Captain Paige McCullers sighed as she filled out yet another application to land her ship in the nearest dock for a prolonged stay. She and her crew had been flying back and forth between planets for months without anything more than an overnight stop. Pressing the send button on the screen in front of her, she watched as the sent confirmation blinked in bold green text.
She looked across the large control console in front of her, filled with buttons and small touch screens, then to the wide window in front, filled with stars. Her brown eyes blinked when the colours started to blur and she glanced back at the screen wondering how long it would take the dicks on the Peace Corps Board to reply this time.
In 2070 when other planets were made inhabitable it was one of the most exciting things to happen in Earth's history. Unfortunately by the year 2165 people and new planets were scattered everywhere, making common laws and authority easily avoided. Small wars between planets, black markets and human slavery were now the governments main problems. The Peace Corps, once known for its humility and self sacrificing volunteers was reformed to serve this new world. Officers still held knowledge in their chosen fields but were trained as basic soldiers; sent to keep peace on distant planets and communities. No one volunteered for this job anymore, you were either drafted or you were desperate.
It was an OK life for Paige, her squad complained at every chance but it was all she had ever known. Being born to a Lieutenant General and growing up on various ships, she felt more at home drifting in space than on solid ground.
Pulling her long auburn hair into a messy knot she called out a command to the ship's AI to log her into the system so she could check on the progress of today's duties. The AI responded in a unfamiliar woman's voice.
"Good morning Captain McCullers, you're quite good at turning me on."
She laughed out loud and shook her head at this, her squad's head of technical engineering had a mischievous humour and loved messing with her; re-programming the ships AI was his favourite.
"El," she called the AI by its name. "Please delete any unnecessary changes Caleb has made to you in the last 24 hours."
"Captain, all changes made to my programming have been categorised as necessary, babe."
She rolled her eyes at this, not only did it sound completely ridiculous coming from the AI's monotone voice, it also meant she was going to have to speak directly to the programmer himself, which would have been his plan all along.
Although she was respected by the crew of her ship, The Mako, and genuinely got along with them, Paige was well known for keeping to herself and preferring to spend most of their air time alone.
Caleb Rivers, was constantly testing her patience with ploys like this, that forced her out of her quarters and comfort zone.
She walked across the small platform where the control computer was located and slid an A4 sized piece of glass from a slot in the wall. Her slender but toned figure casting a bent shadow across the floor and her light skin creating an eerie contrast to the black space spread out in the window in front of her. One edge of the glass staying attached to the wall, the panel lit up with a list of names. Scrolling through them with a flick of her finger she stopped and tapped on Rivers, C.
A small beep sounded as the tech officer's face appeared on screen, he was already grinning.
"Good morning Captain! So nice to hear from you this early." He was writing something on a clipboard in front of him while speaking.
Paige kept her face blank as she didn't want him to know his attempts to amuse her had worked.
"Caleb, fix what you've done to El"
He looked up, his shoulder length brown hair falling into his eyes "Is there something wrong with her? She seemed fine when I spoke to her an hour ago"
Captain McCullers pursed her lips to keep from swearing, it was to early for that yet.
"Caleb, El is an 'it' and you know what I'm talking about. I could have you suspended for saving those sort of tweaks as necessary".
Any changes to a ship's programming deemed as 'necessary' were only ever ordered by higher command and in return could only be removed by such. Or if you were the Tech engineer on one of the thousands of ships dotted throughout the galaxy who had hacked the access codes.
Caleb put the clipboard down and leaned closer to the screen, his features were well defined. His dark eyes and olive skin made him very good looking.
"Ah now Captain, no need for that, I'll change her back, although I've already had several of the crew make a request to keep her new voice" He finished with a wink.
Paige folded her arms and raised an eyebrow.
He sighed. "Alright, back to boring El we go." He typed furiously on the keys in front of him and in a few seconds, after whispering "I'm sorry." and looking upwards, he confirmed all changes had been deleted.
