Conrad's Folly

by Allan Joyal

Copyright© 2009 by Allan Joyal

Science Fiction Story: New Recruit to the Confederacy keeps a journal documenting his own downfall.

Caution: This Science Fiction Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Fa/Fa   Reluctant   Coercion   Science Fiction   .

Message to all Personnel Borneo Military District:

The following is the personal log of Lieutenant Conrad Feldman. This man has been court-martialed for failure to obey a lawful order, cowardice in the face of the enemy, and conduct unbecoming an officer of the Confederacy. Our review of this log shows that many of his faults and failures are highlighted in his own words and this log is being distributed to all personnel so they might review his actions and then improve their own behavior in the future. Consider this a lesson in how not to behave as an officer.

Conrad's Log - One Month after pickup. - Recorded at lunchtime

Finally this stupid transport is arriving at my new home. I've tried wandering the halls a few times, but everyone hides in their pods and I'm getting a bit tired of having only Lilith and Martha to play with. At least they put out without complaint. But where is the fun in having a girl who just lies there half the time. They could at least show the same gratitude they did when I first selected them back at that basketball game. Now they just sit silently all the time.

Hopefully I can find some new pussy on the planet. I don't think I'm going to trade the girls in, but perhaps bringing in a new girl and showing that they aren't the only two women I can fuck might get a bit more energy out of them.

It's strange though. I thought they would be dropping the pod down to the planet, after all that's what this bloody thing did at some earlier stop, but instead they just announced that the transport is going to dock at a station and that we would need to walk to a teleport center. And I finally got this place just right! The bed is perfect with the ties I use to secure Martha before I fuck her tight ass. She hates that and I love to hear her complain as her body orgasms. Lilith likes it too much though, so I need to find a new trick to use on her. Maybe I'll go with a larger cock, I had mine made nine inches long with a decent girth, but I could go for twelve inches, it would serve Lilith right since the tiny little girl already complains that I hit her cervix. She hates the fact that I made her only five foot one, but it did take her down a peg after that first night in the pod when she was so happy to have a sponsor who was shorter than she was.

Well, the AI reported that it's time for us to walk to this teleport room. Martha and Lilith are standing by the door with their eyes on the floor like good concubines, so I should get going.

Conrad's Log - One Month after pickup - recorded at dinnertime

What shit was that? Following the instructions of the announcement, I led my sluts out to the location we were told would be a teleport pad. But when we got to the location, there stood a line of citizens. Most at least appeared to understand that concubines have no place in a line of citizens and had them standing against the wall, but the man in front of me had his arms around the waists of his two concubines and was actually kissing them. Disgusting to show them any affection, that's not why we have them.

It was worse once the line passed through the door and I could see what was going on. Some man in a uniform I'd never seen before waited for the last citizen to file in and then nodded and spoke.

"Thank you, I am Tribune Octavian Walesca. I'm in charge of Civil Service on Borneo. I know most of you have never heard of the Civil Service, so I'll make the explanation simple. I handle all the civilian and concubine affairs on the planet. If you die, I'm the one who has to explain to your concubines that they have no home, unless you prearrange to transfer them upon your death, something I very much recommend. However, today, I'm here because Admiral Himmel and General Montgomery want a human deciding where you are going to live on Borneo."

I heard some idiot shout a question. "I thought we all lived in one location."

The Tribune just looked in the voice's direction for a moment and then scowled. "You obviously didn't read up on your new home. Borneo has multiple townships. Many have no special rules or features, but some are irregular. Your commanders feel that giving everyone a place that can be a community helps increase morale. But that means I have to decide where your pod goes. The AI is perfect if I just want you dropped into a random empty location, but it doesn't check to see if it's dropping a square peg in one of our round holes."

There was muttering, and I looked back at Lilith and Martha who had followed my orders to kneel with their backs against the rear wall of the room. They hadn't reacted to the news, so I looked around at the troubled faces of my fellow citizens. The muttering lasted for a minute and then the Tribune held up a hand.

