The Darkest Heart, Part 1

“Hey, Neska!”

Ensign Neskatrai Dradital was hunched over a tablet in a quiet mess hall when these words boomed through the silence and shattered her calm. She frowned and looked up for the source of the disturbance, and her frown deepened when she realized who it was.

“Ensign Cadramon,” she said coolly to the young man approaching her table. Most of the other crewmembers on Decimator already knew that the young woman fresh out of the Imperial Military Academy preferred to be left alone, but Gredlix Cadramon somehow hadn’t gotten the hint yet.

“What, are you still studying?” he said with a sardonic smirk, plopping down onto the seat across from her. “Didn’t you graduate from the Academy already?”

“For your information, Ensign,” Dradital replied, her voice growing steadily colder with every word, “I do not consider education to be something that ends once a degree has been granted. I intend to continue to grow and advance, both personally and professionally, regardless of whether my formal education has ceased or not.”

“That’s all well and good, Neska,” Cadramon said, his smirk deepening, “but it’s still okay to have fun once in awhile. Decimator may not be the newest ship in the fleet, but she’s still got some of the best entertainment facilities in the galaxy. Let me show you some of them.”

“First of all, Ensign,” Dradital said, emphasizing his rank as if to point out that he hadn’t used hers, “we are at war, and we have been ever since I was a child. Perhaps someday there will be time for us to play, but I intend to take this war seriously even if no one else does. Secondly, I am not interested in entertainment facilities. I have studying to do, and that is what I enjoy doing, and it is what I intend to do. Finally, my name, is Neskatrai. If you will not do me the courtesy of referring to me by my rank, as is proper for an officer of the Imperial Fleet, than at least refer to me by my proper name.”

“You know, Neska, you’re too uptight,” Cadramon said, ignoring the look of fury that appeared on Dradital’s face. “You really need to loosen up and have some fun. The war isn’t going to be over any time soon. If you wait until it ends to have fun, you’re gonna be old and gray, and then it’ll be too late to have fun anyway.”

“Ensign Cadramon,” Dradital said in a tight voice, as if she was barely restraining herself from screaming at him, “I am not going to ask you again. Leave. Me. Alone.”

“What’s your problem, Ensign?” Cadramon said in a loud voice, suddenly angry. “Why can’t you just lighten up and have some fun?”

“I am not here to have fun,” Dradital shot back, her voice ice-cold again. “Surely you can find some other woman to have fun with. It is not going to be me.” Immediately, she stood up, picked up her tablet and stalked out of the mess hall.

She didn’t know if Cadramon was following her or not, and she didn’t care. Gredlix Cadramon was thoroughly irrelevant to her. All she cared about was not being bothered while she was trying to study. Perhaps trying to study in the mess hall wasn’t the best idea, but most of the other crewmembers on Decimator knew who she was, and more importantly, knew who her aunt was, and weren’t interested in annoying her. Cadramon was apparently too stupid or too stubborn to care.

Neskatrai Dradital was short, with pale skin and mousy hair that fell just past her shoulders. She was 22 years old, fresh out of the Imperial Military Academy, and Decimator was her first assignment. In a way, she wished she had been assigned somewhere else. Decimator was a venerable ship with a storied history, the type of ship that young officers were generally eager to serve on. And Neskatrai was happy to be there. For more reasons than one. But she couldn’t help but wonder if she had been assigned to Decimator for her own merits, or simply because of who her aunt was.

“Ensign Dradital!” called a voice behind her. She turned to see who it was, and saluted sharply once she saw.

“Commander Venrel!” she said in a crisp voice.

“At ease, Ensign,” Venrel said with a slight smile. Venrel was a large man, both wide and tall, with dark skin, a shaved head, and an easy-going manner. As long as you were on his good side. If you weren’t, he transformed into a truly terrifying force. He was also the XO on Decimator, which gave Dradital even more reason to stay on his good side. “The Admiral would like to see you in her office as soon as possible.”

Dradital made a sound that was halfway between a sigh and a whimper. “I suppose she heard about what just happened in the mess hall,” she said with an embarrassed frown.

“I don’t know what she wants, but I heard about what happened, and I can assure you that it won’t happen again,” Venrel said in a grim voice, “Ensign Cadramon will regret pestering you, no doubt about it.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Dradital said with a smile that was more like a grimace. Venrel responded with a sympathetic smile.

“I know you don’t want preferential treatment, Ensign, but rest assured that I would do the same for anyone. Ensign Cadramon has been spoken to before about harassing young women. It’s just his bad luck that the young woman he chose to annoy today was you.”

“I…thank you, Commander,” Dradital said again, and this time she sounded like she meant it. “Well, I suppose I’d better go see what the Admiral wants.”

“I suppose you should,” Venrel replied with a grin. “And double-time it! You’ve already wasted enough time talking to me, and there’s no way you’re going to get any preferential treatment from her.” Dradital grimaced again, but she saluted and began striding down the corridors to her aunt’s office.

To be continued…

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