Champion of Forno

 

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Introduction

There was a hush in the stadium as THE Forno strode to the dais.

"Citizens of Forno, we are here to welcome our new officers to carry forward the Forno. These youths one day may be here delivering this speech. This honour is the quest of all citizens. After five years of effort, the first to graduate is Cadet Captain Ito Roos."

 At the front of the parade, a tall, athletic woman in an immaculate uniform came to attention and briskly marched forward; Ito Roos marched to the podium to receive her commission. As she did, she remembered her journey here, her father Tedos, Colonel of Engineers and her mother Iso, Merchant Captain, all were in her thoughts. As top student throughout her education, this background had prepared her for the Academy. At the steps, Ito surrendered the issued sword to the sentry, before completing the final distance to stand before the rostrum.

 Ito halted before the dais and saluted. THE Forno returned the salute and declared, "Ensign Ito Roos congratulations, may you travel far on your quest."

 Next, the Commandant stepped forward and presented the sword of honour, "Congratulations Ensign Roos, carry this sword with honour to mark the effort as Valedictorian of your intake. Return to your company Madam."

 Roos clipped the sword and scabbard to her harness, saluted, about turned and marched back to the formation.

 When she had returned to her mark the ceremony continued, the Cadet Lieutenants, serjeants and finally the other graduates. While she waited she thought back on the long road travelled to arrive here, the initial intake had started with over a thousand men and women. Over the years this had been reduced to the hundred graduating as fleet officers. There were a few retirements from accidents; some others diverted to lower grade positions as soldiers and mechanics when leadership hadn't been to the standard required. The board reassigned another group anonymously.

 The Commandant called the parade to order then handed over to the parade commander; who dismissed the assembly; once released from the ranks, Ito joined her parents where they congratulated her.

 "Hi Mother, Father," Ito said as she greeted them, "Seems like forever to get here."

"Now the rest of your life is ahead of you," Tedos said, "Has the Admin told you of your first posting?"

 "Thanks, Dad," Ito said, "The Forno Challenge and Uncle Fedo is the captain."

 'I will advise him to work you hard,' Tedos said with a teasing note, 'So that you don't get bored.'

 'I would hate for that to happen,' Ito laughed, 'I have a couple of days at home before I join the ship.'

 The Navy had assigned Ito Roos as a junior officer on the Forno Challenge Captained by Senior Captain Fedo Roos.

 

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Apprentice Merchant

 After a short holiday with her family, Ito gathered her gear to join her new ship.

 Roos hailed a Taxi to take her across town knowing that it would be a long time before she saw her home again. As her vehicle travelled along the beautiful avenues, the gardens reflected the concept of receiving points for diverse ways for growing their future.    

Arriving at the Navy base, Ito found the Forno Challenge standing in all its glory on the pad as she strode towards the boarding ramp.

The Challenge was a Globular Spaceship designed to carry cargo on several decks with an extensive accommodation for trainees in all functions from pilots, mechanics to soldiers.

 'Hello, Forno Challenge, Ensign Roos reporting for duty,' Roos said, saluting as she crossed the entry deck.

 The Duty officer returned the salute, 'Welcome aboard; Crewman Fotoos will assign you to a cabin, carry on.'

 'Ma'am,' Roos acknowledged and followed the crewman.

 Having stowed her gear, Roos reported to the bridge where she found Captain Fedo Roos.

 'Ensign Ito Roos. Reporting for duty, sir,' Roos saluted and stood at attention.

 'Stand easy, save the drill for the parade ground, welcome aboard, Ito,' Fedo said, 'You will be assigned to each section of the ship in turn until you know all of them by heart. However, from now discipline requires that we observe protocol. Ensign Roos, Carry on.'

 'Aye, aye sir,' Roos acknowledged as she marched out to find the First Lt and her first assignment.

 'Welcome aboard Ensign Roos. Want to start at the dirty end?' Lt Stoos asked.

 "Yes, sir, that would get it out of the way rather than work backwards," Roos accepted, "Besides they won't expect too much."

 "Niece of the Captain? Then expect all the shitty jobs," Stoos said with a grin to indicate he was pulling her leg, "Another newbie is your friend Zento Hoos."

"That's nice," Roos said, meaning the opposite as he was her closest competitor at the Academy as Cadet Lt and a pain in the behind always looking for a simple pathway to advance.