"I'll make it simple, I'm going to call you one by one, and when I do you can stand up. For most of you, I'll then send you towards the teleporter and the Phosphor will drop your pod. In a few cases I'll have some additional questions before your pod can be dropped."

This was a joke and I spent my time looking around as the Tribune called out several names. It seemed that his story of needing to ask questions meant little since he never did more than look at someone and then waved them towards the teleporter when I heard him call out. "Feldman, Conrad!"

I stood up without a word and saluted, although the Tribune merely waved off my salute. "Sorry, I can see you are marked for the Pebble Beach. Head to the door to my right and bring your concubines." He then said something quietly to the AI.

I turned to glare at Lilith and Martha, and the two ladies jumped to their feet. I smiled for a moment. They had been in their mid-thirties back on Earth. Unmarried secretaries who just happened to be at the game when the pickup started. I'd given them younger toned bodies and both were still adjusting to their new looks. I was thinking of how I might punish them for whatever they must have done when the AI spoke, apparently answering a question from Octavian. "Mary is on her way. Do you want anyone else to come?"

I was walking to the location when the tribune spoke again. "Can I get someone from Theresa's household? There likely will be a few women who can be placed in the Bewu Township and the ladies know the general atmosphere there."

I had reached the door that the Tribune had ordered me to walk through as the AI answered. "I have contacted the household. David is not available, but Monica is willing to show up and see if she can help."

Lilith's giggle caused me to turn away and I missed the answer from the Tribune. Instead I looked into the room to discover that it contained a number of chairs. My concubines were waiting for my order and I waved towards the left wall. "Find a chair and get behind it," I growled.

I turned back to the room, but the Tribune had resumed calling out names so I followed my girls and claimed the chair in front of them. I sat silently with my thoughts as occasional men and women entered the room to claim chairs, eventually there were sixteen of us waiting for the Tribune to enter.

It must have been about three hours before The Tribune finally entered the room. Two women who had not been with him when I left the first meeting chamber followed him. I stared at the women in surprise as neither was wearing a uniform.

The one on his left was short and blond, but still surprisingly pretty. She was wearing a blue mini-skirt and halter-top and looked around the room, nodding to a few of the concubines. The one on his right was wearing a vest that appeared to be made out of the material used in football jerseys. The top was black and had a pink sixty-nine on it. I felt a bit surprised to see that she was only wearing black thong panties below the top. Her long red hair almost reached the floor and swung widely as she looked around the room, paying close attention to the three females in uniform.

I was about to say something, but Tribune Walesca raised his hand. "Let's not make this last longer with questions. I know you want to find your new homes and get settled in. I'll start with the ladies since there are three of you." He turned to the redhead. "Monica, any suggestions?"

To my surprise the redhead giggled. "You're asking me? Theresa or Sophie might be a better advocate for our township." She pulled a piece of her hair and chewed on it for a moment as if thinking and then shrugged. "Oh hell! I guess I've watched David enough. Ladies, the question for you is simple. The powers that be have set up a small township with only female-led households and there are a few vacancies. Most of the ladies are lesbian or at least prefer women when it comes to sex, so right now of the ninety occupied pods in the township; there are only fifty-six men. I guess boss Tribune here wants to fill some of the ten empty homesteads."

One of the three women wearing a ship suit raised a hand. "Are the inhabitants helpful? And will my Marcie and Lola be safe?"

Monica actually giggled. "I'm safe, at least I think I am right now. Most of the citizens living there are in the navy, I think right now only five citizens are at home, the rest are with their ships."

I could hear murmuring flow through the room. I was just sitting in shock. Who was this woman? It sounded like she wasn't a citizen. I wanted to say something, but one of the women in the room beat me to the question.

"Wait! What are you?" I heard someone cry.

The Tribune held up a hand. "I'll answer that. Monica is a concubine, belonging to Commander Theresa Johnston, one of the inhabitants of the township. The household she is in has been one of the smoothest running on the whole planet and Theresa allows me to ask her concubines to assist me when I need it. I don't know the township well, but her concubines do, so they're the best ones to talk about it."