"Thank you." Paige called out a few basic commands to the AI and, being happy with the usual responses she turned back to the screen. "Private Rivers, since you've got so much free time on your hands, perhaps you would benefit from some extra training with Corporal Vanderwaal?" The smirk fell from his face.
"Captain, I...um-" He didn't have any reasoning for what he had done, besides wanting to annoy the Captain, but he was not about to admit that, especially with the threat she had just given him.
Paige leaned her shoulder on the wall, it was her turn to smirk.
Corporal Vanderwaal, was the ship's head of staff training and her job was to make sure all squad members were competent at their duties. The Captain saw her as no more than an over-ranked admin clerk, she spent most of her time making everyone take on extra training they did not need. The Mako's missions were some of the most demanding issued and the particular part of the galaxy they held regulation over was well known for being the most problematic. For this reason, the crew had been hand picked and was made up of some of the most highly-skilled young officers to date.
Paige had always suspected Mona Vanderwaal knew someone at the top and had probably literally got on top of them. When they had first met, Paige had sorely underestimated her. With her short build and girly features it was definitely a surprise when Mona ordered the entire crew be retrained on the first day of the ships running. After dismissing the order, Paige and Mona had never got along. The Corporal was constantly trying to undermine Paige as Captain and she found herself mentally cringing whenever they had to work together, which thankfully was not very often.
The crew had a deep hate for the Corporal. She had done nothing but make their lives miserable with continual retraining and her unfounded belief that they only remained on the ship because of her. Paige knew she shouldn't use Mona as punishment, she had always directed her crew to treat the Corporal with respect but it was one of the few things most of them actually feared.
With the engineer still stuttering on screen, the Captain shook her head.
"Look Caleb, you know I always appreciate you trying to lighting things up but you need to tone it down a bit, we've got a shit storm coming at us next stop and I don't want any distractions."
He nodded knowingly. He had already looked over next weeks schedule and every place he had never wanted to go back to was on it.
"Right Cap., sorry."
Before pushing the screen back into the wall to disconnect the call, she added, "And Caleb...get rid of those access codes."
The last thing she saw was his terrible attempt at looking innocent.
A few hours later, Paige still found herself sitting in the control deck. She had one final call to make before everything was organised for their next stop and there was a reason she had left it until last. Earlier, El had alerted Paige she had received a response to her landing application. After the 3 seconds it took her to read the short and direct message any hopes she had of it being approved were gone.
'Captain McCullers, your continuous request for a prolonged stay have become worrisome, please call me at your soonest convenience. Signed Lt. General McCullers.
"El, put me through to Lt. General McCullers." Paige turned towards the large screen located above the main console and as she heard the connection beep sound, she felt every muscle in her body tense.
A tall man appeared on screen. His lean athletic build and brown eyes were the only thing this father and daughter shared. His features were sharp, while the young Captian's were soft. She took a second to study his face noticing grey peppering throughout is usually light brown hair. He was getting old.
"Captain McCullers, how is The Mako running?" He didn't look up from whatever he was reading in his hands.
Paige stood to attention. "All ship shape sir, everything at 110%."
"Good, good...and the crew?" At this point the Captain knew he was barely paying attention to this conversation, she could have been a four-headed horse and he wouldn't have noticed.
"My crew are on point sir, as usual."
The older man nodded slightly "Why the need for a prolonged stay? Someone not cut out for this ships duty?" It was an almost sarcastic tone.
Paige sighed internally at the comment. It was an obvious statement about his opinion on her position in the Peace Corps.
At a young age highly gifted children are selected from schools and placed in specialised training until they turn 16. At this age they are given the choice of which sector of the military to serve. Paige's father had expected her to follow in his footsteps; serve in office and eventually end up on the board. The Captain could think of nothing she wanted to do less than spend the rest of her life behind a desk. Despite the fact that in seven short years of service she had already earned the rank of Captain, her father had never respected her choice or acknowledged her achievements. It continued to be a wedge in their already distant relationship.