 "You hide your glee well, just as long as you compete to do the best job and not against each other," Stoos said firmly, "Your file is extensive, and your intake was the highest achieving in recent times; I expect you to maintain this standard. Report to Engineering, Ensign."

"Aye Sir," Roos acknowledged and marched out to commence her duties.

 Having studied the layout of the ship before marching in and serving as a cadet on a similar vessel, Roos knew where to go for her first assignment.

 The ship was a training vessel for both Navy and Merchant Fleets, secondly Merchant Freighter and lastly a Warship to project Fornoon Hegemony.

To fulfil these roles it had an excessive complement of crew and trainees, ample cargo capacity and heavily armed with weapons and shields.

 The next mission was on a merchant run, display wares, research the local market with a sub-task of intelligence gathering. The program had the lift-off for 0700 next morning.

 Arriving at Engineering, Roos located the crew chief and reported, "Ensign Roos reporting for duty in Engineering, sir."

 "I am a chief mechanic, not a damn officer, address me as chief and jump when I say hop," Chief Ghos stated, "Stay up until I tell you to land, got it?"

 "Yes chief, I am here to learn," Roos said.

 "Keep that attitude, and we will get on just fine. I am assigning you to my slackest crew. I expect you to be part of the team and make the B team the best," Ghos said, "Make your way aft and find Leader Bosos. It shouldn't be hard; he will be yelling at his latest boy."

  Roos followed the directions and as warned soon heard a man yelling at someone; zeroing in on the commotion she discovered the loudmouth, obviously Bosos and damn, Zento Hoos.

 Waiting for a pause in the harangue, Roos asked, "Leader Bosos, I am Ito Roos, Chief Ghos said to join your team?"

  Throwing his hands up in frustration, Bosos said, "What have I done to deserve this? The chief has it in for me. Yes, I am Leader Bosos, you will address me as Mister, or Leader Bosos until told otherwise. Know this Ensign Hoos?" Thumbing towards Zento, Roos nodded.

 "He thinks his shit don't stink. Is that what they teach you at the academy? The First lesson, you know nothing, Second lesson, You have a lot to learn about real life; the Third lesson, you will be part of the team, and I am the leader. One of these days you will have to tell me what to do, I will then depend on you to protect my bum."

 "Yes Leader," Roos said with a smile.

 "You'll do, there is a spill in passageway Zebra 5," Bosos ordered.

"Yes Mister," Roos acknowledged and grabbed the mop located a bucket and left to remedy the problem.

 Behind her, Bosos started back onto Zento, "See that is teamwork, got it? Ensign?" Bosos asked making the title sound an insult.

 There was a mumbled reply, which made Roos laugh.

 It wasn't long before she located the offending spot, it only took a minute to remedy and return the gear to where she had found it. On the return, she touched up a couple of other stains.

 'Done, Mister Bosos,' Roos reported.

 "I will check, Ensign Roos," Bosos said but didn't move. Zento seemed to have absorbed the hint and had left on the errand that had been the subject of the debate.

 'Come over here; this gauge monitors the fluctuations of the main reactor. Don't bother telling me that the computer does that. For the rest of the shift, you are making sure the computer is doing its job,' Bosos ordered.

'Yes, leader Bosos,' Roos acknowledged aware that this was a patience lesson.

 As it had a chair and associated computer screen, she monitored the gauge with one eye while she called up the diagnostics and compared the input to the data. 

 After less than half an hour of comparing the two, she noticed that a variance had crept into the pair, aware that this was probably a test, Roos reported this to Bosos who came over with a slightly pleased look.

 "Found a problem?" Bosos asked.

 "Yes there seems to be a variance between the gauge and the record," Roos reported.

 "Yes, there is, adjust the computer like so," Bosos said as he demonstrated the fix, then wandered back to his station.

 After a couple of adjustments, Roos ran the diagnostics and spotted the cause. A small program was running which randomly fed an erroneous pulse into the computer. Investigating the programming further; there was another correcting the record of the gauge output. Now to tell Bosos or fix it, Ito thought, 'No, I will just inform him, I am not cleared to reprogram.'

 "Leader Bosos, would you like me to leave this subprogram alone or should I remove it?" Roos asked.

 "Very quick, Hoos was on it all yesterday, and he didn't spot that. Leave it there; it only runs when there is a novice at the switch," Bosos laughed, "I suppose you guessed it was a test?"