Monica giggled. "I don't know if I'd say I know it well. I don't spend that much time visiting the other pods. Our soccer field isn't finished yet."

I sat back and closed my eyes, trying to come to grips with the strange announcement as the three woman rose from their seats and walked up to the Tribune. Whatever they were talking about meant nothing to me, but I was insulted. Some concubine was offering information to citizens. Concubines are cattle. They are there to be fucked and made pregnant. What lies is this Tribune telling himself? He isn't even man enough to serve in the military.

My day only got worse once the three female citizens left with their households. Tribune Walesca coughed and I looked up to see the other woman looking right at me with a frown.

"I guess its time you learned what is going on," the Tribune said. "Some of the crews of ships assigned to Borneo have requested and received permission to create a new township we are calling Tawau. You are all currently assigned to ships that are part of that township concern. However, not every crewmember lives in the township. They have a standard that they require you to meet before you can move there." He turned to look at the woman next to him. Before he could say more she nodded.

"I haven't been able to walk around and really meet anyone," she said, "But for now, we can accept him, him and him." She pointed at three of the other men before moving to stand by the door.

I sat there in shock as the Tribune nodded again. "Very well, the three who just got pointed out follow Mary to the teleporter. The rest of you will be dropping to Miri Township in just a moment."

The indicated citizens filed out with their concubines following them. I sat there seething and upset until they left the room and this joke of a Civil Service officer spoke one final time.

"I'll make it simple for the rest of you," he said. "I know you all have little fantasies about how you are now great lords and are going to get sex from all the concubines you meet. Just about every new citizen believes that at some level. I have some advice for you though. Leave that idea at the door when you leave. Yes, we do have a brothel on the planet you can use if you want some variety, but the ships you are going to be stationed on have crews that don't support that type of thought. In your pod, you can be the abusive little hard-pricked bastards you have dreamed of being since you received your first CAP score, but you'll find your crew mates look down on you for it and won't be too happy to hear you bragging about your exploits. Now get out of my sight, and I hope I don't have to visit your pods because you've hurt your concubines."

The men I was with filed out quietly. I noticed that none of us looked at our concubines. In most cases the concubines fell in behind their owners without a word, clearly understanding their position in life. Lilith and Martha jumped up to follow me. I wanted to scream at someone, but Tribune Walesca's glare made it clear he had no time for any protests. It was a silent walk to the teleporter where we lined up to head down. As we did, the Tribune had one final set of instructions.

"Listen up. You'll be teleporting down to Miri Township. Your pods are on their way down right now, but it takes about ninety minutes for the pod to land safely, so when you arrive at the teleport center you'll have to wait there. If you want you can look up your orders while you wait, the AI knows that you are new and will want to know which ship you are posted to," the man said. Then the teleporter was turned on and I followed my fellow citizens into the field and to Borneo.

I arrived in someplace that reminded me a bit of an airport waiting area. Once there my fellow citizens quickly scattered throughout the waiting area finding quiet corners to wait in. Their concubines followed, so with a shrug I found a spot in the middle of the room to sit, watching as my concubines knelt on the floor in front of me.

"AI," I called out. "Can you tell me what my assignment is?"

"Ensign Conrad Feldman is assigned to the corvette Pebble Beach as weapons officer. Corvette Pebble Beach is currently in transit to Borneo after undergoing repairs," the AI said.

"The Pebble Beach is a Patrician Class isn't it?" I said.

"Correct," the AI responded. "The Pebble Beach is one of twelve Patrician class ships currently active in the Borneo District. She currently has been awarded one battle star, making her one of three of her class with battle stars in the District."

"Battle stars?" I asked.

"Affirmative, Admiral Himmel discovered an old tradition of Earth wet navies of granting a mark of recognition to ships that performed well in battles or campaigns. The stars would be placed on the ship's flag for use in port and ceremonies. Ships in the Borneo District are now given battle stars to be added to the ship's flags which are displayed at Headquarters when the ships are in port," the AI said.

