In the Service of Absolution, Part 7

Despite the considerable repairs that were currently underway, James Lawrence had barely left his cabin since the last raid. The stock of bourbon he kept in the bottom of his desk had been getting progressively lower as well.

Michaels’ initial damage assessment had been optimistic. The port plasma reactor had suffered a near overload and would need a major overhaul before they could even think of starting it back up. There were more than two dozen power conduits that needed to be replaced as well as the transfer junctions. Thankfully, life support had tripped due to the reactor shutdowns and was easily restored. Primary gravity, on the other hand, was going to take far more work to bring back. Cargo Bay 8 was nearly a complete loss, but they couldn’t even attempt repairs until the ship was somewhere more civilized.

Once he understood exactly how much work was required, Michaels had come to Lawrence’s cabin to ask for help. Several of the marines on board, as well as Tech Larson, had technical training that could help speed up the repairs. He also asked to allow the DSF pilot to start converting the captured freighter. Michaels had to practically beg for them to be allowed out of their cargo bay. It had been hours since anyone had even attempted to talk with the Captain.

Lawrence leaned on his elbow, palm stretched open and pressed hard against his temple. He hadn’t counted the number of glasses he had consumed, but whatever the number, it wasn’t enough to quiet his mind. There was a knock at the door. Lawrence continued to stare at his glass. The interruption would go away just like every other one had. Another knock. This time the hatch began to open. He had been so distracted that when Michaels left he hadn’t bothered to lock the hatch again. Damn.

“Captain, we need to talk, Sir.” Ramirez’s voice could be heard from behind the opening, though he had yet to make himself seen, probably for fear of being shot. “Sir…may I enter?”

Lawrence blinked hard a couple times and straightened himself up “I seem to remember something about promising to shoot you if you set foot outside that cargo bay. You’ve got to be pretty damn ballsy or stupid to be up here banging on my door.”

“Sir, I’ve got something important that you really need to hear.” Though nervous, there was a distinct urgency in Ramirez’s voice.

“All right, Lieutenant, you can come in. I can always shoot you later.”

Ramirez entered the office. His wounds had been dressed, as evidenced by the handful of small bandages visible on his neck, face and hand. A deep plum colored bruise was already forming beneath the bandages. He was wearing a pair of lightly soiled DSF coveralls with the sleeves rolled up.

“So…what’s so important?”

“Well, sir, the pilot and I have been working to get the freighter ready to go. Since Gerald is gone, I’m the only one familiar with the data conversion process. Anyway, we may have stumbled on to something huge.” He passed Lawrence a data tablet. “First, it looks as though our prize is carrying replacement weapon parts for the enemy’s heavy combatants. The holds are full of stuff that R&D would love to get their hands on, but that’s not why I’m here. The pilots all speak the enemy language to a certain extent, since the spikes won’t get the entirety of their computer systems translated for a couple weeks. While we were waiting for the spike to do its job, I had my pilot do a search for anything that might be useful. With the counter-attack only a few hours away, I figured it was worth a shot. To be honest, sir, I think he hit the mother lode.”

Amazement swept over Lawrence as he looked over the tablet.

“Apparently the freighter’s job was to provide the spare parts wherever they were needed. They’ve got the enemy’s entire fleet deployment as well as damage reports from most of their front line combatants. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much good this would do if we get it in the hands of the admiral.”

Lawrence put the tablet down and looked up at Ramirez. “All right then, comm system is still online, what are you waiting for?”

Ramirez’s gaze dropped to his boots “We already tried, sir. I shouldn’t have done so without permission, but I wasn’t sure that you’d let me try. At any rate, either our transmissions are being intercepted or the fleet has gone silent before the attack. Whatever the case may be, we need to deliver this intel.”

“Lieutenant, we are in absolutely no shape to do that. We’ve still got hours of repairs before we are even capable of a hyperspace jump. We’re twenty hours from the nearest friendly system, which would get us there way too late to be of any use. If we can’t transmit it, then there is nothing we can do.”

“We could take it to them once they engage the enemy fleet.”

Lawrence looked at Ramirez, blinking in disbelief. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to repeat that. I don’t think I heard you right. You want us to fly in to the middle of a battle to drop this stuff off? I thought I made myself abundantly clear earlier. You will never again endanger my crew, do you understand me?”

“Sir, with all due respect, this is bigger…”

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!”

“No, sir! I don’t understand you. We have the chance to save tens of thousands of lives with this intel. If you want to be pissed at me then go right ahead, but I can’t imagine that you’re so pissed off that you’re willing to sacrifice all those people. That doesn’t sound anything like the man Admiral Pierce told me about. He said you were friends from the Academy and that you left near the end of the Schism because you couldn’t live with any more blood on your hands. If that’s true, then how could you possibly turn your back now?”

“What else did he say?”

“That’s it. Sir, you can’t let the past cloud your judgment. Not now, not with so much on the line.”

“You think my judgment is impaired?” Lawrence looked up at Ramirez. “After what just happened, I would think you of all people would understand. You know what it’s like to lose people under your command, people who trusted you and that died because of what you ordered them to do. I’m trying to save the lives of my people, what part of that do you think impairs my judgment?”

“The part where you let thousands die to save a dozen. Yes, you know these people, sir. But does that make them any more important than any others in the war? I hate to break it to you, but the numbers don’t add up.”

The captain felt his blood beginning to boil “Do you really think this is about numbers?! These are people you arrogant little shit!”

“I know that, sir. I’ve been with this team for three years. I didn’t just lose men under my command, I lost friends and if we make it out of this alive, I’m going to have to go home and tell their families they’re gone. I’ll always live with that. But as close as I was to them, I would gladly trade their lives and my own if it meant that hundreds of others were saved. Unfortunately, in order to preserve our species, we sometimes have to lose a few good people.”

“I’ve already lost too many good people. I can’t take this crew into that fight knowing full well that the odds of them coming out in one piece are almost non-existent. If this were a warship, in proper working order, with a crew that signed up for this kind of thing and trained for combat, it’d be a different story. But they’re not. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more they can take.”

Ramirez paused for a moment and then said, “I think you underestimate your crew, sir. I think you underestimate their fortitude and I think you underestimate their willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. If they knew what the situation was, what the odds are, and how important this mission truly is, I think they would be more than willing to take the risk.”

Lawrence leaned back and closed his eyes. After everything he had done and everything he tried to do to make up for what had happened in that past life, nothing ever seemed to come close. But this might be a start. For all his youthful arrogance, Ramirez was right, and Lawrence knew what had to be done.

“Ramirez, that might have been the first thing you’ve ever said that didn’t make me want to punch you. Alright, get everyone together on the mess deck in ten minutes, including your people. If we’re going to try this suicide mission, it’s all volunteers. Anyone who doesn’t want to go can stay on the freighter. Hopefully we’ll get enough people to keep this old girl running.”

Ramirez snapped to attention, saluted, and left to assemble to the crew. As the lieutenant left, Lawrence could only wonder if Pierce had planned this somehow.

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Filed under Andrew Hales, Short Story

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