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   Chapter 5 No.5

Dead Beckoning By Christina Engela Characters: 5655

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

"Good morning, Captain." Dellon smiled at him in the slightly brighter light of morning. It was so quiet that Lofflin even heard his companion blink.

"Good morning." He smiled back. "Ensign Bennett."

"What time's it?"

"Time you started calling me Joe." Lofflin sighed jokingly. "At least when we're not on duty."

"Yes, sir!" Bennett snapped back mockingly, and giggled. "Sorry, sir! Please don't hang, draw and quarter me!"

"We haven't been on duty for months!" Lofflin mock-reprimanded.

"Yes, sir! Please don't keelhaul me!" Bennett giggled again, coyly adding "Not again!"

"It's the cat o'nine tails for you this time, m'lad! Arrr!" Lofflin joked, grabbing Dellon Bennett fast in a pseudo wrestling hold, the bed covers becoming intertwined with their lover's tryst as he did so.

Yes, it was indeed lovely here.

* * *

It was another week – a round two months since the Mordrake arrived at Tremaine – before Lofflin was informed that his ship was finally ready to be handed back to her crew. It was on a bright sunny Friday morning that Lofflin left his hotel room, dressed in his uniform, brand new Captain's bars shining in the sun – and hailed a taxi. It'd been two months since the last time he'd worn a uniform, and the feel of it against his skin made him feel good and strange at the same time. The taxi took him through the bustling streets of Charlotton – Tremaine's 'lovely' capital city, to the nearby spaceport. There, he took a small public shuttle to the Orbital Docking Station – a central hub of travel from orbit to the surface above Tremaine.

The Mordrake had been moved by space tugs from the nearby orbiting jetty – the industrial one with all the loading docks and the spacedock repair facility – to the main O.D.S. station, which was reserved for big starships and cruise liners and so on. From orbit, the picture could only be called 'lovely'. Tremaine was just over a century old, as a colony world, and started out as a farming colony, before becoming a trade-world for newer colonies in neighboring systems. Its prime exports were medicinal substances derived from indigenous equatorial forests, which brought in major investments from all the biggest pharmaceutical companies. Beautiful, rich, sprawling lush green forests and equatorial jungles covered the globe below.

Lofflin passed through the throng of bustling commuters in the great hall of the O.D.S. itself, before reaching the tunnel that connected to the Mordrake. A small rededication ceremony was to be held onboard, hosted by the Yard Master, who turned out to be a graying middle-aged man who wore a yellow hard hat, even though he wore a suit. Most of those in attendance looked to be workers and techs at the yard, who'd probably been pressured into attending.

After having been an Exo aboard t

his very starship for well over six years, Lofflin had already tasted command in all its bitterness and glory. The Executive Officer on a starship was the Captain's right hand, and in many ways, a trainee Captain. Exo's usually transferred off their ships, and went on to command other ships for the Space Fleet, and sometimes, as in his case, the Captain retired – or died… If an Exo was viewed as having a good enough standing, they were promoted up to fill the gap, and a new Exo would be either promoted up – or transferred in.

That's how Commander Josh Carlson, aged thirty, came to be invited to this little shindig too. The tall, spindly blond haired man, freshly promoted – just like his Captain – was to be his Exo. With a horribly surreal suddenness, Joe Lofflin realized that he'd reached the top of the food chain on the Mordrake – and there was now nowhere to run, or hide! All of the last seven years as Exo on the Mordrake, he'd known Blaine as the Captain, his superior officer, the supreme authority on ship – and although the man had died, and he'd been promoted two months ago, it still hadn't felt real. His role wasn't to enforce the Captain's decisions anymore, but to make them – as he'd done while they'd been marooned in space, and after Blaine's death… And Carson was taking his old place.

The man looked so young for the job – even though Lofflin had been about the same age when he moved up the promotional ladder seven years previously. Joe was thirty-seven now, approaching forty, and at the moment he felt his age pressing down on him again.

Lofflin spent most of the ceremony watching the Yard Master absentmindedly fiddling with the name-plate on his suit jacket, as though someone would have something to say about it if it weren't pinned on exactly straight. Frank Myburgh was his name. The ceremony was a pleasant touch, but totally unnecessary, Lofflin felt, and he'd had basically attended only as an invited guest. It was, he reflected, more of a political statement on the part of the local government than anything else. After a few quite dull speeches from the Planetary Governor, the Mayor of Tremaine's capital city, the Chief Administrator of Tremaine's Orbital Docking Station – and Mr. Myburgh, a snack table laden with assorted salty and sweet items presented a pleasant distraction for Joe.

A few people approached him as he stood at the buffet table – holding a paper plate of snacks, to make small talk – but Lofflin restricted himself to one or two word answers, which usually helped to keep people he didn't feel comfortable around, at a distance. It didn't work on Commander Carlson though – the younger officer approached him and stopped to attention to report to his new Captain.

"Captain Lofflin, " The man said, "I'm Commander Carlson, your new Exo."

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