"Means nothing to me," I grumbled. "At least the commander will be battle ready."

"All officers on the Pebble Beach were killed during a battle at Wolf three-six-seven fourteen days ago," the AI reported. "Master Sergeant George Thatch as acting Bo'sun will be commanding the Pebble Beach on the journey back to Borneo after essential repairs have been completed to allow her to safely transit. The new captain once she reached Borneo will be Commander Jason Toms."

"How much additional repair will the ship need?" I asked.

There was a long pause before the AI spoke. "Corvette Pebble Beach suffered a hull breach that penetrated to the bridge during the battle, additional damage to her power controls also occurred. The repair logs from Ishtar indicate that the ship was returned to full combat readiness, however, the repair station here will want to review the repairs before declaring the ship ready for battle."

That information finally silenced me. I sat there fuming until the AI announced that my pod had landed successfully and provided directions to its new location. I left the waiting lobby with a curse, Martha and Lilith running after me. Tonight, I'll have to show them their place again.

Conrad's Log - Recorded one day after landing

I woke up and had a message waiting. Commander Toms wanted to welcome me to the crew and offered his condolences for not being able to meet me. He said that there were some last minute personnel issues he had to straighten out at headquarters, but that I was invited to a formal meet-the-crew celebration planned for tomorrow, four hours after the Pebble Beach docked at the repair station.

The message was insulting. Here I am, his weapon's officer. The man who will operate the guns in battle, and he just dismissed me because he had to deal with petty personnel issues. What is this place coming to? Where are the glory and rewards we were promised back on Earth?

Conrad's Log - two days after landing - recorded in the morning

Martha refused to get out of bed this morning to make breakfast. She claimed that I was too rough last night and she needed to rest. The dumb cunt is a complete wimp. Lilith at least was willing to follow orders and bring breakfast, but I'm pretty sure that she deliberately spilt the hot coffee on me after I told her to limit Martha to bread and water for the day. I fixed her though. The replicator created a wonderful pair of little devil horns that the stupid slut cannot remove. I think I should give her a tail as well, let everyone know just what an evil bitch she's become in the month since I selected her on Earth. At least there is the big ceremony for the Pebble Beach today. I just know I'll impress Commander Toms.

Conrad's Log - two days after landing - recorded post ceremony

What the fuck was that? I finally get to meet everyone and it was about as military as a circus. How can I be expected to perform in this situation?

I arrived on time, and was actually looking forward to meeting Commander Toms. If he was being given command of a ship that had won battle honors he had to be highly regarded by Admiral Himmel, so I was sure he would be a hard charging man.

Well, Commander Toms is this sandy-haired man who had a completely laidback attitude when I arrived. Rather than a salute he gave me a firm handshake and then waved me into a small briefing room where I found several non-coms hanging around. When I turned to look back at him, the man just shrugged and said. "Patrician's only have a standard crew of twenty-eight including only five officers normally, and we are going to lift with only four officers, so I don't see a reason to keep a huge line of separation between command and crew. We'll have to get to know each other fairly well during the cruise."

"What about command discipline?" I spat.

To my shock, Commander Toms shrugged as a woman with hair just as sandy as his walked up to give him a gentle hug. She was wearing a green outfit very similar to the one Mary had worn during the disaster up on the station. However, it was Toms who replied. "It will be there when we need it as long as you don't allow it to be destroyed. I've been on Patricians since I first arrived in Borneo a year ago, and we have a very good Bo'sun."

I was fuming again, but decided to walk away before I made a fool of myself. I noticed that there were nearly twenty men sitting around, all of them were wearing the rank of Lance Corporal or lower and wondered what I was in for when four people entered. I looked and the leader was a solid man wearing the stripes of a First Sergeant. He gave Commander Toms a sharp salute. "Bo'sun Thatch reporting as ordered sir. I would like to report that the Pebble Beach is safely docked at the repair station and preliminary reports indicate that she will pass inspection by Oh Two Twenty tomorrow."