"My crew could run this ship with their eyes closed...but that doesn't change the fact its been four months since we've had more than one night on land." She moved closer to the screen "We've got a heavy schedule ahead and I wanted to make the most of the time beforehand. My crew are hard workers and deserve a break, some of them have families..." It was a long stretch, trying to appeal to his family values, she wasn't sure he had any left.
There was an awkward silence as the Lt. General signed what he had been reading and handed it over to an unseen assistant. Making eye contact for this first time in the conversation, his expression unreadable.
"Your next stop is Lutis, correct?"
Paige nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Then you'll have your time off, after all duties are completed. The Mako's crew and her Captain will remain in dock for 7 days. They will not be required to sleep aboard but are expected to uphold the code at all times and all problems are to be reported directly to me. I will also be sending out an additional task that you, as Captain, will need to carry out. Is this clear, Captain?"
It took a moment for Paige to believe what she had just heard, the time off had been granted by her father of all people but they were to stay on Lutis?
It was a smaller planet, originally set up for luxury purposes, filled with giant shopping malls, resorts, clubs and casinos. The population was made up of the high amount of workers needed to run its numerous venues.
She had been there more times then she cared to remember, each time leaving with an even more deep dislike for the place. Over the past few years Lutis had become a mecca for illegal traders and other undesirables. It's bright buildings and luxury apartments now, dull and dirty, run by slum lords. The crew wasn't going to like it but she was not willing to push their luck, this may be the last chance for a break in a long time.
She broke out of thought and again stood to attention. "Yes sir, loud and clear. May I ask the details of this additional task?"
He had been handed another clipboard by the unseen lackey and was already preoccupied with reading. "All details will be sent when necessary and this call has concluded" With that he walked off screen and seconds later it was black.
On any other call Paige would have been taken aback by the rude cut off, but it was what she had come to expect from her father.
She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck, feeling the stiffness ease. Plonking herself in the control deck chair her stomach gave a loud growl. She hadn't eaten since this morning and decided a trip to the Mess Hall was in order. Glancing at the blue neon numbers on the metal cuff wrapped around her wrist, she figured most of the crew would be there, giving her a chance to let them know where their stay over time was going to be spent. She felt the muscles in her neck stiffen once again.
The Mess Hall was on the third and bottom floor of the ship. Paige entered the lift and voiced to the AI where she was headed, just as the doors were closing Caleb Rivers got in and stood next to the Captain.
"Hey Cap, Mess Hall?"
Paige nodded then realised he had just come from the direction of the control deck. "Were you looking for me?"
"Oh yeah, I just need you to sign off on me accessing the main coding for the communication server, I'd like to have them in my head in case it goes wacky again."
A few weeks ago the communication server had started to ignore random incoming calls and important information was not received, it posed a serious threat to the ship and the crew's safety.
"Do you think it's likely to happen again?" Paige frowned.
"Oh no, I fixed it, it was kinda weird actually, it's as if the program had rewritten itself. You know how all programs on the ship share a basic coding..."
Paige raised an eyebrow. She may be Captain, but there was a reason she was in regular contact with the engineer, she had no idea about this stuff. Caleb gave a sheepish smile.
"Right, well its fixed and not likely to happen again, I just wanted you to sign off on me accessing the codes when I need them and not when something goes wrong. It'll save a lot of time in an emergency situation."
The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into a wide hallway with flushed steel walls and small lights lining the floor.
"You couldn't just steal them like all the others you have?" They continued walking towards the end of the hall, where the Mess Hall was located.
"Oh Cap, don't be like that, you know I don't mess with the serious stuff!"
Paige folded her arms "And the ship's AI isn't important?"
He tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear "Well I only added a few words to her vocab and changed her voice, no commands were touched. Plus, I know you loved the voice I chose, I mean, who wouldn't want a sexy computer lady doing anything you ask her?"
The young Captain let out a small laugh at this statement and shook her head. They had passed the recreation hall, medical lab and holding cells as they reached the large doors to the Mess Hall.
Caleb opened the door and held it open for his Captain. The Mess Hall was a wide open room, the size of a basket ball court. The walls and floor the same flushed metal as the hallway leading in.
