives."
Ross lifted his brewmac into the air. " May the Antarians never rise from the ashes."
" Nor even try."
" All comes down to marquees, Lindy," said Ross, still searching the bar. " The Antarians were broke."
" Everybody needs a benefactor."
" They'll be back as soon as the coffers are full. No matter what they might have said in all the surrender ceremonies. I don't trust them."
" Oh, John, they were beaten and beaten badly. Even if they were funded, how could they ever bother us again? Their home planet in ruins, fleet in shambles and settlements occupied."
" I have it on good authority that Gates wanted to put all their upper command on prison planets, but the Group turned up the heat. Thought it might look bad with the non-aligned planets."
" Gates is the top dog," said Lindy. " He heads the Command Group."
" He's been renominated and elected by The Group, but do you think, if he sent all the Antarians away for good he would still be where he is?"
" I hear you. Then he's just a puppet, John. If that's what you're saying."
" Yeah. He saved his own hide instead of doing the right thing. Now, we may have to face it all over again. How many lives will be lost because of that decision? He has left them free to plot and start the conflict all over again."
Ross looked over his shoulder and in the blue light saw a short woman with trimmed silver hair walk into the bar. She was dressed formally in a green, two-piece day suit and she waved at Ross.
" That's Nancy Burke!" Lindy turned. " I knew I'd catch her here. She looks like hell ..."
They stood as she approached the table, computer clipboard for writing in her hand. She had lost weight and her skin had a pale, matted appearance.;" Well, well, well. I see the scooner sweepers have brought in the space junk."
Ross gently pecked his old friend on the cheek.
" Can't keep that viewer bender's clipboard away from you, can you?" asked Lindy as he shook her hand.
" Have I got a surprise for you space rogues."
Ross pulled up a chair for her, but remained concerned about her frail appearance. " How long has it been, Nancy?" Ross leaned back and crossed his legs. " Can I get you a brewmac? How are you feeling? Are you all right?"
" One question at a time, Commander. First answer: Fifteen months, right before you went out to encounter that Antarian who was starting his own little empire."
" Commander Zariac and his defiance of the Antarian Command. I thought we had him over on our side, but he headed for deep space."
" Deep is not deep enough," Lindy produced a low, contagious belly laugh.
" That is a story I would like to bend. It's all wrapped up in a Command Intelligence file," said Nancy.
Ross uncrossed his legs and leaned toward her." How did you find out about Zariac? That was classified."
" No comment," she said. " And the answer to your second question is no. And I'm on a damned required diet from my doctor."
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