Commander Toms returned the salute and then nodded. "Thank you Bo'sun. We are now just waiting for the new executive officer and then we can begin the briefing."

The men entered the room and quickly spread out among the others. I noticed that the Bo'sun's three companions all had sergeant's stripes themselves. It felt good to see that there would be some experience on the ship, especially as the Bo'sun looked like an extremely military person after all the slipshod discipline I had been seeing. I was thinking about that when someone slipped into the chair next to mine.

"What do you think of this?" I was asked.

I turned to look and found myself looking at a black man who appeared to be about twenty-two. He shoulder insignia declared him an ensign like myself. I thought for a moment and finally shrugged. "I have no idea. I just arrived at Borneo two days ago, and everything seems so disorganized," I growled. "All I know is that I trained as a weapon's officer on the journey here after my pickup."

The black man's eyebrows rose. "A rookie then. Don't worry; no one will hold that against you. I can't claim any ship experience either. I was based at Moreton until just over a week ago. I had just finished a shift at the proving yard when the AI told me that new orders had been cut and I was transferring to a ship based out of Borneo. They picked up my pod and brought me to Borneo. I arrived last night."

"Where are you living?" I asked. "I understand there are multiple townships."

The man laughed. "Well, I have a thing so I don't live in Bewu. That township is old; General Montgomery set it up during his first month here after a fight between several marines. One of the marines was a lesbian and didn't take kindly to another marine pawing at her concubine. Now, I'm in Miri; in the northwest section of the township."

I nodded. "I'm in Miri, too. I was wondering cause when I arrived some Tribune had a concubine show up to kind of select who could be dropped in a new township. Something about how some ships requested it."

The man nodded. "Yeah, Tewau. I read about it last night, but I don't know much. It was opened only two weeks ago. All I know is that living there is by invite only."

"So what did you do at Moreton?" I asked.

"Not much exciting, man," my fellow ensign replied. "Moreton is the main training and repair station for the navy around here, but they haven't been doing much training, so mostly I've been on crews giving new ships their final workups before we released them to the front. I do know that they were excited before I left. Some big battle occurred just over two weeks ago, and several ships were damaged. They expect some to have to visit for repairs."

I nodded. "The AI told me that the Pebble Beach was damaged in battle, but it sounds like she's going to be back in service almost immediately."

My friend laughed. "It was the same battle man. The damn swarm put up a big fight over a planet and did a number on several ships. They say the repair station they're at can get a corvette back, but AJ, Thena and Morrie need repairs and spares that they don't have, so those ships will get sent to Moreton."

"AJ? Thena? What ships are those?" I asked.

"Bah, I forgot you was a rookie. Sorry 'bout that. Let Maurice Bush learn you something. AJ is the carrier, Andrew Jackson. Thena and Morrie are two of the local battlecruisers, Athena and Morrigan."

"There are ships named after girls?" I said in shock.

Maurice laughed. "We have a whole class out here named after them. The Goddess class battlecruisers, and let me tell you they are tough bitches."

I was about to ask more when a young woman dashed in through the door. I looked up as she saluted Commander Toms. "Lieutenant Bernadette Werfel reporting for duty sir. Sorry for the delay, but the relief command to take the Jackson to Moreton was delayed."

I was shocked that this little wisp of a girl could be a lieutenant. She even was wearing glasses and had all the menace of a church mouse. Small and flat, she reminded me of little Judith Proctor, the little librarian who lived next door and loved to sit outside on the grass reading a book while chewing on her hair. How could this girl command anything?

Commander Toms returned the salute and smiled. "Don't worry about that lieutenant. Bo'sun Thatch tells me that Pebble Beach won't be released until sometime tomorrow morning, so this is just a quick briefing before everyone heads home for one last night on Borneo."

To my surprise the lieutenant smiled. "Good, it will be a nice surprise for Janie to see Thomas and I so soon. She worried about spending six months alone."

