Week 39: Mere Formality [Unedited]

"Even still," Captain Borcuk addressed the scene of spreading chaos from Dio Qze's surface that Solstice Satellite made available to their eyes across the view-screen which also doubled as a window in her office, "the Space Force is stretched a little thin right now. As you know, the war with the New Alliance is right over the horizon, but we've come upon another approaching threat, and a third one is looming."

"Another...and a third?" Boyd had been undercover for so long that he was also out of the loop.

With a nod of sincerity, the Captain explained, "Believe me, I feel for Galaxy Bloc," before switching the visual on the view-screen up to her justification for denying Boyd's immediate request when saying, "but this takes precedent."

Peculiar Class vessels were the Doran Aristocracy's answer to a Space Force spacestation. At only three hundred and fifty meters long, they were regal-looking ships from the sight of their rounded thruster and wing sections. More sculpted than assembled, the design was both elegant and powerful. Each had a cockpit section that protruded nobly out the center. All in all, a Peculiar Class vessel looked like a well-formed 'W' with ellipsoid features. And there were hundreds of them.

Judging by the Peculiar Class vessels' travel trajectory through a particular void of space that Boyd knew he realized, "They're trudging through Explorigvasun on path to here - the Quadron System."

"Yep," Captain Borcuk said simply. They all understood the Aristocracy to be the sworn enemy of the New Alliance during this incredible Doran civil war which was about to suck the Space Force right into the middle of the skirmish, but the approach could only be taken as aggressive by the sheer number of ships and hostile by the stark absence of a diplomatic invite.

"Is that a Space Force spacestation out in front of that mass of Doran ships?" Lalia asked.

Looking over to the right was unnecessary because the Captain already knew the answer to the question, "That is indeed SpaceStation Colt leading what we estimate to be one-third of the Doran Aristocracy fleet back to Solstice Satellite," but she still had trouble, herself, coming to terms with it. "We believe that their captain was turned and is now acting out an agenda which has little to do with our interests."

"The captain was converted to a Doran?" Boyd stated out of disbelief more than any questioning of the situation.

"Certainly, these types of things have happened before," Captain Borcuk replied, "as I'm sure that's why your group exists and I often find my ship providing passage without fully comprehending the reasoning."

And Boyd had to concur with the assessment, "No, it's not surprising - just bold for the Aristocracy to be tipping their hand like this. You said that there was a third threat?"

With a sigh, the Captain mustered the breath to enunciate, "Two words: Pillorian Regime."

This meant that half of the four most powerful factions in the universe were now actively engaged at odds with the Space Force, and Lalia did not need secretive intel or the heads-up from Boyd to sense the approaching gravity of the situation, "Oh my gosh."

"It's a good thing that we patched things up with the Slorgs," Boyd added because three megapowers against one would equal incalculable odds which could see the Space Force easily defeated. It might take years for the campaign to complete, but such militaristic pressure was insurmountable and the morbid result of trying (to withstand that) was unavoidable.

"Slorg relations still remain in the state of being a tentative ceasefire, at best," Captain Borcuk admitted before alerting, "but the Pillorians just threw that all into flux." SpaceStation Konxerus had been instrumental in providing the transport for the surgical tact of the Space Force's pre-black ops special operations missions back then. Some of the current Enforcers, including Boyd and Cheapshot, were a part of the splinter group's earliest rendition. She had been at the spacestation's helm during that war as well, so the potential for a failed partnership with the Slorgs brought back bad and painful memories of a clash that everybody was trying to forget.

"But all the work between our two peoples," Lalia acknowledged, "it can't just be thrown out the window like that."

Meeting Lalia's concern with a positive spin, the Captain mentioned, "You'd hope that our alliance with the Slorgs was built upon something more secure - a stronger foundation. Basically, the Pillorian Regime attacked and destroyed the joint terraforming venture out at Botswarra Outpost. They killed everybody - Human and Slorg alike, razed the recently terraformed planet Botswarra, and destroyed SpaceStation Thelion in the process. All this was done with one Ethereal."

Boyd dismissed the meaning of the occurrence - not its significance, "That's just posturing though. Everybody knows how powerful the Ethereals are. They rarely even have to do their own work because of the sway that they hold over zillions of lower beings who worship them. A message had to have been sent behind what seems on the surface like random violence because there's no word in their vocabulary that even sounds like 'unconsidered'."

"I agree," Captain Borcuk provided the caveat, "and that message might not be aimed at us, but the Slorgs may consider this partnership to be more trouble than it's worth. Nobody quite seems to know how either side (who'd been affected by this) will respond, and even our leadership's been uncomfortably mum on everything.

By the way, the Pillorian Regime was sighted on Earth and Second Earth, so they're not going away either. We'll eventually have to respond to their constant, blatant, and disrespectful encroachments - celestial deity or no.