 "Naturally, otherwise I would have removed the error program," Roos admitted.

 "I will set you a couple more demanding tasks before I let you loose on the working modules," Bosos said, "Now if you assist Mechanic Geos to align a mechanism, I would appreciate that."

"Was there any reason that Chief Ghos would suggest that you ran a less than optimal crew?" Roos asked.

 "Not to my face he doesn't, if you have a spare hour or two, you can check the stats," Bosos laughed, "That is a part of the routine of weeding out the high fliers who think life owes them something. You are the first in ages to ask that."

 Roos nodded smiling inwardly and accompanied Geos to the new task, which they carried out without fuss. Job complete, the pair continued inspecting the equipment.

 At the end of the watch, Roos was happy to have a meal and hit her bunk. In the next cabin, she could hear Zento grumbling about his treatment to his cabin mate. 

 'Well mate, you can do it the hard way or read between the lines to see what they do want,' Roos mentally advised as she settled down a good nights sleep. 

 Waking before the alarm, Roos went through the routine of starting the day before arriving at Leader Bosos' station five minutes early.

 Bosos wasn't surprised by this or when Zento stumbled bleary-eyed with only seconds to spare.

 "Ah, good to see two young workers bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to start the day. We lift in an hour, Ensign Roos to assist Mech Geos, Ensign Hoos to Mech Jisos, carry on," Bosos ordered, receiving two 'Leader' acknowledgements.

 The two left to join their guides.

 "How come you are his favourite?" Zento asked sourly on the way.

 "In individual categories, you either match or exceed my scores," Roos said, "The one that drops you is teamwork. You are an excellent solo performer, so if you work on your teamwork, you will go places."

 "Thanks for the advice, why didn't you mention that before?" Grumbled Zento.

 "I believe no more than a dozen times or so a year," Roos laughed, "It is hard catching you not talking about some injustice."

 Zento just grunted as he spotted Mech Jisos. Geos waved her to a bench which was their station for takeoff; this wasn't a problem with most of the manoeuvres used gravity drive until well clear of obstacles, before moving onto the in-system drive.

 Once the bench displayed the ready lamp, Geos started the next inspection round which filled the rest of the shift.

  The cruise out to the jump point was uneventful, and they went through the process before resuming the run through the grey Hyper. As expected of a massive freighter everything was smooth, and the restraints were superfluous.

  The routine activity set in and nothing happened until they emerged into the Novi system they were programmed to do.

  The patrol challenged the ship, and a customs inspection team board to search the compartments. The inspectors were arrogant in their approach, raising all the crews' hackles. The regular crew were too experienced to react, so Roos took her cue from them. Zento, of course, was fuming and started to curse which then drew attention. Roos sidled over and elbowed him in the diaphragm winding him, "Perhaps you should see the Doctor about that asthma?" Roos then whispered, "Cool it. Staying calm is the behaviour is what we are here to learn."

 "Oh, yeah, Why wasn't I told?" Zento asked.

 "Perhaps you slept through the brief," Roos said.

 Eventually, the Customs team left, and their ship resumed its station. The Challenge continued down to the port for unloading and negotiating the next load.

 "Ensign Roos to the bridge," The intercom blared, Geos pointed the way.

 Roos trotted up forward to find out why the bridge summoned her.

  Captain Roos was waiting, "Good morning Ensign, would you like to observe a merchant at work?" Captain Roos asked.

  "Since it is it part of my job description, Sir," Roos answered, "I would be delighted."

  "Hum, neat trick with Hoos," Fedo said, "Is it part of the training package? If this regime weren't pushing for a reaction, Hoos could go."

 "Aye sir, Lead on," Roos acknowledged, "I catch him out all the time; if he watched me instead of flapping his gums it wouldn't be needed."

 The brief having settled the purpose for the summons, the trading party assembled and left the ship to commence the negotiations at the trade ministry.

 They were escorted in with armed soldiers very evident. At last, the guard brought the trading team before an official.

 "Good day sir, May I inquire as to the display of distrust?" Captain Roos asked, "If you don't wish to trade, you don't have to lay out the Welcome mat."

 "It has come to our attention, that there is a move to undermine the government," The Novi official said.

 "Not me, it is bad for business," Fedo said, "Anything I can do to assure you that it is not our intention?"

 "Unlikely, but as we are still interested in the trade, please be aware that we will monitor all your movements," Official said, "You may continue."

