Chapter 9 - Marcus

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"Captain Valeri has the bridge!" The overenthusiastic luitenant shouted as she passed through the door to the command deck. Valeri looked around. There was no one else present.

"I have the bridge." She confirmed in a neutral voice. The command deck was not an affair of grace. It was functional and efficient. One pilot and one combat controller were the only personnel needed beyond the Command Officer. Orders would be given to one or the other and filtered through the communications band to the appropriate OnyxCorps officers.

As a Black Angel, it was her duty to train new pilots. Her research into the new apprentice showed him to be intelligent and intuitive, if not a bit reckless. His was a lineage of wealth and authority, which usually meant 'spoiled with entitlement issues'. She pulled his record from under her elbow and flipped it open. Training would commence in just under an hour.

During times of inactivity, the Halo would send most of its crew to either Earth or Pandora for leave, bringing on engineers and work crews to assess the carrier and carry out repairs, upgrades, and a general refresh of the ships systems. The Commander would go with them and leave the carrier to a junior officer with aspirations for promotion. Valeri had no such aspirations. Andrew was back in the Kiuper belt engaged in some new clandestine task, and she had nowhere else to be. Plus, Admiral Rice made sure the flagship of OnyxCorps maintained an honorable stockpile of gourmet coffee for her visits.

"Captain, I believe your cadet is early. He's on comms." Valeri raised an eyebrow. That was new. A cadet is never early. As a rule, they were normally late due to over analysis in preflight.

"Very good, Luitenant, assume combat controller role, please."

The Luitenant hesitated, but eventually took the appropriate station. If he desired command, he would have to learn all bridge positions. Better now than never.

"Overhead." She ordered. Immediately the faint crackle of the communications band filled the bridge."

"I am here, pilot."


Marcus shot off the deck of his patchwork freighter, the remnants of a book clutched in his hands. He was the ship's only human occupant, but in the darkness, his eyes were round in amazement.

His prayer had been answered. Literally. He was dressed in rags, the uniform of his station, his head shaved bald as was customary for a priest. Possessed of a thin but powerful build, the action of rising lifted him from the metal plating and crashed his head into the thick galvanized aluminum piping above him.

Marcus craned his head around to stare at the oldwave radio mounted to the bulkhead, rubbing the now sore spot on the back of his shorn skull. He nervously picked up the microphone and depressed the key.

"God, is that you?"


Valeri turned to stare at the Luitenant, awaiting confirmation that she had heard the cadet correctly. The young man made a face and shrugged, mirroring her own confusion.

She went with it. "Damned straight, pilot. We're going to have a talk about the appropriate display respect when we see each other, though."

Valeri turned to her bridgemate and slid a finger across her throat, an instruction to cut the channel briefly. "I want the rest of this training session recorded, Luitenant. If this young buck thinks he can hand out disrespect in such a manner, I'll have it in his record." The Luitenant nodded. "Launch the drones."

Eight sparks of light were ejected from the ship and sent hurtling into space.


Marcus was back on his knees, praying for forgiveness. How could he have been so bold as to have addressed God so bluntly! She sounded wroth! She. Odd. He had expected Her to be male.

He said a final prayer and wiped his face on the closest sheep. It turned and blinked at him.

The radio crackled again and Marcus knew it was about to go out. Again. He reached for his trusty screwdriver. High tech problems demanded low tech solutions. He hammered the butt of the screwdriver into the metal radio casing, employing his solution several times before the lights went solid and the static cleared.

"I'm sorry, Father." He paused, breathing into the microphone. "Mother." That didn't sound right either. "Forgive me O Lord!" He concluded. Yes, that was about right. "I await your command!"


Valeri shot the Luitenant a look that would have melted steel. The icy fire of her eyes silenced the man in mid laugh.

So, not spoiled or entitled. She had a smart ass on her hands. She wasn't playing the game. "Open comms."

"Pilot, for the remainder of this exercise, you will keep your mouth shut. If you open it again, I will personally blow your ship to hell. Do you understand?" Her words were tight and controlled, but her authority was unmistakeable. She waited.

A full minute passed.


"Yes! Yes! Please spare your humble servant! I have a flock for you!" The cadet mimicked sobs, sending anger coursing through her. Flock. New age lingo?

Valeri scrunched up her face and threw his folder to the floor, her hands flying up in exasperation. She was going to make this training session as short as possible.

"Eight drones. Use whatever means necessary to destroy them. You will be judged on your performance. Begin!"

She slid a finger across her throat. The comm band went silent. It took a moment for her to regain her composure.


Marcus threw himself into the pilot's chair, looking around wildly. People used certain words to describe him. Insane. Crazy. Demented. He was starting to believe them until God Herself had answered his prayer. Perhaps a bit more directly than he expected, but the results were the same.

And yet, he had managed to anger Her in moments! Dread welled up inside him. The silver sparks floated into view. Destroy them? His ship had no weapons! He was a missionary of peace.

An old trash jettison tube was all he had. He looked to his left. It waited, open and ready to receive ejecta. What could he use? He looked to his right. The sheep stared at him with soulful eyes. He quickly calculated the sheep versus trash chamber ratio. It would fit, but not comfortably. Of course a sheep entering the freezing, brutal vacuum of space from a depressurized launch tube would be a great deal worse.

He discarded the idea out of hand. It was his Flock. He would not use them as woolen missiles. He patted it on the head. So fluffy.

Marcus angled the ship and decided on a more direct approach.


From far off to her left a freighter careened out of nowhere into the scene before her, accelerating dangerously close to the drones.

"What the.... Luitenant, open comms!"

"Aaaaaaaauauuuuuuuuuuggggggghhhhhhhhh!" The pilot of the ship howled as the nose hammered into the first drone, ricocheted like a pinball into the next two, then seperated. One half of the ship, sparks flashing in the darkness sailed right into another drone, exploding, and taking out yet another with the debris. The other half rolled into one and somersaulted wildly towards the last. It didn't have enough speed to destroy it, but the explosion of a self destruct order did.

"Scan the area!" Valeri shouted.

"Cargo pod to port, ma'am. Registering seven heat signatures."

The captain squatted down and ran her hands through her hair. "Get it in the hangar bay, now." She ordered.

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