Sky Marshal Theodore Valister Magriffin briefs the Blackhawk crew.
Just then, the doors at the end of the hall slid open. While straightening his gray uniform jacket, which looked awfully tight around his middle, the sky marshal strode into the conference room. To think, this man was the driving force of her majesty’s royal interstellar navy. Essentially, he WAS the navy— and quite possibly no less powerful than the queen herself. It was very rare indeed that he was actually seen in person. He usually was out and about, on some diplomacy hearing or mediating a trade dispute, or overseeing relief efforts of some sort.
For three of them, this meeting was the first time they had seen with their own eyes Sky Marshal Magriffin. He was every bit a wonder as anyone might imagine. His smooth red hair was cropped at the sides and a neat handlebar mustache laid across his upper lip, trimmed and pointed to perfection. The gray and black uniform covered broad shoulders and a large, muscular chest, the left side of which was encrusted with various bits of metal and ribbon.
He was also pretty well handsome for his age—at least Vicky was enamored enough to think so. She quickly found out that she could not look at him without going red about the cheeks and neck, poor girl. And Vicky isn’t the blushing type, if you will recall. She’d spit, scratch, belch, and tug at places just as well as the next bloke. Always a mystery that Chuck disgusted her so much. You think they’d be best mates.
Nigel, on the other hand, was very nearly not impressed. Magriffin, schmagriffin. He’d just as soon buy ringside seats to watch that red-crested chucklehead choke on his own awesomeness, if that were ever possible. Nigel had even gone so far as to have secretly nicknamed him the Infamous Never-ending Gas Hole, or just the Gas Hole for short, because that’s rightly what the man was: a whole lot of hot air that escaped into the surrounding spaces without end.
The four of them stood at attention once he stepped into the light.
“Carry on,” he said, as he took a spot near the table. “I will make this rather quick, as I have other things that I must attend to.”
He reached down and pressed a button on the table’s holodisplay. Before them shimmered three planets, one of which they recognized as the very planet on which they were located, Lyrae.
“We are here.” The sky marshal pointed at the leftmost green sphere. “The other two planets, Melkas V and Gisana II are just out of our planetary valence scanners, so we cannot monitor communications or traffic. We have reason to believe, from previously acquired intelligence reports, that there are armed forces, mercenary or otherwise, that are using those two planets to move troops and equipment around us and out of the demilitarized zone undetected.”
The four of them sat around the display, listening and making mental notes of the mission.
“Obviously,” the sky marshal continued, “we cannot cross into the DMZ to reach Melkas V without probable cause to do so, and as this is merely speculation based on a small amount of sensitive intelligence, we would not want to embarrass ourselves if we were to be mistaken. Therefore, your orders are to stealth in, gather intelligence on their movements, and report them back to naval command. Nothing less; nothing more. I hope that is understood.”
He paused to scan the faces of the team for weakness or worry, and saw none.
“This matter is sensitive due to the location of the planets in the demilitarized safezone. Also of great concern are the reports that one of the twin moons orbiting Gisana II was attacked using a bio-thermal disruptor. Quite a large one. We have reason to believe it was detonated in connection to the movement of the troops and equipment.”
“Wasn’t Gisana’s moon inhabited?” Vicky remembered suddenly with a gasp.
“And terraformed!” Eva squeaked with glee. “They have ciderhouses and apple orchards for miles and miles. So lovely.”
“You mean had,” Nigel corrected.
“Yes it was a very lovely place,” Sky Marshal Magriffin said sadly. “Two million people. All gone in an instant’s flash of fire.”
They stiffened at the thought of the bio-thermal disruptor’s destructive capabilities. It was a device created during the War of Generations that was capable of completely destroying all life in the blast radius. Used as a tactical warhead, it was usually dropped on military installations, shipyards, secretly hidden bases, or whatever else the user fancied. Only recently did the bio-thermal disruptor appear as a weapon capable of melting the face off an entire planet and destroying the atmosphere in the process.
“So you will scout the spaceways surrounding Melkas V first, because it’s closest, and try to determine who or what is being ferried through there. Then on to Gisana.
Chuck grinned. “That doesn’t sound so bad. Sounds too easy, if you asked me.”
“You will do well to exercise every measure of caution, Mr..?”
“Fitzhugh, sir. Charles Lawrence Fitzhugh.”
“Ah, you’re a Fitzhugh!” the sky marshal chuckled. “You would not be somehow related to Captain Reynold Fitzhugh, would you? He was the skipper of the RNS Childress, an old battlebird of the juggernaut carrier class.”
“Yes, sir,” Chuck returned. “He was my uncle.”
“Splendid! Another Fitzhugh in the ranks!” the sky marshal bellowed. “Oh, I remember—
Professor Carlisle cleared his throat in a deliberately loud fashion.