 "Thank you, Sir. May I suggest that you are wasting your resources?" Fedo asked.

 "Ours to waste, Captain," Official said, "Good day." 

  The team then were escorted to their first client.

 "Quaint reception, Ito?" Fedo asked, "So what did you learn?"

 "Not to play cards with you," Roos said, "I suppose you have an idea what he was talking about?"

 "Perhaps, do you remember the lecture I gave at the Academy?" Fedo asked rhetorically.

 This hint settled the question as the lecture had centred on plausible deniability and best not to mention to the right hand what the left was doing. This explanation left most of the students baffled, the ones who understood and followed up, disappeared into the intelligence core. While Roos followed the drift, she was also wary of the seamy side of the military intelligence having lived in a military family and the advice only to volunteer when you knew where the job was leading.

 "Nice day here, perhaps a little dry for my skin," Roos commented, "How long will the talks take?"

 "We should be wrapped up shortly, despite his objections the government is keen to promote trade as they want our equipment," Fedo advised.

 "I look forward to seeing you in action, Captain," Roos said.

 "Let us do it," Fedo said then as he walked up to the merchant that he had the appointment with, "Good day sir, I am sorry that I am tardy, an official decided to have a chat."

 "Good day Captain, a little bird suggested that you may have a little side trip. Shall we begin?" Kleinan asked waving them to the waiting seats.

 The talks went on with neither side allowing the other to gain a significant advantage. At last, they struck a bargain which pleased them both.

"Well thank you, sir, That was most entertaining, even made me think I was getting the better deal," Kleinan said as he shook hands on the deal.

 "But of course you did, I will be unable to pay my crew, you have pauperised me," Fedo said with a smile.

 "There you go again, please go while I still have a shirt to wear," Kleinan said. 

  "As you wish, I will see you next time," Fedo said.

 "But of course, it has been a pleasure," Kleinan ended, as he escorted out. 

 The guard reformed, as the trade team returned to the ship. 

 On the way, Roos said, "Was that part of the way to do business? Each claiming to be robbed by the other?" 

 "Keep an open ear, and you will learn all that I know," Fedo grinned.

 The cargo arrived, and the ensigns were co-opted to aid as stevedores, Zento as usual, complained at the menial labour.

 "You need the exercise, remember teamwork, and I will enjoy the extra points even if you don't," Roos laughed.

 The teams got stuck into it, and the new cargo was secured. Once the team had completed the task, they returned to their duties.

 Clearance received they lifted off and made their way to the jump point without further drama. 

 Curious Roos requested an interview with the Captain. The first Lt arranged a meeting, and she was soon talking with Fedo.

 "Now let me guess you want to know all?" Fedo asked, "However I am turning this into a quiz, tell me what happened."

 "Well the local bosses have a bee in their bonnet, perhaps the spooks are in action," Roos offered, "If they are, I would think that you have been briefed and may or may not approve."

 "Mmm, close and I don't, we have a nice trade setup, the pot stirrers aren't doing me any favours," Fedo  said, "Now why do you think such an expensive and over-manned ship is visiting?"

 "If the spooks start something, we pull their chestnuts out of the fire?" Roos suggested.

  "As long as you understand that such conjecture in the wrong ear may be unhealthy," Fedo advised.

"Noted, so what is the next stop," Roos asked.

 After being told, she returned to her cabin with something to think about besides sleep. 

 Zento knocked on the door, "Can I have a word?"

 "If you are quick," Roos answered, not keen to spend too much time on him.

 "You accompanied the Captain off-ship, why wasn't I invited?" Zento asked.

  "Have you an hour? I don't. You will probably go the next time and no it wasn't nepotism," Roos answered, "I have the best rating for maintaining a poker face, and while the merchant wasn't a problem, the official reception would have had smoke emerging from your ears. The official was deliberately provocative and keeping a straight face was difficult, whereas I have no problem separating you from a credit." 

 "You are probably right. So anything you can tell me?" Zento asked.

 "I had to guess, and the captain didn't confirm any of those, except to ask if I listened when he gave those lectures on trade negotiations."

 "Oh, those, I thought he was rather obscure and lost me," Zento admitted.

 "Do you remember Tyos and Geros?" Roos asked.

 "They were reassigned if I remember?" Zento said puzzled.

 "After they asked questions?" Roos hinted.