I turned to Maurice to ask about that command when Commander Toms stepped to a small podium and cleared his throat. "Please, I know you want to have a final party before we go, but if you can give me a few moments of your attention."

There was a moment of grumbling and then the bo'sun loudly called for quiet and the room fell silent. Commander Toms waited a moment and then resumed speaking.

"Thank you. You are here because you have joined the crew of the Pebble Beach. Now, some of you may be aware that the ship lost most of its complement during the battle at Wolf Three-Six-Seven, and many of the survivors have been transferred to other ships that also suffered heavy casualties, so only Bo'sun Thatch and his three sergeants are going to return from the previous crew."

I turned to look at the Bo'sun who was standing proudly at attention in the back of the room. The other sergeants all were sitting down, but there was an aura of efficiency and purpose in their pose that the other crewmen did not emulate. I thought on this as Commander Toms continued.

"Now our mission is going to be a bit hazardous. We are returning to Wolf three-six-seven on a long-range scanning mission. Rather than jump directly into the system, we'll appear outside the heliosphere and drift inwards following a set of drones we will release ahead of us. Our mission is to count the number of active hive ships in the system. The results of the recent battle suggest that there are more than one Swarm ship operating in the system and we need to know their numbers if we are to stop their advance. We will journey across the heliosphere on a mostly ballistic trajectory lasting about a month. Once this is complete, we will be jumping to Ishtar, where the information will be downloaded and transmitted to Borneo. The final three months of our mission will be to visit three systems on the far side of Ishtar and within area controlled by the Sa'arm. We have reason to believe that the local Sa'arm have discovered some remnants of another civilization as they have started to use new weapons and our mission is an attempt to locate any traces of that civilization. Any questions?"

I was wondering what I could ask to appear intelligent when one of the sergeants spoke up. "Sir, I have two questions."

"Go ahead, sergeant," the commander said.

"First, have you been to Ishtar?" the sergeant called out. I sat there in shock at this stupid question, but the commander merely smiled.

"I can answer that and probably your second question as well. Yes, I have been to Ishtar, I was the executive officer on Nassau when she became the first ship from the district to visit the colony. I know quite a bit about how they perceive things. Now, as to how that might affect you. Yes to anyone having time to work out some deals. Also, and more importantly, I want it clearly understood that abusing concubines while on the Pebble Beach will be punished. And this goes doubly for any of you who won't be bringing concubines because all of yours are pregnant."

I heard a bit of grumbling at that, but Maurice merely shrugged before raising his hand. "Sir, we know that there are a lot of newly unattached concubines. Do you think that one or two might be allowed to board since many of the crew are new and will not have any concubines they can bring if you require them to not be pregnant."

Commander Toms nodded. "I'll consider your proposal, ensign, and check with the Tribune. However, if we do get a few unattached concubines on the ship, they are to be treated with respect and care. I don't want any problems. Understood?"

The Bo'sun growled. "Don't worry, there will be no problems."

I just sat there silently. First, I find out that you can take concubines, but not pregnant ones, and then this commander tells me that I have to treat them with respect. They are toys, not people, but I'll pretend just to please him. I've already found ways to make them docile and leave no marks.

There were no more questions, so after exchanging a short word with Maurice I returned to my pod, for a final night with my ladies. I did have the replicator create me a wonderful red tail for Lilith. She whined the rest of the night about how humiliating wearing it was going to be, but once I placed it against her tailbone and secured it she became much quicker to obey me. I never looked too closely at the design, but it attached about where the tailbone was and the AI told me that it would require a replicated solvent to remove. Lilith is going to wear that tail for the rest of her life, if I get to choose.

Conrad's Log - recorded two days after launch of Pebble Beach

We're finally on our way to this Wolf three-six-seven. I have already discovered just what a wimp Commander Toms is. He didn't even take his command chair until we jumped. Instead he spent the time between launch and the jump kneeling next to private Simmon's chair at the helmsman's station and quietly guiding the idiot through his steps.