It's because of all this stuff that we've been scrambling to reposition our own fleet. It also means that the government line on the unincorporated planets shifted as well. When you linked back up with SpaceStation Konxerus, we were actually on the way to provide support for a couple of your counterparts. Cindra Rondy and Neckbone are stationed on Veniums 3, keeping tabs on the election cycle and working to ensure that a Space Force loyalist emerges among the battle royal between the incumbent Dominar Verasco and an interestingly backed plus well-funded challenger in Mordo."

"Yes, the pressure that we've put on them is significant," Boyd stated. "It's causing fractures within the Galaxy Bloc governmental structure to appear. They've become desperate, obviously. Some see the Deew as a means of cementing their sovereignty. Others want a total change in direction which might prove favorable from a Space Force perspective. To be honest, I'd call this a distraction too..."

The Captain read his mind and offered the next word, "But?"

Boyd broke off into a subtle sales pitch during his continuance of also a veiled plea, "...but if we can get our arms around this whole biological weapon debacle, it may give us the necessary leverage to be able to more directly influence the outcome of that election."

"That's," Captain Borcuk prefaced, "not normally my call..."

"But?" Boyd played off their most previous exchange.

The Captain had not survived in the Space Force this long by questioning orders or second-guessing the megapower's hardened stances on a myriad of different subjects. She might not have agreed with everything that was commanded of her, but this type of mental disobedience was limited only to thoughts and never a topic for open, outward discussion. The spacestation along with the juiciest assignments came about because of how their own politics were played. And much of her dealings with the Enforcers happened to be predicated upon a need-to-know basis, but there was no denying the fact that she was more in the know than most.

Every once in a while, G-Pile or Cheapshot would come around with cryptic assignments and muddled if not just unmentioned objectives. Perhaps in a few years, Captain Borcuk might look back on all this and wonder what all she had truly been a part of. But then again, her pay was good, and a peaceful retirement plus the idea of tackling new experiences would likely take precedent over any second thoughts. Pilots, sailors, and soldiers followed orders. However for her, this was more oriented toward the self-serving end of the spectrum rather than any sort of duty aspect.

Being the captain of SpaceStation Konxerus was comfortable - protected. Only fools would take for granted such a position or disregard its obvious caveats. The Captain could be easily replaced at any time of the Space Force's choosing, and quite honestly, the life expectancy of captains in general throughout the megapower was shortening by the day, so she bided her time and built up her nest egg. This was really no different than the plight of any other civilian person who did not happen to be enlisted but still fought vicious battles out in the corporate workforce - playing the game in order to survive, all the same.

Having been able to see multiple tours made Captain Borcuk one of the most revered captains in the Space Force's short history, but this was much less about luck as it was much more about personal positioning. She had been a party to a lot of treacherous and unspeakable missions during that war with the Slorgs and kept her mouth shut. She had racked up untold and disavowed body counts of targeted enemies and kept her mouth shut. She never asked because her superior officers were not about to tell. They never planned on telling because she would have been eliminated for asking. This had nothing to do with nonissues like orientation unless orientation now had something to do with obtaining tenure.

The ability to turn a blind eye but keep an open mind had served the Captain well over the years, so she humored, "...but I might be willing to make an exception in this case if you can net me enough justification to do so. I don't mind taking on some Carriveaua, and to be honest, they've had it coming for a while now, but diverting the spacestation's attention away from Venimus 3 - even for an instant, could put the lives of your fellow operatives in further peril. I'm sure that they'd be fine, but what you-all do is precision-tuned, and my not adhering to the schedule of a needy timetable might prove disastrous."

All the Enforcers were doubly empowered to make decisions, so this request was not at all reaching, but Captain Borcuk was correct. Boyd needed to give her a reason to order SpaceStation Konxerus into a squabble between what were currently considered by the Space Force to be two petty annoyances. With the New Alliance continuing to prep away for an all-out assault, the Doran Aristocracy bearing down on Solstice Satellite with a traitorous high-ranking Space Force official as their lead, and an incensed Pillorian Regime becoming increasingly more unhinged in their ruthless actions throughout the universe; being remiss in performing duties had the possibility of becoming a death sentence for not only the parties involved but the entire megapower as well.

The Captain was seasoned though. She had known Boyd for a while (again dating back to the war with the Slorgs) and was well aware of his ambition. Look at them: They were discussing extremely classified Space Force intel in front of Lalia, a civilian. These happened to be the types of things which were not taken lightly nor accepted broadly. And yet, this conversation continued to flow openly. Her position on the subject was not so much solidified by intrigue as it was mutual respect. The Enforcer might have very well been in line to be the commander of the spacestation with a sparkling résumé and an exemplary service record to match. Looking out for him was just about as important as watching her own back by not standing in his way because he sought out power too - for reasons that she did not quite understand. As with the megapower, those reasons were irrelevant, but yet and still, things needed to be handled the proper way.

