The Mask of Rogue 7: Chapter 2
Captain Henry Jarolds didn’t like his assignment. He hadn’t liked any of the assignments he’d been on for the last six months. And he wore that sentiment across his face as another man might wear spectacles or a mustache or a scar.
Impulsively, Jarolds stood to go to the tactical wing. Before he could take a step, though, he shook his head and frowned. Why bother? He had been to Tactics several times today for this same impulse; he had left each time for the same reason.
He sat down again. He looked out the large window wall exposing the vast void of space. This sector was just like almost every other sector of space. Black and dead. That was space.
Jarolds failed to hear the waiter set down another Scotch.
Why? Jarolds had asked that question of himself many times in the last several weeks. Not only did he wonder why he had worked so hard for so many years for this—to patrol a relatively unknown and undisturbed sector of a minor trade route. But he wondered why so much time and effort and resources were being spent on these patrol missions. There were no threats—this assignment and the others all over the fleet were expensive in time, energy and manpower; they consumed massive resources. For what?
Part of him wanted to retire to a life of leisure on one of those new colonies in the temperate Cathillie planets. I wouldn’t have to worry about… but there weren’t any worries. He was a captain of one of the more impressive patrol ships of the entire fleet, and he was already living a life of leisure. Stating this in his mind, Jarolds tried to suppress the other, angry part of himself.
The spin of the ship soon brought in the glaring view of Carsonov, the nearby sun in this sector. The glare on the window was a fake. The window had been designed to filter off harsh radiation. The flare was an artistic touch added by its designers to create the illusion of looking at an impressive source of flaming light.
Jarolds grabbed his new drink. In a fit of self-humor, he raised the glass to Carsonov. Then he threw back the drink and left the lounge swiftly. He was off to Tactics to review the reports before second shift came in.
The waiter watched the captain leave. He knew not to clear the table yet.
Jason Mantor was one of the most promising upstarts in the fleet. His peers loved him. Captain Jarolds felt an appreciation for the young officer; it was a sentiment no other senior officer shared.
Mantor was in his early twenties. According to his training records, he had a bright future ahead. While high scores and a good reputation that rarely precedes someone so young had played a role in Jarolds’ request for the young man, it had little to do with why the two got along so well. There was something special about the chemistry with these two men, such that every time they got together people’s spirits seemed to rise. Jarolds sometimes seemed like a cadet again when conversing with Mantor, and this, felt many officers was the root of Jarolds’ liking for the young ensign.
Jarolds had just passed the morning review into the log when Mantor entered the dim Tactics chamber.
"Morning, Mister Mantor,” said Jarolds. Already there was an edge in the captain’s voice—not an edge of authority, but a tone leaning on wit and camaraderie.
Mantor raised an eyebrow and said, "Good morning, Captain.” He paused for a moment and savored the quick looks of anticipation and annoyance amongst the other officers gathered nearby. "I trust you had a pleasant breakfast?”
"Yes,” said Jarolds. "I did. So good, in fact, I fancy I’ll have the same thing for lunch and dinner as well.”
Mantor opened his mouth as his habit was when he was about to make one of those dry accusations—accusations that could get many senior officers removed from the ship—when he was cut short by a call for the Jarolds. While Jarolds took his call Jason Mantor took his post.
"I can’t believe it,” said Ensign Roker. "I’ve seen Cap ream the shit out of guys for smiling at him too long. How do you get away with talking to him like he’s your brother?”
"I don’t know,” said Jason. "I guess it’s just one of those things. Besides, he’s not so rough as everyone always says.”
"Shit,” said Roker. "I don’t know what ship you’ve been on, but I’ve seen him turn into one of the meanest bastards the fleet has ever known. Especially when he’s drunk.”
Jason shook his head, smiling. "Whatever.”
They were running down their checklist when they heard a loud muttering curse from Captain Jarolds. By the time they turned to see what it was about, Jarolds was out the door. Mantor saw the humorless stare of two officers near the communication panel and immediately turned back to his checklist.
"Listen, Henry,” said the white-haired man, his image projected on a large monitor. "I know you don’t like these little assignments you’ve been on. I’ve read many of your reports… everyone here knows how you feel about them.”
Jarolds kept his back to the monitor even after he had finished filling his glass with Scotch. His eyes were half hidden in the wrinkles of his angry glare; he could not hide his disgusted, clenched teeth.
The old admiral said, "Henry, these are more trying times than you know. There is a new and deadly threat confronting us that we don’t even understand yet. These patrols are essential to the protection of the fleet.”
Mustering all his power to hide his disdain, Jarolds turned back to the monitor, the glass clenched tightly in his hand. Jarolds said, "I’ve heard all this shit before, Sir. It’s all a bunch of political hysterics. It’s all about keeping the status quo in changing times.” He took a drink and said, "There’s nothing you can say to convince me of the value of anything we’ve done in the last ten years.”
The admiral put his head down. Shaking it grimly, he said, "Captain, there have been many times throughout your career where we’ve cringed every time you leaked your honest sentiments to the various councils across the galaxy. Usually we did so because you were right. Ironically, this is the first time many here have prayed your sentiments were well-founded.”
Captain Jarolds chuckled. Smiling in no friendly manner, he said, "You take me for a cadet, Ridje. I’m no fool to your games.”
Admiral Ridje Canus removed all look of coolness. "Our threat is real, Henry. You will look at the files I’m transmitting to you now and you will go to Jadus immediately. The discussion is over.”
Shaking his head, Jarolds said dryly, "This is a Class B battle patrol vessel. When are you going to stop using my ship and crew for these petty assignments? So what if a scout ship got lost? We have a recovery squadron for this kind of work.”
In the most authoritative tone he had ever used on his former pupil, Admiral Canus said, "Rogue 7 is no scout ship. And when you get to Jadus, I assume you’ll wish the Orion were a Class A vessel.” After a momentary pause, Canus ceased the transmission.
Cursing, Jarolds turned on his administrative panel and opened the first file from Canus. "Jadus” was the report’s title. On the next page Jarolds saw an image of such gruesome magnitude that he could not help but feel light-headed and fall back into his seat. After one paragraph into the report, Jarolds called for the bridge. "Take us to Jadus,” said the Captain with the deepest sense of importance anyone had heard from him in many years.
He sat down his unfinished drink and cursed.