We don't even have a tracking officer. The mousy Miss Werfel kept switching between the communications and tracking chairs. God she is annoying. She giggles at everything and is far too familiar with the crew.

The worst was the first night's dinner. Once the ship was underway and in jump space, Commander Toms gave Private Simmon's an order to hold the course steady and call if there was a problem before asking Lieutenant Werfel and me to meet him in the mess hall with the sergeants and Ensign Bush.

I followed but I really had been hoping to stand down. Martha had been almost completely unresponsive in the pod the morning before takeoff, and despite her vocal complaints, Lilith enjoyed my attention too much. She doesn't seem to understand that she's supposed to be a little follower. But the Tribune had agreed to permit eight unattached concubines to go on the trip, since so many of the crew had all their concubines pregnant and therefore could not bring one on the ship. However, I had been on the bridge since the launch and now the dinner meant I could not visit them yet.

But Commander Toms was adamant about wanting his staff and senior non-coms to have a group dinner, so once he felt confident that the ship would remain on course, we left the bridge and headed to the mess hall.

When we arrived I found Maurice standing beside the door looking somewhat bored. One of the sergeants was standing next to him talking about the power-coupling repair that had to be completed after the Wolf battle, but it was clear that Maurice was trying not to be impressed. He looked at me and waved.

"Hey bro! How are things on the bridge?" he called out, stepping away from the sergeant who glared for a moment before shrugging and walking over to Lieutenant Werfel.

"Quiet, but my station is working smoothly," I said. "And my checks before we entered jump space showed all weapons ready to fire."

Maurice just nodded. "Well, the engines are running smoothly. Better than when the Pebble Beach passed through Moreton nine months ago after being finished. Have to give the repair station credit for that."

I could see Commander Toms had completed a quick chat with Sergeant Thatch and was preparing to sit down. Soon everyone was dashing to grab seats and sit down to eat. We sat quickly and the Commander waved towards the doorway.

Immediately several concubines entered carrying trays of food. Commander Toms was served first by a stunningly attractive brunette who was wearing the same green halter-top and skirt combo as the sandy haired woman who I had seen with the commander yesterday. I quickly noticed that the concubines who served Sergeant Thatch, Lieutenant Werfel and one of the other sergeants also wore the skirt outfit, while the other four were in simple shifts.

The concubines served us in silence, with the four in shifts leaving while the other four stayed behind, quietly standing behind the people they had served. Three of them were smiling, but I noticed that Lieutenant Werfel's concubine had a scared look in her face and decided to score points with the commander.

"Your concubine seems a bit uncertain, Lieutenant," I said.

She turned back and sighed, looking at her concubine. "Catherine, I've told you several times since last night. Relax. Janie and Thomas will treat your children well."

Commander Toms seemed interested. "She's new?"

The Lieutenant nodded. "I found out last night that Lieutenant Joseph had left instructions that if he died, she was to be transferred to my care. I'm having trouble convincing her that I'm happy to have her."

Sergeant Thatch snorted. To my surprise he looked back at his concubine and waved her forward, gently guiding her to sit in his lap. "Did her last owner treat her poorly?"

I could see the Lieutenant look back at her concubine who was staring at the ground. She sighed. "I don't know. I do know that she doesn't say much. I brought her along hoping she'd relax a bit."

I watched Commander Toms nod. "I can understand a bit about how that works. The Nassau left a concubine at Ishtar after our visit there. Her owner had died and I understand she was almost catatonic the first night we stayed."

The other sergeant with a concubine waiting behind him looked over. "Do you remember her name? I wonder how she's doing."

Commander Toms shrugged. "I'm afraid I didn't know the names of all the concubines we had on the Nassau. I just remember Commander O'Brien informing me about her transfer to the planet's authority when I observed we were leaving with one fewer concubine than had survived the battle as Ursus twelve."

Another of the sergeants spoke. "I heard about that. Wasn't it supposed to be just a simple smash operation and it went wrong?"

