Aurora Dancing With The Sky
Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Sub-Lieutenant Sky Praetora sat in the port admiral's waiting room in Aries Harbour Bastion in orbit over Hereclisa. Sky looked out of the view port to see the first fleet gently floating high over the background of Hereclisa's deep purple seas and golden land. Sky's hand played with the hilt of his new sword, a gift from his tribe. Sky had recently graduated from the Academy at the top of his class, one of the few cadets with active space experience and the only cadet with with combat experience. During which time he had earned two promotions taking from Cadet to Ensign to Sub-Lieutenant.

He could see the Admiral's secretary speedily organizing dispatches and schedules on his work screen. The man had barely noticed Sky's arrival and the only communication had been to ask Sky to identify himself and state his business. Beyond those initial inquiries there had been not a word and only brief wave of the hand to signify he should sit. The only irregularity came when his surname had been uttered and for a moment the secretary had flinched at the infamous surname.

Sky was something of a rarity in the Hereclisan Star Forces, as to his knowledge he was the only Misalli serving in its ranks. The Misalli were both respected and feared by everyone on Hereclisa due to the actions one man in particular, General Harkin Praetora.

He was Sky's famous and infamous ancestor who, when told that he and his tribe would have to bow to the government, gathered all the Misalli tribes under one banner. They formed the First Misalli Legion which under Praetora's command conquered all local and global government forces in a one year campaign. When it was all over Hereclisa looked as if it would become the first Misalli Empire, but General Praetora shocked everyone but the Misalli by declaring peace. He made treaties with the government protecting his people's right for tribal government and preventing any form of enforced military service.

Sky pulled his mind back to the present though as the wait seemed eternal, he hardly knew why he bothered. Eventually the secretary spoke the words he had been waiting for "The Admiral will see you now." The elderly gentleman who sat in the room regarded Sky coolly as he entered the room and raised a quick salute. "You may sit Sub-Lieutenant." Sky slowly sat down in the chair in front of the Admiral. "I am Admiral Calliope, I command Aries harbor bastion. You have been summoned here because of your record at the Academy, the time you spend aboard the Battleship Nemian & your promotion record whilst in the academy."

The Admiral stopped to move a small box across his desk. "The Master of the Academy has recommended that you be given the chance to walk The Gold Path." Sky had never heard of any gold path so had no idea what the Admiral was talking about. The Admiral pressed a few buttons on his desk and a view port opened on the wall behind him. Floating almost ethereally outside the view port was a small scout ship. Its hull was a bright shade of grey with an image of lightning bolt painted on its side. "This is the HSS Bolt, scout runner for the Harbinger HSS Demi-God. It will be your first command."

Sky was stunned, most officers had to wait several years to gain a command post. He looked past his small ship to see the gigantic ship floating further out into the orbiting harbor. The ship was a large ship of war. It was the kind of ship that could act with authority against most ships in the galaxy.

"Thank You, Sir" Sky just about managed to say. The Admiral produced a glass of water he held obviously had in waiting. Sky gratefully took it and drained its contents. "You'll have to accept a promotion to Lieutenant-Commander if you're to take up the post." The Admiral's face held a rather dignified grin as he opened a box to reveal two silver bars for each shoulder to signify his new rank.

"Congratulations Lieutenant-Commander Praetora." Sky was going into shock with the unexpected news. He took a few steadying breaths before speaking. "Thank You, sir. You won't regret giving me this opportunity." The Admiral nodded "I'm glad you realise what an opportunity this is. You see the Gold Path isn't just up to your first command if you do well at your job you'll be promoted quickly, but if you do not you'll be left where you are. If you are left, it will most likely be for a very, very long time." Sky was already feeling the weight of responsibility pushing down on him already. "You should go and make yourself acquainted with your ship. My secretary will give you your commission documents & orders. Good luck Lieutenant-Commander Praetora."

