Chapter 7 – Belligerent Captain

11 Years Ago

“Hmm, so who do we have here… Captain Rachel Hackett, is that it?”

“Yes, sir! I understand that you’re Major Kaji Saito?”

“That’d be me. So you’re supposed to be the new blood?”

“…This is CSF-1, right?”

“It is. Welcome aboard, Captain.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?”

“…Haven’t you already read my file, sir?”

“Yes, I’ve read your file. It’s fantastic. Better service record than even I had at your age. But we’re going to be working together closely these next few years, and your file doesn’t tell me anything actually interesting about you. What are your hobbies? Any dreams?”

“…I like playing sports. Football and Basketball, mostly. Snowboarding, too, when I get the chance.”

“Oh! Fantastic. I enjoy sports, too, though I prefer Baseball and Soccer myself. Or hiking. Do you like hiking?”

“Somewhat…”

“Great! Great. Well, hmm… have any kids?”

“Uh… no, sir. My wife and I aren’t interested in having kids.”

“Relax, Captain, I’m not trying to hit on you. Still, though. You aren’t interested in having kids? Really?”

“No, sir. And this doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the job.”

“Is that what you think…?”

“Sir?…”

“Just how much do you know about this posting?”

“…I know that it exists because of Colonel Lead, sir. And that you’re in charge. I know that both of you are highly competent, if somewhat unconventional officers.”

“Right, right. Know anything else?”

“No, sir.”

“You don’t even know what ‘CSF’ stands for, do you?”

“No…”

“Then, if I might be so bold, why did you even accept this posting? Lead did give you a choice, didn’t he?”

“Yes, sir. But he said that the confidentiality of the posting meant that I wouldn’t know what it was until I accepted. He did assure me that it had the potential of being equally important to the discovery of the Genesis, however.”

“Of course… figures he’d string you along like this. I bet you also still think that Earthians can’t be Chaotics?

“…Is that not correct, sir?”

“Tch. I really am going to have to explain everything, aren’t I? You’d better take a seat, Captain.”

“Sir…?”

“This whole thing will take a while to explain. Also, I’d like you to hold all questions and comments until the end. But with that disclaimer out of the way…” Saito held out his hand toward Hackett, shaking hers as he smiled. “Welcome to Chaotic Support Fireteam 1.”

*     *     *

Present Day, 3 Days Later

Monday, October 3, AD 2129

“Colonel!”

“…Ah, Major.” Saito glanced over his shoulder as Hackett jogged to catch up with him and then fell into step beside him. “And here I was thinking I was going to beat you to a morning event for once.”

“Keep trying, sir, and I’m sure one day you’ll manage it,” Hackett replied with a smirk.

“Ha!” Saito snorted. “That would practically require me waking up before I even went to bed. I think I’ll pass.”

“Isn’t CSF-1 supposed to be a Spec Ops team?”

Saito rose an inquisitive eyebrow as he glanced up at Hackett. “The hell does that have to do with waking up early?”

“I’m just saying, sir, waking up early is small fries compared to any of the training we’ve been through.”

“Sure. And I can still wake up on a dime, eat half a live frog, and assemble a rifle under freezing rain like I could back then. But that’s in the field! When I’m on base, I want my beauty sleep, damn it.”

Hackett made a noise like coughing, covering her mouth with her hand as she turned away from Saito.

He passed her a suspicious glance. “What’s that, Major?”

“Nothing, sir. It’s nothing.” She shook her head before returning her attention forward, her lips pursed in — what appeared to Saito to be — an effort to suppress a smile.

Outwardly, the Colonel scowled; his subordinate was obviously having a laugh at his expense, after all. But inwardly, he felt somewhat pleased. SERRCom had enough stiff-nosed officers as it was, and he refused to become yet another; the fact that he could exchange friendly banter with Hackett and his other squadmates while still commanding the appropriate respect from them in the field was invaluable to Saito, though he’d be remiss to admit as much out loud.

“Though, for someone who likes his ‘beauty sleep’ so much,” Hackett continued, “you sure aren’t very keen on letting the new recruits have any.”

“Says who?” Saito countered, “this morning’s training session is at 8, that might as well be midday! They’ve had plenty of time for sleeping.”

“I heard that on their first day, you busted into Travis’s nephew’s room and made him do push-ups for not being up by 6.”

