Author : Benjamin Fischer

“This is your final test,” said Captain Fang.

Bai sucked in a breath, the entirety of his vision replaced by the externals of the Nanking. The sun somewhere behind him, he looked down on a field of stars smeared with the broken viscera of a Martian freighter. Bai zoomed in on the clumsy, struggling figures of the other ship’s crew as they went EVA to launch their life raft. Their suits were silver emergency gear, the creases still in their sleeves and the oxygen probably stale.

Fang’s raider, the heavily armed Honor of Nanking, had exchanged greetings and gossip with the other ship for several hours. Red Rover was two hundred and three days out of Deimos Port with a belly full of transuranics, bored out of their minds and bound for somewhere in the Belt. They had almost come alongside for tea when Captain Fang had unholstered the dorsal cannon and fired a burst of caseless thirty millimeter high-explosive rounds into the Rover.

Now that gun was in Bai’s hands. More literally, it was in his brain courtesy of his neural interface. He watched the two survivors of the ambush struggle with the manual release for the tiny white life raft, the weapon tracking with whatever object he focused on.

“They were resupplying the El base at Ceres,” Captain Fang had said in his typically matter-of-fact tone. Then he’d ordered Bai to take the First Mate’s seat and the other crew to leave Control. For three long years Bai had been laboring and learning under the Captain but the initiation had still come as a surprise.

He had thought he was prepared for it–he’d thought he was ready the day he had come aboard the Nanking.

But now he paused.

One of the Rover’s survivors was hurt. He’d jammed his boots under a handrail, and was trying to work the release with one hand. The other was limp and useless. He nearly drifted loose, and he flailed for a grip.

Bai paused.

The other man was more successful. He had triggered his side of the escape pod and was working his way around the raft to assist his companion.

The Captain spoke.

“You are asking yourself, why should I pointlessly kill these men? They, like me, have families. They want to live,” Fang said.

Bai was silent.

“That is what you are thinking, correct?”

“Yessir,” Bai finally managed.

The Captain sighed.

“You are a good technician and a gifted cosmonaut, Bai. In two days at New Tianjin you will disembark my ship.”

Against all his years of training, Bai started to cry.

The Captain continued: “You will serve us in dozens of little ways for the rest of your life, one of the many thousands who support our great cause. You will warn us of traps and give us the keys to great victories. You will hide us when we need to disappear, and help heal those who fall on the field of battle.”

The Captain ejected Bai from the external view, and the young man rubbed his eyes clear. The starfield disappeared, replaced by the familiar muted crimson and gold trim of Control. But Captain Fang loomed before him, his weathered, splotchy face frowning.

“You will marry a beautiful and obedient woman, and she will bear you many strong sons,” the Captain said, setting a wrinkled hand on Bai’s shoulder.

“And when the El come and break through your hatch and rape your wife and execute your sons and leave you hemorrhaging to death on the deck of your ruined home for the crime of nothing more than being Chinese, you will know the answer to your question.”

Fang’s eyes rolled back in his head for a moment. Then he blinked and gave Bai a wan smile.

“It is done. Come, let us pack your things.”

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