Author: Ken Carlson

“It’s not that complicated,” said Captain Briggs, “my ship has been called to an outpost that we should reach in two hours’ time.”
“Sounds simple enough,” replied his wife, Anita, beautiful in the simple, yet elegant way most people are not. Seated across from him, she had the knack of looking dynamite without making a fuss. That ability touches the people around you and makes many of them maddeningly envious. Tony Briggs pretended to be reading his duty roster for the next week but was really looking at her. They both knew that which added to his aggravation.
“The outpost contains a mining colony and a fairly large prison, with some of the most violent thugs from this part of the galaxy,” he continued.
“And many non-violent criminals as well, yes?” Anita replied.
“I was hoping this could be a pleasant conversation,” said the captain, “one where we talk about us and not this other unpleasantness.”
“We don’t have to talk at all,” she said, “if that’s easier.”
As all relationships involve varying levels of strategy to maintain stability, Captain Briggs was sure he could handle this little talk with his wife. They could speak briefly, ask about the kids. He would feel better. He could get on with this unpleasantness on Jesef 4.
“I mean,” she continued, “this talk is only a distraction, right, so you don’t have to think about what you’re about to do.”
“We all have our orders,” he replied, “but this isn’t about us.”
“Isn’t it?”
“Then why did you call? You’re about to obliterate thousands of people from the sky because an admiral said you should. Obviously there’s no other option than to do it, yes? Unless, you wanted to know what I thought. You always did before.”
There was a knock at the door to his quarters. Captain Briggs sighed and paused his conversation. His wife faded from view.
First Officer Lang entered. Briggs wasn’t fond of his recently appointed second-in-command. Young officers that move up the chain too quickly on account of powerful relatives rarely have respect for the lives and deaths their decisions involve. Plus Lang was their political officer, which made him a weasel.
“Captain,” said Lang, “was I interrupting? I thought I heard someone.”
“It’s none of your concern,” Briggs said. “Status report?”
“The crew is ready. The course is plotted. Torpedos loaded.”
“Because firing from orbit is easier than sending a squad to stop an uprising?”
“It’s not our decision, sir. Prison riots need to be handled with an iron fist.”
“And obliteration is tidy, right Lang? No need to concern yourself with guards, non-comms, or nearby civilians? Just blast away!”
“Captain, we have our orders…”
“That is all. Dismissed.”
Lang warily left the captain’s quarters. Briggs returned to his desk and poured another drink; Anita reappeared.
“Well, that was pleasant,” she said.
“I don’t have any choice,” he said.
“You could refuse. You’re not a butcher, Anthony. You don’t wear it well.”
“I’ve received orders. It would be hard to make waves at this point. I could lose my command. There are probably dozens of armed prisoners involved now.”
“And if you send ground troops to rout them out a few will die. Probably better to just take the path that kills more civilians and makes your life easier. Or did you need your dead wife to point that out.”
Briggs hurls his glass at Anita. It passes through her flickering image.
“Computer,” he said. “End sequence.” Anita disappeared. He buttoned his uniform jacket and headed to the bridge.