“It was the first day. It’s called shock training. Give them a good shock, and they become malleable enough for the following training to actually set in. …Not actual shocks, though. Ah, I forgot to mention that part to Mote…”

“Ah, right, ‘malleable’. If you’ll excuse me for asking, sir, where, exactly, did you hear this training theory?”

“My ass. Now just how long are you going to be grilling me like this, Major?”

“Just checking, sir. Your initial attitude toward the recruits seemed somewhat… uncharacteristic, is all.”

“That’s because I was just channeling the Drill Sergeant stereotype. I don’t actually know how to train recruits, much less Chaotic recruits. I got lucky enough with the Eximius Vir, as is. Both back then and now, I’m just making shit up as I go.”

Hackett cast a sidewards glance at Saito. “Is that why you asked me to help you today?”

“It’s exactly why I asked you to help me,” Saito replied, pointing at the Major as he did so for emphasis. “Now don’t you complain about this either, since I even volunteered to buy you breakfast.”

“Sir, you know that I’m married.”

Saito passed an unamused glance toward Hackett, who simply responded with an amused smirk.

“Not to mention that food on base comes with the paycheck,” the Major added.

“Look, Major, it’s the thought that counts.”

“Is it now, sir.”

Yes, it is,” Saito insisted as he rounded a corner and approached one of the entrances to the mess hall. “I could just send you to go set up for the training session in my stead, while I have a nice, lovely breakfast of… what’s for breakfast today?”

“I think today is oatmeal.”

“Say what?” Saito pulled a face before pushing through the entrance to the mess hall and immediately laying eyes on the serving line. “…Damn, you’re right. Isn’t this supposed to be HQ? Why the hell are we serving oatmeal?”

Hackett shrugged. “Can’t say, sir. I’m not in charge of that—”

“Wait, Saito? Saito!”

“Hmm?” Saito and Hackett both turned around to see who had just called out. At 7 in the morning, the hall was rather lively, but still sparsely populated enough for Saito to quickly spot the man who had just called out to him, and was now waving him over. He had a pale, broad face with a narrow chin, framed by scruffy black hair and a moderate mustache. His brown eyes and dark eyebrows were furrowed, accompanied by slight wrinkles and creases that indicated that the man seemed to keep his brow furrowed more often than not. Seated at the table next to him was a woman with a light complexion and narrow eyes, accompanied by shoulder-length black hair tied back in a loose ponytail. She wore on her face a stern and unamused expression; much like the man, something about it seemed rather normal for her.

Saito scowled the moment he recognized them: Chief Captain Michael Krick, the Captain of the Battlecruiser BC-1 ESC Genesis; and Captain Zhu Tang, Krick’s second in command. The Colonel promptly turned around to face the serving line as he whispered to Hackett, “quick, pretend you didn’t notice them—”

“Saito! Damn it, get over here already!”

“…I don’t think you’re getting out of this, sir,” Hackett commented as Saito let out a sigh of defeat. The Colonel then forced a small smile and turned around to approach Krick and Tang, seated as they were at one of the mess hall tables.

“Oh, Captain. Didn’t see you there,” Saito remarked.

“Didn’t see me my ass,” Krick growled. He crossed his arms and stiffened his back as he looked up at Saito, who stood across the table from him with his hands in his pockets. “You’ve been fucking ignoring my goddamn messages, haven’t you?”

“…Oh, you messaged me? Whoops, I didn’t realize!” Saito scratched the back of his head and let out a small chuckle. “Guess I should really check those more often, huh?”

Krick simply responded with a scowl and a glare; next to him, Tang also seemed unamused, though Saito couldn’t quite tell if it was due to him or her breakfast. Guess Krick saw through me, the Colonel thought to himself miserably.

“Is there something you wanted to tell us, sir?” Hackett questioned.

“You could say that,” Krick replied irately. “Colonel, do you realize just how much goddamned work goes into a fucking Dead Space mission?”

“5 days of retrofits,” Saito responded.

“5 days of retro—! Uh, er, yes.” Krick paused for a moment, surprised by Saito’s quick response, but he immediately launched back into ranting. “That’s right, 5 god damned days! And it’s not just the fucking retrofits that I’ll have to contend with now. We’ll have to do this whole goddamned process again when we get back, too! Do you know how much of a pain in my goddamn ass that is?!”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me exactly how much.”