The Admiral waved his hand to the door and Sky realized that his brief moment with the man of power was over. As Sky walked out of the office he took the two silver bars out of the box and began to attach the markings of authority to his shoulder tabs. The secretary looking rather more interested now was waiting for him in front of the desk. "Your orders are here Lieutenant-Commander. Congratulations on your promotion." The tone of the secretary was flat and made the praise sound forced. "There should be a starmen waiting for you outside the Admiralty buildings. The starmen should guide you to the ship." Sky nodded silently and took the proffered data chip. "My name is Philippe Nantes. If you ever need a friend in Admiralty I'll be here." The secretary then presented his whole arm and Sky recognizing the Misalli sign of respect, a symbol of his people. Sky gratefully grasped the secretary’s proffered arm at the elbow as the symbol dictated. "Try to stay alive out there Lieutenant-Commander."

Sky took his leave of his new ally, not that he could really be sure that he was an ally, and headed for the out of the Admiralty buildings and out into the station at large. As he exited the building he was swamped by the bustle of officials going about their business. He was seeing port officials running about their business. He felt a hand land on his shoulder and turned to see a shaven headed man smiling as he towered above him. "Are you Lieutenant-Commander Praetora?" Sky nodded "Leading Starmen Soren, sir." There was a quick salute thrown up at this point then the man continued. "I'm here to take you to the Bolt, sir." The man was looking unsure of himself, as if he didn't know what to do with himself. "Lead on then." Sky said getting fed up of being in the crowd.

Soren walked ahead of his new leader using his bulk to clear a path through the bustle before turning off the main thoroughfare down a small corridor. Sky was deep in thought as he walked and he was wondering how Soren had knew who he was. He voiced his question aloud and received a simple explanation in return. "They told me your name and that you were a Misalli. I just looked out for red eyes, sir" Sky had to smile at the man. His people were generally very reclusive so few people had seen a set of red eyes that they possessed. So to actually have the knowledge and be able to use it was impressive in its own right.

They came to a gangway hatch and Soren lead through into the gangway. Sky looked through the tunnels windows to see his ship awaiting him. The H.S.S Bolt was a tiny thing in comparison to the other ships in the harbor. A ship with a compliment of only 10 crew including himself, but despite the ship’s size and comparative lack of importance it was completely his. His chest swelled with pride at the thought.

As Sky approached the entry port of his ship Mr. Soren stepped aside and allowed him to enter first. The man obviously was not inexperienced when it came to new commanding officers. Sky took a deep breath and stepped into his first command. There was the trill of a single ship's whistle as his foot landed on the metal floor. He heard the crew snap to attention before he saw them. They looked if anything rather mismatched, each impeccably dressed yet looking like their tour of duty had been a hard one.

Sky walked across their front his hand resting on the katana on his hip, looking into the face of each crewman in turn. He saw confusion on some of their faces; resignation on other’s and even contempt on the face of a tall blonde woman. He took a few moments’ longer looking into the face of that blonde woman. She looked like she was a Flovin, the most common race on Hereclisa. “Lieutenant Harmony Dentelle. I’m your first officer, sir!” The words were polite but curt. Sky could tell immediately that this woman did not like him.

“I am Lieutenant Commander Sky Praetora.” He spoke to the entire assembly rather than to the woman, watching the usual look of shock at the infamous name. “I have orders from the Admiralty.”

He lifted the data pad and began to read “Lieutenant Commander Sky Praetora you are requested and required by the admiralty of Hereclisa to take command of the scout vessel HSS Bolt.” He turned to Harmony Dentelle “I hereby relieve you of your temporary command.” Harmony kept her face composed but Sky could see her tense up before she spoke “I am relieved, sir.”

Sky nodded and walked back towards the entry hatch. “Our orders are to report to Captain Nether of the Harbinger Demi-God and act as a scout vessel for that ship. We'll be launching at 12:00 hours tomorrow. Make standard preparations. Dismiss the hands please first officer.” She turned to the assembled crew and dismissed them, sending them through the hatch heading deeper into the ship.