"I'm not asking for assurances, but I kinda am," Captain Borcuk announced. "Can this be done without the use of our Class III Fighter pilots' assistance? Outside of yourself, for a mission that I don't even know about, I can't accept any casualties from the crew.

I've got an ETA of two days to reach Veniums 3, but we're not really taxing SpaceStation Konxerus' engines at the moment. Can this operation be completed successfully in one day's time?

And how positive are you that this Deew can gain us positive sway in the unincorporated planets' political structure if we manage to get the situation under control? You'd mentioned before that this Janette Ueberrhein was willing to die rather than suffer any additional moments of our involvement.

Help me to understand the business case, and I'll turn this spacestation around right now. A second opinion on the matter might also help."

Boyd did not much mind being lectured to so long as the person on the other side had heard him out initially. What the Captain happened to be asking for was reasonable and not at all unexpected. To even get permission to blow Dio Qze up, justification would be required. The Space Force was pretty much without equal in the universal scheme of things, but some instances of checks and balances still remained - namely the 'cover your as-' precedent. And like it or not, the Enforcers technically did not exist, so any overt involvement by the megapower to assist them became a tacit endorsement of their operations. Dire ramifications went along with being linked to such a politically unscrupulous undertaking. Every faction did something similar, and the court of public opinion was a laughable jurisdiction of jesters, but slipping up and leaking this connection could be the catalyst to the Pillorians (or more specifically, the Ethereals), the Slorgs, and the Dorans teaming up along with many more of the smaller factions to overpower the lone major faction of the Humans. In the wake of its trickling ashes and simmering embers, Galaxy Bloc would probably be swept up in the culling too.

All eyes were on Boyd, including Lalia's. He had just come back to her, so she knew that his next few answers were either going to cement another hasty departure or potentially keep him around a little longer - although unhappily. Their relationship was odd, but this was perhaps why it continued to work. For being the man of the house, the Enforcer was rarely ever around. He was constantly around other women of esteem, power, and wealth in his daily travels but remained uninterested in anything from the infidelity column. For him, work was the master.

But Lalia was Boyd's mistress, and as long as he continued to return to her, she seemed aptly satisfied. Irrespective of how normal relationships went when a spouse or partner happened to be in the service, nobody from G-Pile to Cheapshot to Captain Borcuk could figure out what the Enforcer's lady friend was getting out of this. Financial security? Sentimental emotionality? Sexual gratification? They were all perplexed and too intrigued to stand in the way of what appeared to be a different kind of love. The couple looked happy on the surface. She was apparently well-adjusted to this fast-paced lifestyle and in record time too - settled down with no complaints in a matter of months but also from the start. If there was any concern for his well-being, her ability to mask those worrisome feelings served to keep his superior officers off guard.

Nothing existed in that last paragraph which could be used against Boyd or Lalia. But between her and the reader of this story, her man still had a job to do. She realized that but also recognized that their present-day limbo would not cease until he could rid himself of the Enforcers, the Space Force - all of it. The Enforcer already had her support, but even more than that, he had his orders from her and sought to carry out his lady friend's desires accordingly.

Rather than surrender his soul to the Space Force, Boyd handed it over willingly to Lalia. And in this universe, the only truer love would have come from giving up one's soul for their partner. Her background was modest with relatively smooth sailing and no waves having been made. Their game faces were impeccable, but there was no secret as to why the Captain decided to play ball here. The Enforcer and his silent partner were constantly under surveillance but never slipped or divulged their hand, so it was best to kick this can of worms down the road (or in this instance, up the chain of command) in order for somebody else to have to deal with it. At the end of the day, he got results - consistently.

Besides, Captain Borcuk was wise enough to know better than to stand in Lalia's way. Men who were willing to give up everything for their women were dangerous, but a woman who did not take this potential sacrifice for granted was even more so.

Confidently, Boyd went into things as he saw them, "I got in once. I can at least get back in for a targeted extraction again. SpaceStation Konxerus should be more than enough to handle however many Carriveaua ships are out there. We don't need to use any of your fighters for this.

If we're there for more than a few hours, the mission's lost anyway. Give me twelve hours of your time - tops.

I'm positive about the effect of the biological weapon. Certain elements within the unincorporated planets aren't concerned with being taken seriously any longer. They're looking to rewrite the supply chain, so that they can start dictating the details of universal commerce. This likely wouldn't affect the Space Force - even in the long term, but Galaxy Bloc would become a player by default. Once vetted by other factions, they'd form a point of competition which could cause us to become at least uneasy. And you'd better believe that getting a handle on the Deew will not only sway votes but their autonomous direction.