“You trying to play a smart-ass, Colonel?”

“Don’t you get uppity with me, Chief Captain. My paycheck is just as big as yours.”

“Tch! You—!”

“All due respect, sir,” Hackett cut in, momentarily drawing Krick’s attention away from Saito, “I’m not a naval officer, but isn’t 5 days actually rather short, as retrofits go?”

Before Krick could say a word, Tang responded from beside him. “That would be correct.”

“What—!” Krick snapped his gaze toward his second in command. “The hell? You suddenly on their side, Tang?”

The Captain sighed as she finished her oatmeal. “I said no such thing,” she eventually replied, “I merely confirmed that 5 days is a fairly short time for a retrofit. I never said that I liked the idea of running a Dead Space mission.” She turned her attention toward Saito and Hackett, her expression stern as she continued, “there are a number of reasons to dislike the mission before us. The length of the retrofitting process, however, isn’t one of them.”

“True, true…” Krick nodded, and then returned his glare to Saito and Hackett. “Like the fact that goddamned Genesis is being used as a fucking ferry! Me, the Captain of the most advanced ship in the whole damn fleet, and the former flagship, and the source of most of our goddamned technology — and I’m being reduced to ferrying around a bunch of fucking ground teams?!”

Saito rolled his eyes. What Krick said was largely true — Genesis was indeed one of, if not the most advanced ship in the entire SERRCom fleet, but that was through no feat of Earthian science or engineering. Rather, Genesis simply appeared in space over one of SERRCom’s colonies twenty years ago, with no crew or origin to speak of. In fact, the state of the ship’s systems and hard drives at the time suggested that she hadn’t even existed for longer than a couple minutes before SERRCom discovered her — it was like she had simply materialized out of thin air. The ship’s construction style and aesthetic matched the few ships that SERRCom had at the time, but she was far larger than any other SERRCom ship as well as significantly more advanced than most ships in the galaxy, even outside of the Earthian Territories. Her FTL Drive was (and still is) the fastest in the galaxy, her beaming systems revolutionized planet-to-ship transportation, and her Absolute Cloaking System (known as ACS) made her completely imperceptible to every sensor technology in existence — and that was just a number of the advanced technologies the ship possessed. However, as Genesis wasn’t actually constructed by SERRCom, or by any other race in the known galaxy, SERRCom initially had no idea how to reproduce her systems and technology. In the two decades since, several of her systems had been retro-engineered to varying degrees, but the ship still stands as SERRCom’s most advanced, and is well-known across the entire galaxy for the technological revolution she kick-started. The position of Captain on board Genesis is one of the most competitive in all of SERRCom, and anyone who earned it was undoubtedly a top-notch naval officer… so Saito knew that Krick had to be competent in some fashion. Krick’s father had even been the very first Captain of Genesis, so it could be said that the position was in his blood. But even so…

“Krick…” Saito crossed his arms as he stared impatiently at the Battlecruiser Captain. “Has anyone told you what a royal pain in the ass you are?”

“All the damn time. But I get the goddamn job done, so in the end, who fucking cares?” Krick huffed. “What matters is that your stupid-ass Dead Space mission is going to end up crippling my ship. And that’s just from fucking existing! Can you imagine if we end up in combat?”

“That’s funny, I seem to recall a certain Captain claiming that the Genesis could single-handedly fight off five Drakkar Cruisers at once.”

“…Well, I mean… normally, yeah…”

“What the Captain means to say,” Tang cut in, “is that the ship will handle and need to be handled differently. Without Chaos Energy, our anti-gravity systems won’t work, so we can’t land on the planet’s surface, and our only stationary orbit option is geosynchronous. Our ACS won’t be functional, either, so stealth is out the window; and our sensors won’t be as accurate, so it’ll be just that much easier for the enemy to sneak up on us. Plus, the IFF recognition for the Shock Transmitters will be offline, making them unsafe to use. That is a drastic decrease in Genesis’s anti-missile and fightercraft defenses. And I don’t think I need to point out that the Chaos Cannons won’t work in Dead Space, either. That’s nearly fifty percent of our firepower, gone.”

Saito held up his hands to halt Tang’s barrage. “Alright, alright, I get it. Dead Space is bad news, and we shouldn’t get into fights.”

