Everything on Heart of the Galaxy seemed enormous. The hangar bay where Fluttermask docked was easily the largest hangar bay Hana had ever seen, not just on a starship, but anywhere. As she passed through halls that looked less like corridors on a starship and more like hallways in the Great Hall of Fangalin, the lieutenant escorting her kept pointing out various areas of the Starfortress, all of which were much larger than the equivalent areas on any other starship Hana had ever seen. The engine room in particular had been most impressive. Just one of Galaxy’s four engine cores was larger than Fluttermask. But nothing she saw in her brief tour prepared her for the bridge.
Most starship bridges were fairly compact, with room for about 20 people at most. Fortunately the average warship only needed a bridge crew of about 10. Heart of the Galaxy was so massive and complex that it required a 100 person bridge crew. Knowing this, Hana expected the bridge to seem extremely crowded. But instead, it hardly seemed like there was anyone on the bridge at all. In fact, Galaxy’s bridge was so vast and spacious it could have easily fit 1000 people, with room to spare.
As Hana walked onto the bridge, she realized her mouth was hanging open, and she snapped it shut, just as a woman stood up from a chair in the center of the bridge. The chair was placed on a raised platform, so that whoever sat in it could see everything that was going on in the vast space. The woman was the captain of Heart of the Galaxy, Admiral Chieria Peltoren. Peltoren was a tall woman in her mid-50s, with short black hair that was just starting to turn gray, brown eyes, and chiseled features. She seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Colonel Latrafai, but Hana knew that her steely exterior hid a warm and compassionate heart. Come to think of it, so did Colonel Latrafai’s.
“Hana, it’s good to see you again,” Chieria said with a smile as she descended the command platform and came over to shake Hana’s hand.
“And you, Chieria,” Hana said warmly. “It’s been…three years, now?”
“Four, I believe,” Chieria replied, her smile fading. “I was so sorry to hear about Arcten. I should have contacted you.”
“No, I should have contacted you,” Hana said, shaking her head firmly. “You knew him longer than I did.”
“Maybe so, but you were closer to him than I could ever have hoped to be,” Chieria replied, sadness etching her features. “I’m sure you could have used a sympathetic ear, and I kept meaning to contact you, but every time I tried, something came up, or I had some reason why I couldn’t, and so on, and so forth, and so here we are.”
“Here we are,” Hana said, smiling. “All is forgiven, Chieria. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be one head shorter right now. Your intervention on Numoris was worth a thousand calls.” Chieria smiled back at her, and then turned and went up the steps to the command chair. Sitting down, she beckoned Hana to come up and sit next to her, which Hana did.
“As good as it is to see you, we have a lot of work to do,” Chieria said, her voice taking on a brisk, business-like tone. “Heart of the Galaxy is the best ship in the fleet, but we’re still only one ship. Even with the rest of the 9th Fleet, we don’t have the firepower to go up against the entire Fangalin Navy. We should still have the element of surprise. I don’t think that Ron suspects I’ve joined you, but it won’t take him long to figure it out. However, even the element of surprise and a Starfortress can only go so far.”
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that,” Hana said with a frown. “I have an idea, but I’d rather tell all the COs with us at once. I’m…not sure anyone’s going to approve.”
“Well, even a bad idea is better than anything I’ve got,” Chieria said with a slight smile. “I didn’t really think too hard about what we were going to do after we rescued you. I just knew it would be a terrible crime to let Ven Ron get away with murdering you.”
“What a mess this is,” Hana muttered. “If only Calabane would have let me investigate his assistant. But he was too stubborn stupid to think that Velenoth might be working for Ron.”
“Dren Calabane was a good man, and a good Supreme Commander,” Chieria said somberly, “but even the best man has his blind spots.”
“Yeah, well, that was a pretty big one,” Hana said with a frown. “I shouldn’t talk bad about the dead, but if I could have unmasked Velenoth…things would look pretty different right about now.”
“And what if Calabane had given you the green light to investigate Velenoth and he still managed to murder the Supreme Commander before you could unmask him?” Chieria asked. “And what if you had convinced Calabane to arrest Velenoth without evidence and it turned out he was innocent? There’s no point in wondering about what might have been, Hana. We have no way of knowing what might have been.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Hana said with a sigh. “It’s just so…frustrating! I’ve given my life to Fangalin, and to see it all torn down by that…that…pervert!” She slammed her fist into the armrest of her chair.
“We all feel the same way, Hana,” Chieria replied quietly. “That’s why we’re here.”
“I know,” Hana said, calming down immediately. “Thanks for letting me vent.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Chieria replied with a small smile. She paused for a moment, hesitating, and then she said, “I know how much Arcten meant to you. I know I can never replace him, but…if there’s anything I can do, ever…just let me know.”
“Thank you, Chieria,” Hana said, closing her eyes. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
To be continued…