 "Yes and the last time I saw them they were officers in Intelligence," Zento said, "Apparently their memory wasn't as good, and they ignored me."

"Which is a hint to play safe and ignore them right back," Roos advised.

"Ah, thanks, I learnt a lot," Zento said as he left.

 'As did I,' Roos said to herself, she hadn't known for sure where those two had ended up. 

 When they emerged into the next system, it was to a watery world dotted with large islands; the customs ship intercepted. The inspection this time was polite and efficient. 

 After they had landed, Captain Roos called for Zento to form part of the party leaving Roos to entertain herself with ship duties. The routine of off-loading and loading the cargo went smoothly, and they were soon on their way to the next.

  As they entered the new system Roos was spending a watch on the bridge, Captain Roos announced, "Fvelsving, they like to tell everyone that they are an independent system beholden to no one. The actual situation is that the Imperials have a nearby mining planet which uses Fvelsving as a supply and recreation depot," Fedo said, "A small detail, it has trading connections to the Oxzens as well as us. Our spooks are ordered to avoid any activity.  The Imperials would look upon that with displeasure."

 Aside to Roos, Fedo asked, 'Do you have a problem dealing with "bluebags"?' 

'I suppose I can hold my breath for a while and learn as much as I can,' Roos said as the official propaganda was negative.

"I will deal with a man called Roxz; I believe that you will find him amusing," Fedo advised.

 "As you wish, I know how to maintain a calm demeanour," Roos promised.

 "That's my girl," Fedo said, then aloud, "Standby for the customs inspection." This check was quick and efficient. The officer was chatting with the captain like old town week.

After landing and the team walked over to the admin building Roos noticed an odd yellow saucer. At her query look, Fedo identified as, "A tramp freighter run by a Droman whatever that is and another who looks like a Corellian."

 They ended up at a warehouse, and when they entered, a Blue Oxzen came and greeted Fedo enthusiastically, "Fedo my old friend, who is your delightful companion?"

 "My niece, Ito, this old reprobate is El ali Roxz, merchant extraordinaire," Fedo said.

 "Delighted to meet you, now Fedo, did you bring this jewel to distract me from a fair deal?" Roxz asked.

 "As if I could put anything over you?" Fedo said, "For now, show us to comfortable seats, and we will try to arrange a deal that doesn't send me to the poorhouse."

 They went into his office and started trading, after a while, Roos began to feel a little left out, noting this, Roxz suggested, "Why don't you inspect my warehouse, young lady, I am sure that would interest you?"

 Surprised, she agreed and started wandering around and surveying the goods; most were familiar with a few she couldn't identify. While she was doing this, a bearded Corellian wandered in with a large bird on his shoulder. Spotting her, this man came over and asked in a strange accent, "Good day; I am Mike Cox. How come I haven't seen you around before?"

 "Ito Roos from the Challenge, first time I have visited, are you off the yellow saucer?" Roos said.

 "Yep the Yella Terra, this is Humph," He said thumbing at the Bird.

 Roos looked askance, "I thought that your captain was a big bear also named Humph?" 

 "As I am usually," The Bird said in a five-year-old's voice. 

 "I learn something every day," Roos said, "I may see you around from time to time."

 Then she escaped back into Roxz's office to find the pair were finishing up with the usual banter. 

 "Ready to return to the ship?" Fedo asked, "We have settled here."

 "Yes, I ran into the pair from the Yella Terra, didn't find out where the bearded fellow is from and the captain was a large bird," Roos related.

 Fedo just gave her a look and waved her back to the Challenge.

 Once inside, Fedo asked, "Give me your ideas?"

 "Droman are shapechangers, and the man is from an unexplored planet," Roos said.

 "Yes I have heard the first, I would like to know more about the man," Fedo said, "The crew is being given leave if you happen to run across your bearded friend, perhaps a little more information would be helpful."

Roos took that as a hint and attended the leave briefing session.

  After the usual dire warnings about health risks, the Chief gave earthy advice, "Stay clear of these guys," Throwing up holograms of several enormous and rough-looking aliens, "Garmaurgins, Slitherins and Hortogs, these fellows are disappointed if they don't get at least one fight every hour. You should smell them before you see them. If you follow the recreation directives and stay away from restricted areas, you shouldn't run into them. All crew are to carry sidearms, please don't shoot too many customers, not wearing these will attract the wrong sort of attention. Have fun; I have a credit bet that less than six end up in sickbay. Carry on."