The large florescent bulbs in the ceiling programmed to give off a natural sunlight glow. Cafeteria style tables lined the floor in rows and were filling up with crew members eating dinner together.
Caleb leaned in close"I just thought you should know what its like to have a lady in your life." He gave a wink and quickly turned away before Paige could respond.
Paige ducked her head, feeling a slight blush reach her cheeks. Herself and the engineer had joined The Mako's crew at the same time many years ago. They became instant friends and she regarded him as one of her most trusted. That didn't change the fact he was a constant pain in her backside and remained to be the only person who could embarrass her.
Making her way to the buffet of food she picked up a tray and stood in line. On other ships she had seen Captains and other high ranked officers walk to the front of the line and expect to be fed before anyone else. Paige had never expected anything like this from her crew and was on of the main reasons she was so well liked and respected.
As she waited in line she heard a familiar voice behind her.
"Hello Captain McCullers! Are you going to sit with us tonight?"
She already knew who the chirpy voice belonged to before turning around. Hannah Marin was the blonde, blue eyed and sometimes brutally blunt girlfriend of Caleb. She had come on board only 2 years ago to serve as Crew Management and Community Liaising. This meant Hannah was responsible for organising how, when and where The Mako would land on any given visit to a planet or citadel. She also managed plans for where the crew were to stay, transport and other similar things. Community Liaising was a fancy term for 'we told you to fix this, now we're checking you did'.
Paige had always suspected Hannah's work partner Aria Montgomery did most of the work but they worked so well together she never bothered to follow it up. Aria was standing next to Hannah smiling up at the Captain. Hannah was only a little shorter than Paige and Aria almost a full head shorter than the blonde. They both had very light complexions and small builds, quite a comparison to the taller toned Captain. Paige had noticed that the two always seem to stand out from everyone else on the large crew. Hannah often wore bright make-up while Aria had a way of personalising her uniform. The Mako's uniform policy was not strict while on board, with most people wearing their plain black service pants, high leather buckle boots and a blue or white shirt with a Peace Corps logo on it. Aria always had an eye catching headband, belt or other accessory.
"Hi Hannah, Aria, I guess I could sit with you guys for a bit tonight." Paige smiled and turned back to the food. After selecting what she wanted, they all headed over to the table where Caleb and a two others were sitting.
Hannah jumped in Caleb's lap and covered his face in kisses, he responded by wrapping his arms around her waist and soaking up the attention.
The tall thin girl beside them rolled eye hers "Ah, young love" She said sarcastically but with a smile.
Hannah sat on the seat and gave her a fake glare. "We can't all be robots, Spencer!"
As Paige sat down, Spencer greeted her, "Good evening Captain." Looking sideways at Hannah she added "Are you sure you want to sit with us today?"
The blonde stuck her tongue out at the other girl.
Spencer Hastings was the ships Navigator, she determined what sectors needed their help or sometimes 'force' the most. Most of her days were spent in contact with the leaders of various places or staring at never ending maps of the galaxy. Paige mused at the highly strung aura she had about her. Spender was around the same height as Paige but with a much smaller frame and no muscle. She was thin with long thick dark brown hair which was always flowing freely. Her features could almost be considered sharp but they had a softness to them that made her very pretty.
Sitting next to her was her boyfriend Toby Cavanaugh, he had only come into service within the last 6 months as a mechanical engineer. He was always wearing his long-sleeve blue overalls which were frequently covered in dark stains. Paige wondered if he owned any other clothes.
As they continued to eat, the others engaged in small talk about their day. The Captain entered into conversation a few times but was distracted by a memory that she often had when she was around this particular group of friends.
They had all attended the same school from a young age, Spencer, Aria, Hannah, Tobey and Caleb were always found sitting together in classes and at lunch. They were one of those groups you either hated or wanted to be part of. Paige spent most of her teenage years with a feeling of jealousy towards the bunch, the low self esteem she had developed from her father her made her school days friendless. This was no fault of her own, there had been attempts from others to befriend her, Caleb and Aria being among them, but she preferred to be left alone. She often watched the friends going about their day. At the age of 13 she realised the the main reason for this strange infatuation she had with the group was Emily Fields.