Mr. Soren was the last crewman to leave the entry port. Sky was left alone with his new first officer. “Would you like me to take you to the bridge, sir?” Sky nodded “Please, lead on lieutenant.” She spun on her heel and began to strut through the ship.

Sky saw that she wore high heeled boots instead the more normal standard issue flat boots, it was technically a uniform violation though he saw no point in enforcing that rule right now. She had a graceful way of moving that instead of being attractive in the usual manner that swaying shapely hips were, it seemed slightly intimidating like she was stalking her prey. "How long have you been serving lieutenant?" The woman seemed shocked at the question from the way she visibly jumped "I graduated the Academy three years ago, sir."

Sky smiled she was a young officer too. He thought back to all the things he had been told about captains and first officers. About how there needed to be a rapport for the ship to work well. He decided to take a step into the unknown. "You may call me Sky when we are alone, lieutenant."

Harmony stopped and turned to study this young man. She had searched his Academy record and knew that he was two years younger than herself and yet somehow had been given a command. She had never felt more resentful of anyone in her entire life. His appointment was totally unfair; she had been an excellent first officer to the brutally hard man that was the ship's previous commander, Commander Nile. Yet somehow she had been passed over for promotion in exchange for letting this youngster take charge. "You may call me Harmony if that is what you wish, sir." Her tone spoke volumes, attesting to the fact that she would hate nothing more than to be on first name terms. Sky concealed his disappointment well. "Carry on lieutenant."

The bridge was a tiny room in comparison to the other ships Sky had been on barely 20 feet across and 25 feet long. "This is your command chair sir." Harmony indicated a small rough looking black chair in the centre of the room. He took a few moments to examine the chair. It was his position of command, from where he would have to control the lives of his tiny crew and carry out his orders. The sword holster that stood at the side of his chair wasn't quite tall enough to accommodate his entire sword in its vertical position, but enough of it fit for the item to be practical. Sky sat down in his chair for the first time. It was comfortable yet firm. It was a prop and a tool, something to lean against in hard times and to rest on in the easy times.

He looked around at the crew for the first time. They suddenly seemed skittish as if they were all doing something wrong and had just been caught. Sky looked at Harmony and saw that she had her eyes down as if expecting to be shouted at for not doing something. "If you would first officer, I would like to be shown to my quarters." The sentence was polite, but his tone left no doubt in that it was an order. "They are this way sir."

Two Hours Later

Sky's quarters aboard the bolt were barely better than they had been as sub-lieutenant on the Battleship Nemian. Yet they were his own, his sanctum. The ship's supply logs, disciplinary records, crew roster and other records were being displayed on the one luxury he had never had before, his wall screen. The ship was well stocked and had a full crew compliment, but seemingly ill disciplined to a level he had never seen before.

The record stated that every member of the 12 person crew except for the commander himself had been punished at least once during their last tour. Even his new first officer had received serious two cuts in her rations and even a 2 day continuous watch for insubordination regarding an order from the previous commander. Sky had spent the last half hour studying the record in detail and the conclusion he had come to was that his new crew had been the victim's of a man's love of absolute power.

Despite all the punishments and seeming incompetence of the previous commander the ship a battle record to be proud of. Sky wondered what he could do about it. Here he was taking command of a brutalized group of people. He had to somehow undo the damage that had been done.

He pressed activate the communications panel on his desk. “Captain to the First Officer, join me in my quarters.” He decided against any pleasantries her earlier reaction to his outreach gave told him she need to learn her place and orders that sounded too much like request wouldn't help that. He walked over to his drinks machine and made himself a pot of six spice tea, a Misalli delicacy which he had ordered to be brought to the ship in a large quantity along with his personal effects. His father had always told him ‘A pot of spice tea and good intentions can work wonders in any relationship.’ Sky fervently hoped his father was right. He really needed this woman on his side. Her co-operation would mean the difference between this being his ship or a divided ship.

The buzz from the door told him that Harmony had arrived. The tea was ready and everything was set. "Come in." The door slid upwards to reveal Harmony standing stiffly in the doorway. Sky could sense her discomfort about coming into his quarters. "Please sit down lieutenant." He indicated the small sofa like chair next to his even smaller desk. She sat down gingerly.