 Roos considered staying aboard as she didn't like to waste her rest time, but the captain hinted intelligence was worth collecting.

 So gathering a couple of sensible crewmates, she headed out. Roos had memorised a couple of innocuous watering holes and thought that her bearded friend might visit one of those.

 After having a couple of light drinks from sealed bottles. These selected from known and reliable sources. The principle of not knowing what is in it could kill you.

 Roos guided her companions through several bars before seeing her man this time with a big jolly Teddy Bear.

 Trying not to look too obvious, she sidled over casually and asked, "What is a nice boy like you doing on a planet like this?"

 And received a big grin, "Hey that is my line, I was about to try on you," Mike returned, "I hang with strange people who love to watch the tipsy antics."

 "Good morning Ito Roos," Humph said in the little voice, "Enjoying yourself?"

 "Indeed, I like watching how the other half live," Roos said, "So, where is Droma?"

 "Nearly right around the wheel," Humph said, "And yourself?"

 "Goosos, about halfway antispin," Roos said only half fibbing, the named planet was nearby and a client system.

 "I am from Earth, nearly neighbours," Mike said.

 "Watch this girl Mike; she will find out what colour undies you are wearing and what you had for breakfast," Humph laughed.

"I will promise to interrogate you softly with sponge rubber spikes. So, where did you get such an unusual ship?" Roos asked playfully.

"Built it myself, reminds me of my home on Droma, quite practical, you are most welcome to visit," Humph invited, "Don't worry I don't bite and I have almost housetrained Mike ."

 "Ha. Can I have a return inspection?" Mike asked.

 "I will have to clear it with my Uncle," Roos said, "Those four stripes on your shoulder, what do they signify? My emblems indicate Ensign."

 "Pilot in command, referred to as captain, as does Humph as he is the owner," Mike said, "Is that a military rank?"

 "Sometimes, also means I am just out of school learning the ropes," Roos answered thinking he was finding out more than she was.

 "Well since we have had enough fun for the day, would you like to have the tour?" Humph asked.

 Observing her companions who were busy drinking, Roos thought, 'why not,' Aloud, "Never stop learning my Dad says," Roos said, "Shall we go, on the way I can ask my captain."

 "Sounds like an excellent finish to a pleasant day," Mike said as he stood and headed for the exit.

 As they adjusted their eyes to the bright sun, they almost bumped into three drunks. These demanded belligerently, "Watch where you are going." Then pushing for a fight, one reached for Roos, "Give us a kiss Darls."

 Roos slapped his hand away and assumed a defensive position. This action triggered profanity, and the three started to swing fists, Mike floored one and tied the other in a neat knot while Roos demonstrated to the first drunk, that this was no way to treat a lady. Humph just stood there looking amused. One of the thugs went for his gun then thought better of it when he stared into two pistols trained on him. Stumbling off, the three pretended that they had better things to do.

 "Handy moves," Mike noted as he holstered his weapon, "Ladies' finishing school I presume?"

 "Of course, some of it did stick, yourself?" Roos replied.

 "Mum wouldn't let me go to a ladies college said it would corrupt me, the Kindy playground was rough enough," Mike said.

"Have you had your playtime, children?" Humph asked, "If so, shall we enter my home?"

Ito and Mike grinned then shrugged, following their guide into the saucer.

 Nothing stood out inside, with controls and fittings similar to the Corellian ships. As was the machinery in the engineering bay, the only odd thing was the extensive hydroponic gardens lining the passageways and the video screens showing rural scenes. Both of these would be redundant with only two in the crew, pleasant but not functional.

 Roos asked, "Did you have a Corellian vessel to copy?"

 "Very astute, you spotted it straight off. If it works why change," Humph said, "Would you like to call your captain?"

 Humph indicated where the radio was situated.

 "Yes Thank you," Roos said, then after selecting the ship frequency radioed, "Challenge, Ensign Roos calling, is the Captain available?"

 "Yes Ensign Roos, Captain speaking," Fedo answered.

 "I am visiting some friends you have heard me talk about, may I show them how to run a real ship?" Roos asked.

"Certainly, I would be delighted to meet them, Challenge out." Fedo ended the call.

 "Well if you are ready, I should warn you the Captain may bite if you scuff his deck," Roos said.

