Chapter 1-First day
Pacing in the grey duraplast turbolift she nervously fiddled with her cap, that was hiding her freshly cut, unruly hair, which she had inherited from her father. But thanks to imperial regulations they had cropped it short.
It was her first day as a crewman and her heart was beating mercilessly in her chest; she was feeling quite faint. Unfortunately, she had not been able to get much into her stomach. In a few seconds, she would have to present herself to her commanding officer on the bridge and would be evaluated every second of her shift lasting twelve hours without anything to eat or drink or any pause at all. How should she be able to perform her duties perfectly without nutrition or water for that many hours? Her brain needed that! Her metabolism had always been fast and going without food for such a long time was a horrible thought indeed. She hated the Empire with all her heart, but she could not do anything openly against them or her family would be doomed.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to get her jitters under control. She knew she was way too early for her shift but better early than too late. She dared not to imagine what her superior ensign would be able to do to her if she were late. Shoot her on the spot probably or worse. Years of studying, dedication to science and art on her planet and this was her reward?
She would have to do this for the next few years of her life. Probably, even until her death: Being an imperial crewman or woman (but the empire did not care about gender-sensitive terminology.)
She vividly remembered the day, the empire had appeared and conquered her planet. The sheer terror in her fellow earthlings' faces of the appearance of several Star destroyers seemingly out of nowhere. The utter chaos that had followed. Their primary attacks around the world had lured each politician of each country exactly where the empire had wanted them to be: Trapped in the government houses only to be destroyed by Star Destroyers in the second wave of attacks. Thinking back on it the empire had known their procedures well. It seemed a bit too well. She assumed that they had to have their tiny planet under observation for quite some time.
The destruction of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace was still ingrained in her inner eye. Like so many others, she had felt lost, helpless and extremely angry. Yes, their country had been having a difficult time but had prevailed over the centuries, but all hope for the future was destroyed with it. Nothing but a pile of ash in huge grates had been left at their places. It was the day her studies had become worthless in the eyes of the new power.
Harriet sighed heavily. All she could do know was to survive and do her best in order to keep her family safe. But then why did it feel so wrong serving the empire? Did this Empire wipe out whole civilizations or aliens just because they were different or believed in different things or because they needed scapegoats? Although she hoped not, she would not put it past them. The total death count on Earth following the empire's attacks pointed strongly in that direction. Totalitarian regimes tended to not think about their citizens.
She yearned to be on the right side, to do the right thing and fight against the oppressors she had to work for. How many fellow conscripts would she work with? Were they brainwashed? She remembered that they had tried to bend her mind her during her "training". She rather called it indoctrination in one of the Base Academies they were forced to attend. They had performed all the classic tricks of brainwashing: Constant sleep deprivation, harsh physical training, physical violence and hearing the Imperial Codes all the time. Even in the bathroom. Although she knew about these tricks from her studies, she was sure that she was one of the rare few, who had been able to keep their minds straight. Blessed were those that could forget.
The Imperial Naval Code was something she could recite in her sleep now, but she mentally refused to live by it. This was her personal rebellion, which they would not take from her.
"I will honour the Empire in my thoughts and actions"
Ha. There is nothing to honour! I will never honour my oppressors.
Given the chance, she would help the Rebellion at any chance she got, but as long as her family remained on her imperial controlled planet she had no choice but "obey her superiors" as the second code phrase stated.
"I will never shirk from my duties"
It depends on what my duties are. What if I am told to destroy a city or kill a person? I cannot and will not kill. It is against my Hippocratic Oath. She shuddered at the idea. But what happens to my family then? Well, I just have to find a way around it.
She tried calming her shaking hands. Two more decks and she would arrive on the bridge.
"I will maintain impeccable standards of conduct and appearance"
Only visually to the officers' faces, but mentally I will kill you fascist little bottoms.
"I will use imperial resources responsibly."
Yeah, sure about that one, but they have failed to specify responsibly. Maybe I can talk myself out of it. Or not.
She was just a dispensable little; female crewman from the outer, newly discovered systems after all.
" I will complete every mission without hesitation, ambiguity or mercy."
Not if the mission is ludicrous and my superior does not realize it.
The core officers were not the smartest bulbs after all. One particularly nasty one had even mocked her and the other conscripts regularly in basic training that they were dispensable "vermin" with no right to ever go and see "a real imperial academy" from the inside. Well, the joke had been on him in the end.
Well, she had had no desire to go there, but she had displayed on several occasions that she had been much smarter than that lieutenant training them by pointing out possible weaknesses of the imperial code. Maybe there was still hope for the Rebellion after all as she had been harshly reprimanded for even suggesting that there was a weakness in the code.