Now, I've got an inside presence on Dio Qze, but that's not exactly going to provide you with an independent assessment. I'll make my minicomputer tapes available to you of the conversations that I held with the lead botanist as well as my encounter with the Carriveaua operational general. That should be all the proof you need to show that what I'm saying holds the potential for greater strategic achievements."

After all, Boyd was paid to be a salesperson first, and he had instinctively keyed in on all the hot points. But the Captain was methodical always and had been granted twelve hours by the Enforcer's relinquishment of the additional time, so she decided, "I'm going to review your information and get back to you."

"Thank you, Ma'am," Boyd replied before turning around to exit the office. He had to accept those terms unconditionally. Maybe the final decision might be favorable. Perhaps not. In the end, there would be no regrets as the Enforcer represented himself and his beliefs well. Oftentimes, the verdict which came down from leadership could absolve an individual of personal obligation. That would not be the case in this particular instance, so he would wind up being well within his dynamic scope of responsibility to be able and allowed to go at things alone.

Through all the dutiful nonsense of being given and following orders, this one would still be on Boyd. Any failure of Dio Qze to weather this tropical depression would be owned by his conscience. Sure, he presented a set of circumstances which could satiate both the Space Force's pointed aims of wanting to be the universe's police and the unincorporated planet's undeniable yearn to remain independent of such an overreaching status quo, but the megapower was well within its rights of prioritization to not care about the burgeoning faction that shunned it while this upstart faction was stubborn, proud, and probably would not accept and bit of the Enforcer's help - even in the face of death.

"Captain," Lalia, the civilian, nodded confidently in deferential respect before also turning around to trail her man out the office. She had no doubt that his superior officer would come to the right conclusion regarding this situation. One did not survive that long within the Space Force by being a mindless drone despite Cheapshot's preference for subordinates and best efforts to try and spread such drabness. However, those who managed to not only survive but persevere inside a culture of deceit knew how to pick their spots and shine brightly at times to garner individual notice, impress, and make the people who had the say over their fate look good. Attempting to tie up an elusive loose end like the Galaxy Bloc succession angle with as massive a vine as the biological weapon could only help. By the same token, attempting to stand in the Enforcer's way would only hurt. This was the real choice that the spacestation's captain was being left to ponder.

When the door slid closed, the Captain switched the view-screen away from the visual of the Doran Aristocracy's bee-line for the Quadron System that she luckily was not tasked with having to deal with (yet). Returning the picture to the scene of chaos on an increasingly more botanically ravaged Dio Qze displayed the most immediate concern. Her mind had already been made up on the matter, but the pressure of Lalia's shadow was unnerving. The prospects of delaying the final decision a couple hours created an illusion of having some added sense of control over these proceedings where clearly the facts did not support that claim and honestly stated otherwise. Boyd and his lady friend knew better, but they were not the only ones watching yet fully albeit silently understood the need to draw things out a bit for the interested, other prying eyes from those parties that might also be tuning in randomly.

Discussions about dignity did not enter in here. The job description for a captain was an unwritten set of rules that Captain Borcuk had personally authored by the sheer extent of her experience in navigating the Space Force hierarchy all these years. She would have liked to have been more of a shot-caller at this stage in her arguably successful career, but being the handpicked go-to person for various, powerful individuals among the megapower meant that her work was invaluable - not irreplaceable.

Nobody was, and the Captain would not have lasted nearly as long believing (like most management seductively preached) that she was part of the 'team'. Laughable. Her main job had nothing to do with commanding SpaceStation Konxerus but making sure that her superior officers' decision to get rid of her was a difficult one. At the end of the workday, everybody could sit around and boohoo about the workplace, but with all things being considered and weighted appropriately as equal based off personal tolerance for hardship, there was always somebody less fortunate.

From where Captain Borcuk sat, those who were hurting right now happened to be the citizens of Galaxy Bloc and the inhabitants of Dio Qze in particular. Yet she held no more pity for them than she would for herself being thrust into a similar situation through a series of poor and haughty moves. Suffering occurred all over the universe, and her goal, all along, was to not end up the same way. Boyd and Lalia would have their spacestation escort; the ship would be back at Venimus 3 in time to coincide with Cheapshot's orders; and by the end of things, the Space Force could be much stronger for her efforts which should please G-Pile.

Not all that different from the Captain's plight, Boyd and Lalia were also thrust into a certain limbo where obligation prolonged their agony by stymieing freedom and dereliction might very well be the cause of their deaths - setting them free by default of a next life (and even that was no longer promised with the Ethereals being so enraged). But his superior officer chose this lifestyle. The Enforcer, on the other hand, had this lifestyle selected for him, and that difference not only needed to be noted but made clear.

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