“Shouldn’t stick around too long, either!” Krick exclaimed. “Without anti-grav, the stress on the ship’s frame will be far greater than usual. If we spend more than one goddamned week in Dead Space, then Genesis might never be space-worthy again!”

“The Genesis survived the last Chaos Quake just fine, I’m sure it can take one more week.”

“The Quake put her out of commission for almost a fucking month! This damned mission will be the first one she’s seen since the Quake, and it’s a god damn Dead Space mission, at that!”

“You just never shut up about Dead Space, do you? At least Captain Mendoza didn’t blast me with a thousand messages about this shit.”

“So you did get my messages!”

“Tch…” Saito sighed and shook his head. “Look, Captain, if you’re gonna shove a stick up your ass and scream about this then at least do it to the General. I didn’t assign you to this damned mission.”

“No, but it’s because of your fucking kids that the mission exists in the first place.”

“Kids…?” Saito questioned, confused. Then recognition dawned on his features, followed by irritation. “The Eximius Vir aren’t kids. They’re 22!”

Krick snorted in derision. “Still counts.”

“You just have to be miserable about everything, don’t you?”

“From a mechanical and operations standpoint, Mote, Kate, and Danielle all could be extremely useful to the Genesis,” Hackett pointed out. “Sir, surely even you can realize how helpful their abilities could be?”

“Not nearly helpful enough to offset the cancer I’d catch from playing babysitter,” Krick spat.

“They wouldn’t be helpful on this mission, anyways,” Tang added. “For the same reason that Genesis will be crippled: Dead Space.”

“And those damned Black Suns will be equally useless.” Krick’s perpetual scowl deepened even further as he shoved a finger in Saito’s face. “That might just be the worst fucking part of this goddamned mission. Black Suns! On my ship! Goddamn mercenaries. You better watch your goddamn back, Colonel, I’d bet my ass that those for-hire military wannabes will find a way to screw you over, even in Dead Space!”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Saito responded impatiently as he shoved Krick’s hand away. “Like you said: we’ll be in Dead Space, so they won’t be able to use their Chaotic abilities. We’ll be on a level playing field.”

“That’s not quite true, Colonel,” Tang countered. “Black Suns powered armor and infantry arms are stronger than anything SERRCom has, even in Dead Space. Your usual Chaos Armor won’t work, either, so you should talk to someone about getting your hands on regular electrical armor.”

“I appreciate the concern, but I’m already aware of that,” Saito replied. “Now is there anything else that the two of you want to shout about? Or can the Major and I have our breakfast in peace now?”

“I’ve said my piece.” Krick grabbed his cafeteria tray and stood up from the table, revealing that he was taller than Saito, but still slightly shorter than Hackett. “But you better fucking remember everything I said, Colonel, because I won’t fucking say it again!”

“I’m sure you won’t,” Saito deadpanned.

“Good!” Krick remarked, and then spun around and started off toward the exit of the mess hall. “Now come on, Tang. I want to make sure those dumb bastards up at the space station aren’t fucking up my ship!”

“Yes, sir,” Tang replied, but made no effort to hurry her pace. She neatly placed all of her eating utensils on her tray, grabbed it, and stood up with surprising grace before turning toward Saito and Hackett. “Colonel, Major.” She nodded in acknowledgment. “…I apologize for the Captain’s attitude. But I do agree with the core of his message.” She then turned around and headed off toward the exit, casually depositing her tray in the dirty bin and pushing through the doors after Krick.

“…Finally, some damned peace,” Saito muttered.

“Captain Krick is… quite a character, isn’t he?” Hackett remarked.

The Colonel passed her an unamused glance before turning back toward the serving line.

“Still, though,” Hackett continued as she followed him, “he wasn’t just complaining. He did try to offer us advice, in a rather roundabout way.”

“I don’t need advice from a child-hating space sailor,” Saito countered.

“He is the Captain of the Genesis, sir. There must be some value to what he said.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

The two fell into momentary silence as they grabbed trays and moved into the line for food.

“…That said, sir,” Hackett eventually spoke up, “…maybe you could look into getting us on the Origin instead. I hear Captain Mendoza isn’t nearly as bad as Krick.”

“Ha!” Saito let out a loud chuckle. “Not a bad idea, Major. I’ll see what I can do. But in the meantime, we’ve got some training sessions to prepare for. Now, here’s what I think we should focus on today…”

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