Emily Fields was part this circle of friends and was always smiling a bright smile that made Paige instantly blush. At first the Captain had though it was because she was jealous of Emily, they had been in the same athletics class and Paige was constantly ranking in second to Emily. It was a friendly competitiveness they shared but Paige found herself unsettled by the confusing feelings she had when Emily was around.
At 16, when the time had come for everyone to choose their military paths, Emily had chosen the Field Officer Unit and was sent to another ship, while the rest of the group were sent to The Mako. This hadn't been a big deal as instant contact meant she was always in touch with them. She had even sent a few messages to Paige. The Captain, never really knowing how to respond, always sent back some awkward reply she regretted later.
They had been serving for three years when news reached them of a ship being attacked and boarded by rouge raiders. It was Emily's ship, out of the 450 on board only 43 survived, Emily was not one of them. Many bodies were not found, an investigation and search carried on for another three years but most were presumed dead and the search abandoned. The group of friends had been devastated and were given leave for a few weeks. Spencer however had chosen to stay on board and use the resources to continue the search, Paige had tried to help as much as she could but it seemed to be a lost cause. The Captain had grieved for a long time, for a friend and for a love she had never realised.
It were times like these, sitting here with the others, living life, being content that really made her realise the gap Emily had left. Sometimes they inadvertently left an empty spot at the table, like she would be back any minute.
Paige felt a familiar heavy feeling settle over her when a tap on the shoulder interrupted her thoughts.
"Hey Cap, you in there? Mako to Paige, can you read me?"
Caleb cupped his hands over his mouth to convey a loud speaker.
Paige cleared her throat and thought of a quick lie, the last thing she wanted to bring up was Emily, she knew it was still a very hard subject.
"Uh, sorry, I was just thinking about the next stop..."
Caleb gave her a suspicious look while the others looked on oblivious. "Yeah that's what I was just asking you about, did you get that stay over time?"
She nodded slowly. "Yes, I need to talk to you guys about that, I got the stay over time approved..."
Their faces lit up. "But its not where I originally planned...its going to be a week on Lutis."
She braced herself for the response but was met with a stunned silence. The others blinked and looked at each other, processing what she has just said.
Hannah was the first to speak. "Luits? Who do they think we are? A ship full of pimps and slavers?"
"Oh yay, now I can check up on the sleaze who's always trying to get me to dance in his club." Aria added sarcastically.
Hannah frowned "Who..Marcus? He's never asked me to dance." She sounded almost offended.
Spencer rolled her eyes at the conversation and pushed her meal tray away "Well, I guess I better get started on organising this dream trip."
Paige gave an apologetic look. "I'm sorry guys, I know I've let everyone down."
Toby stretched his long arms and rested them around Spencer's shoulders. "Don't worry about it Captain, I'm sure we'll make do."
Caleb nodded "Yeah, if we're good at anything it's having fun even in the roughest of times."
Hannah gave him a quizzical look "Really? We are? When have we ever done that?"
Caleb shrugged and glanced at the Captain, he had been trying to make her feel better but Hannah once again, the queen of bluntness, shrugged back.
They all got up and started to make their way out of the hall.
"Spencer I need to talk to you about the route we are going to take, there are a few sectors I want to fly through just to ward off any trouble with our presence." Paige looked over to Hannah and Aria "Girls, you know Lutis has low security so extra vigilance will have to be taken when considering accommodation and travel. Caleb and Toby I expect the ship to be running smooth, make me forget I'm even on one." With their orders they all took off in different directions, the couples sharing a quick kiss.
As the Captain made her way back to the control deck she considered the news she had just given them had been accepted well. She had been expecting some sort of argument, she knew Lutis was a touchy subject with them, especially Spencer. The planet had been the last known residence of the rouge raiders that had attacked Emily's ship.