“Yes, well the inhabitants of Melkas V are a crude bunch. Had to land a personal ship there once while traveling back home from a symposium. I was robbed twice, had to spend the night in a fetid pile of hay (he stank of khydrid manure for a week!), was kidnapped for an underground Dulenenn Coliseum, and had to trade my custom made silver plated Lithgow powergun for a bowl of soup. And oh how I loved that gun.”
Chuck nearly jumped into convulsions at the mention of the Dulenenn. “Oh! My! Heavens! Are you seriously telling us that—
“Do not interrupt, Charles,” Professor Carlisle scolded, although he knew the briefing was about to go off subject. He’d just as well let the sky marshal tell one story, otherwise they’d be there all night with the Infamous Never-ending Gas Hole trying to find an opportunity to jam one into the conversation somehow.
“Nonsense, professor. Let the boy ask. Curiousity builds character. What is it, lad?”
“You no fib fought in Dulenenn? How far did you get in the competition? Did you challenge the champion? I bet you did fabulous.” Chuck babbled and spat and clutched the table’s edge in anticipation, barely containing his excitement.
“Well not exactly,” the sky marshal frowned. He leaned towards them and stuck a finger in his mouth, pulling on the corner. “See that?” he mumbled, showing a neat row of pearly teeth up until the back quarter. At the top, there seemed to be about five teeth gone missing, completely replaced with a row of replicate teeth connected to a meshwork of silvery gumline.
“Second Tier, Fourth round, I was paired off against a Tethalid from Jasaria. Those blokes stand near seven feet tall. Bones of adamantite, more ruthless than an arko-punk, and angrier than a swarm of molkaanian bloodwasps. I, on the other hand, was no pushover myself. Fit as a fiddle, I was. Ready to hand him out a sound and quality thumping, even if I was at a bit of a disadvantage.”
“Wow!” Chuck marveled in wanderlust. “Second tier? You must have been, what, two fights away from the champion?”
“That’s right. And this fellow really started to grate on my nerves. Kept calling me captain fatpants in that spitty, slobbering voice, by the by. Suddenly, I sprang forth and peppered his chin with several quick blows. Jab! Jab! Uppercut! Uppercut! Right! Left!” The sky marshal shuffled around in a bareknuckle boxing stance, imitating the punches for his spectators.
“He wobbled a bit and shook it off. Then it was his turn. The first of his attacks whiffed by my forehead quite easily. My rebound was Not So Fast, however. He caught me a little off my guard and battered my ribs with a crushing blow.” Sky Marshal Magriffin staggered and clutched at his side in an overly dramatic fashion. The only one around really impressed was Chuck. He’d been a fan of Dulenenn since, well, forever. Vicky chose not to look for fear her face would end up imitating a beet.
Professor Carlisle simply sighed quietly and rolled his eyes a bit. As did Nigel. And who knows what Eva was doing.
“Then he staggered me with a straight left to the nose. I shrugged it off easily. “Finally, a thunderous right hook came soaring out of nowhere. I bobbed when I should have weaved, and he caught me square in the jaw. Completely shattered it, I tell you. And boy did it smart! I couldn’t fight after that. Had to surrender the bout. What with half my teeth sprinkled about in the sand next to me,” he laughed.
“Oh that sounds simply dreadful,” Eva said. “Having to bear with the agony of only having the option to chew on one side of your mouth.”
They all just stared at her for a moment, hoping to make her uncomfortable enough to forgo having something further to say. If only they were so lucky.
“The little plastic pixi tubes from the biomech sweepers work well for sipping when you’ve shattered your jaw. Requires a T-7 wrench set to three microvolts if you want to get at one, though. Or you can just bash it open and pull them out if you don’t have a T-7 handy. I have a story about that, but I’ll save it for later.”
“But,” the sky marshal continued, “I later found out that his gloves were lined with tritanium. I thought it sort of felt like being womped in the face with a length of pipe. Otherwise I would have been able to take the punch with no problem, of course.”
“Of course,” the professor yawned and cut his eyes towards Sky Marshal Magriffin, who obviously got the message, because he very soon straightened up and continued with the briefing.
“Yes…Well, at any rate, on the mission, discretion is your only option. You are instructed to abort if you are discovered. You will be working in tandem with spectral teams Nighthawk and Greyhawk, who will be gathering intelligence data on movements in other parts of the safezone. You should have radio contact at the least, but do try to keep that to encrypted channels, and as little as possible.”
Nigel’s insides twisted in his stomach at the mention of spectral team Nighthawk. That particular spectral team he did not want to work with. He and the Nighthawk senior lieutenant had a—let’s call it—a history.
“Now. I am off. The good professor here will help you sort out the rest of the logistics and issue you your command ship. Good hunting, and I look forward to your debriefing. Carry on.”