"I'd like to talk to you about the crew. I've been reviewing the punishment records. There seem to have been a rather large number of punishments recently and I would like your opinion on why that is.” Harmony’s head lowered slightly as though she had been dreading that question. “Commander Nile was a hard man, sir. He expected everything to be done perfectly at all times and he was not very forgiving when they weren't.”

Sky poured the six spice tea out into the two small cups. He let the gentle aroma waft from the cups and fill the air. “He would punish any mistakes most severely.” Sky pushed the cup towards Harmony and waited for her to take the cup. “There are three reports here of virtual insubordination on your behalf.” Harmony looked as if she had been slapped across the face. “However judging from the records as a whole I am beginning to doubt the validity of those reports.”

Harmony slowly took a sip of the six spice tea. Sky could see the gentle taste washing over her, the slight release of tension in the shoulders, slowing of the breathing. Sky mentally thanked his father for the advice. “I am going to be honest with you lieutenant. I will need your help with the crew. There can’t be any doubts about whether we stand together.” Harmony drained her cup and leaned back into the sofa. “What do you want me to do sir?” Sky opened Harmony’s punishment record on the wall screen, bringing the last punishment report into focus. “This report says that you refused an order given to you by Commander Nile. I want you to tell me what the order was and why you refused to carry it out.”

Harmony placed her cup down on the table and flicked her fringe out of her eye. “He was going to kill helmsmen Willis. He wouldn't activate the ZPE drive when the commander ordered. The dark shift was a long jump and was going to drag part of an asteroid field into the dark matter streams behind us and Wilkins wouldn't do it. He didn't have a death wish. The commander was going to cut his head off, but I parried his sword. He then ordered me to kill Wilkins myself for insubordination, but I refused.” Sky stared into Harmony’s eyes as she spoke, he could see she wasn't lying to him.

Sky thought back to what he’d been taught in the academy about ZPE drives. The ZPE drive was the universal mode of long distance space transport. It was a machine that gathers Zero Point Energy from the limitless background radiation in the vacuum of space in order to power them through space. However the ZPE drive had a high power mode commonly known as Dark Shift. The Dark Shift was when the ship would gain so much power that the acceleration would cause them to slip out of normal space and into the dark matter streams that ran like a maze throughout the universe making up most of its unseen mass. In the dark matter streams the ships traveled at such velocity that they could cover a light year in ten minutes, however due to the fact that in the Dark matter streams time moved much slower when the ships emerge only minute or so will have passed.

Sky sat in silence for a moment; his mind coming back to the reports. They weren't scheduled to be sent to the admiralty with the next batch of reports. Sky had an uncanny feeling that it was being held to be used as blackmail. Sky took Harmony’s punishment record and transferred all traces of it to a memory chip. “I want there to be a fresh start on this ship. I’m ordering you to go through the punishment records. Any punishments that are under similar circumstances to yours I want all traces of them placed onto a memory crystal like this and brought to me.”

He threw the chip up in the air behind him and in one deft motion grabbed his sword and struck the chip out of the air. He could feel the searing heat of the blade as it blazed up to 3000°K, when used in battle the much higher than average temperature heat of his sword would be enough to cause many opponents swords to fail and break. It was a weapon of true strength and grace, light yet deadly powerful. He returned it to its sheath and turned to look at Harmony who was looking visibly startled by the sudden display of violent energy. “You have your order’s lieutenant. So be about them.”

Harmony rose to her feet throwing him a hurried salute before leaving. He gently ran his fingers along the hilt of the blade had been presented the sword by his father and tribal chief after graduating at the top of his class at the Hereclisan Academy. His father had said to him "Every good leader needs a sword to be proud of. It inspires courage in your allies and fear in your enemies." ‘Maybe it can be more than that’ he mused ‘Maybe it can be used to win respect too.’

Chapter 2
Aurora Dancing With The Sky