"I will recognize that the Empire is greater than myself and be willing to die in its service."
Not bloody likely. I do NOT die for this regime and I do certainly NOT recognize that it is greater than myself. She balled her fists. Fighting for freedom and equality is something worth fighting for. Not the Empire. I'll rather adhere to the Universal declaration of human rights and extend it to all alien species, and I will definitely not go around calling out those not living up to the standards of the naval code.
She could feel working herself into anger against her oppressor and the feeling grew stronger than the initiate feeling of panic. No, she would survive and stay true to herself. Imperials be damned! She would never fully become one of them!
She took one more deep calming breath and stepped out of the lift onto the bridge, looking more determined at the strict and measuring face of Commander Faro, while she stepped down to the sunken pit where the workstations were located and other crewmen still worked until their shifts were over.
Ensign Mayr stepped away from behind another crewman and walked towards her. Placing her hands behind her back she straightened and looked at the sandy blond man:
"Crewwoman Potter reporting for duty, Sir," she stated and was close to slapping her hand in front of her mouth.
"Apologies, Sir. I meant Crewman Potter for duty, Sir."
Damn her mind could not stand still for one time. Could it? To be called crewman had bugged her all the time and it had slipped at the most impropriate moment. Typical!
"You are fifteen minutes early, Crewman" her superior officer stated. "I suggest starting to familiarize yourself with the use of a chronometer."
Shouldn't he be happy that I'm early rather than too late? Apparently not.
"Furthermore, you are expected to report to my office after your shift for a brush up on imperial protocol. Is that clear, Crewman?" he snapped emphasizing the word man.
"Yes, Sir," she replied nodding and hoped that it did not sound to rebellious, especially as she had just stopped her hand from mock saluting her officer. Surviving was her agenda and not antagonizing the man, who just coldly raised his eyebrow.
"You may take your seat." he snapped at her thin-lipped and the other crewman whose shift would come to an end jumped out of his seat and was about to move away.
"Ah. Crewman. I think you forgot to log out." she whispered at the other, who stopped red-faced and rushed back to log himself out while mumbling "sorry, sorry, sorry."
She carefully smiled at him which made him look at more ease as he smiled back. Apparently, she was not the only rookie on Grand admiral's Flagship. As the commander himself was currently on the bridge she knew that the small exchange would not go unnoticed. He was known to have a watchful eye and expected everyone's work to be impeccable.
She just had to have the misfortune at serving at the Chimera. Her odds of survival were not good. Not good at all. Well, it could have been worse. Could have been the executor. Luckily, she had dodged that bullet.
Logging in at her station the data started flowing, but not fast enough for her taste. The data was moving over her screen as if it was drawn by a snail. That was to slow for her. She carefully adjusted the setting and lost herself in the now fast-rolling data flow. It was still not very mentally stimulating as she read and redirected the data. She also was trained in operating the tractor beams, but at the moment she was assigned to the communications division on the bridge.
Once in a while, she could sense the new Ensign, who just had started his shift to relieve Ensign Mayr, watching over her shoulder or she could spot the shadow indicating that someone was silently watching her from the walkway of the bridge. Her breath hitched at that. Yes, she was new to the bridge, but she hated being observed.
Please don't let it be the commander. She was not doing anything wrong, or did she? Was that an encrypted message? She focused on it again and stopped the data flow as it had been indeed one and it was on her workstation. Should she make her ensign aware of it? No, finally she had a more challenging task and she decided to have a little bit of fun. She carefully looked to the right and to the left to look if the ensign was anywhere near her and as he was currently observing the tractor beam team she got to work. Well, whoever had sent this message was not very talented in encrypting as it took her no less than five minutes to decrypt it and rely on it further to the captain's attention.
Ok. Maybe breaking the captain's coded messages was probably not the best idea as she heard his sharp intake of breath. She dared to turn slightly and peak up, but only saw him reading something on his holodisk furrowing his eyebrows. Bad idea indeed.
She quickly turned back to her workstation as she did not dare to investigate if their Chiss Commander was aware of what she had done, and she did not want to get on his radar. That would be deadly for her indeed. She had not yet dared to even look in his direction.
The rest of her shift, which had dragged on her nerves as nothing more particularly challenging had happened, came finally to an end when her colleague from the previous shift came back to relieve her. Just as she was about to log out of her workstation she received reminding orders that she had to report immediately, without any delay to Ensign Mayr.
Great. Could her day become any worse? She was parched, her stomach was growling violently, and she was weak on her feet. Her butt and back were feeling stiff from sitting on her hard seat at her workstation. Dragging herself from the sunken pit to the elevator which seemed like an eternity, from the bridge to the office she just hoped that she would not fall asleep standing in Ensign Mayr's office.