Commander Toms sighed. "That's what we had drilled for. The expectation was no more than one hive ship and few support craft. We were coming in with the hero class Volund and Ivar Vidfamne expected to quickly smash through any opposition and take up a position over the planet until the marines could arrive to dig the Sa'arm out. I've seen the sensor logs and we are still not sure how the officers on the Hearst Castle missed the two partially finished hive ships in orbit around the second planet. It was from there that the attack came that broke through our defenses. We had no Asia or Goddess ships to provide the particle beam point defense against the swarms they sent out at us."

Sergeant Thatch sighed. "That sounds exactly like the Wolf incident, doesn't it Matthews?" Leaning over to speak to the other sergeant who had a concubine waiting on him. "We expected some resistance, but they had more than we expected and caught us from a direction we hadn't anticipated. Once swarm ships get close to a formation Heros become obstacles to missile defense."

Lieutenant Werfel looked surprised. "Is that what happened at Wolf? I just knew there were problems when the Jackson's fighters died all at once. It was like they were swept away by a gigantic wave."

I could see everyone at the table except for Ensign Bush wince. "I hadn't heard about that," Sergeant Thatch said. "But I was working the railguns on the Beach here, and the information we received was confused enough. I'm still not sure how we got out."

Lieutenant Werfel shrugged. "Commodore Sprague ordered all ships to make a vertical break and push their engines to the max to try to make a run to the jump point. He didn't even give a target, just get far enough from the star to jump as quickly as possible."

One of the sergeants looked at her. "How did you know?"

Lieutenant Werfel sighed. "I was working at fighter central when the interceptors were wiped out. My next assignment was damage control, so I grabbed a few ratings and we started trying to clear damage to keep the Jackson moving. I found the bridge and flag bridge opened to space, but his orders were still being relayed by the speakers in auxiliary control. We jumped blind though."

The same sergeant snorted. "And yet we just happened to show up at Ishtar. That was a planned escape!"

Sergeant Thatch shook his head. "No, Timson. The Lieutenant has that part right. I sat in at the ship council's held by the commodore while we were at Ishtar waiting for the repairs to be completed. We emerged at Ishtar because it was the first system in the direction we happened to jump. Several of the ships would have been forced to emerge soon either way. Engines were failing on Sigurd, AJ, and Tintagel Castle, and the Lugh didn't survive once we came out of jump space. Things were bad."

I wanted to say something, but Maurice spoke up asking a question of Sergeant Thatch. "Can I ask why your concubine isn't in a shift, sergeant? Since yesterday I've noticed a few dressed like that and it just doesn't seem right."

"Why wouldn't it be right? My Madeline is a sweet lady and deserves to know that I appreciate her," the sergeant responded. "I can dress her how I like, and I think the outfit makes her look good."

Maurice almost blushed. "Its just ... well..."

The sergeant I was guessing was named Matthews rescued my fellow ensign. "It looks a bit like a uniform doesn't it."

The one sergeant I still had no name for snorted. "Bloody is one, I say. Concubines don't deserve to believe they matter. Besides, it sets a bad example for the new crew. They need to concentrate on the weapons and engines. We need to be ready when we break jump at the Wolf system."

Commander Toms frowned, but nodded. "The last part is true Sergeant Collins. And I'll be conducting several drills before we emerge. However, the most important drills are going to be ones you haven't seen before. We can't win against the levels of force we expect to see in the system, so we have to make like a hole in space."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

The Commander smiled. "We will have to make sure we are emitting as little as possible once we break jump. The drones we are carrying are set up to use pinbeam lasers to communicate their findings back to us, and to self-destruct if they are noticed. Stealth is the key for this mission."

"That leaves me with little to do," I grumbled.

Commander Toms shook his head. "No, you'll have plenty. I expect you to keep the ship ready to engage the enemy immediately if we should be spotted by a scout. You'll be at your station constantly refining firing plans and solutions while the drones send back reports and data. Expect to be busy with interpreting the data as well."

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