  "Perish the thought," Humph said, "After you."

  So the trio made their way over to Roos' ship chatting about what their home planet looked like and the differences from this one.

 "It is strange that the few I have seen, the sameness outweighs the differences," Roos observed, "I suppose we all breath and eat nearly the same."

 Reaching the Challenge ramp, Roos called, "Hello Challenge, Ensign Roos with two visitors." She was surprised when Captain Roos answered at the entrance.

 "Welcome aboard, I am Captain Fedo Roos," Fedo said.

 "I am Humph, and this is Mike Cox, it would be our pleasure," Humph said shaking hands.

 Mike whispered a question, "Relation?"

"Uncle but you bet that doesn't get me any privileges," Roos whispered back.

 As they walked through the ship, Humph asked, "Ito says she is from Goosos, the nameplate indicates Forno?"

 "That is what we tell everyone, sometimes it saves arguments," Fedo said, "Droma? Beautiful place?" 

 "Very but is a little boring after four odd centuries, I needed to have a wander," Humph supplied.

"Many wandering around?" Fedo asked a little taken back at the age mentioned.

 "As far as I know, including me, one," Humph laughed.

 "You are from Earth, do they have many wandering?" Roos asked Mike.

 "I would have to give the same answer. Humph plucked me from an exciting life on a small farm with a dazzling story of aliens and mysterious planets to be visited. As an innocent youth I was enthralled," Mike said, "Now I know the horrible truth that Humph is a slave driver and only wanted my sweat to water his garden."

Roos gave each a puzzled look as the easygoing relationship seemed to belie the statement.

"Oh, not your sparkling wit and raconteur?" Humph asked, confiding, "He does supply breath and fertiliser as well."

"Is there anything in particular that you would like to see?" Fedo asked not wanting this to turn into an all-day session.

 "Just the Bridge and Engineering, if you would," Humph replied, "Nothing that Mike can break."

 Mike whispered to Roos, "He pranged his ship behind my farm when his last crew pushed the wrong button."

 "I heard that; he was a primate and became bored," Humph said, "At least Mike knows when to keep his hands in his pocket."

 By now they had reached the bridge, and the chatter stopped, Humph asked a few pointed questions and received accurate answers, as the control layout were Corellian standard there wasn't much new. That planet's factories were famous as they constructed reliable and robust vessels. Other similar races copied the best features.

 Moving to the engineering, Roos introduced the guests to Chief Ghos who greeted them casually.

 "Good day, make yourselves at home, meaning touch nothing if you want to keep your fingers," Ghos said.

 "I can grow new ones, but I will abide by my host's request," Humph said, "Nice layout. If  you need a new job, I can use another happy face."

 "No poaching, this ship would fall apart without him," Fedo laughed.

 "That won't get you any favours," Ghos grunted, "You will still have to join the line." 

 "Well, that is about all I am allowed to show you," Fedo said, "Would you like a brew in the galley?"

 "No thank you, we have taken enough of your time, I have appreciated the tour," Humph said.

 Ito showed them out and waved goodbye from the ramp.  

 Fedo was waiting when she passed the bridge, and he beckoned her over.

 "Your opinion?" Fedo asked.

 "Droma is around the rim opposite to here; Captain Cox is Rimward from Forno. I don't believe I should challenge either to a card game; Mike hides it under a veneer of cheerfulness and Humph didn't miss a thing," Roos considered, "I think he could build the Challenge from a pile of junk."

 "Our knowledge of this pair has been extended by multiples, yet there is as much to learn," Fedo said, "Be very careful crossing paths with these races."

 "My assessment as well," Roos agreed, "Everyday brings new knowledge."

 "Tell them to throw the dirt into the hole when you admit there is nothing else to learn," Fedo said, "Carry on, I am sure you have something better to do." 

"Aye sir," Roos said recognising a dismissal. 

 She returned to her cabin to resume the activity that she enjoyed. Reading the latest updates in technology and intelligence.

  In the morning the Challenge was due to lift to its next port, arriving in Engineering as per usual Roos was early, and Zento struggled in looking a little worse for wear. 

 "Ghos is grumpy; he lost the bet because seven visited the sickbay, so best keep out his way if you have any sense left," Bosos said, looking with disfavour at Zento. Roos had heard that Zento had led his friends to the wrong hotel and the local customers had shown them the door, the windows and other openings. 

 That they survived was more luck than skill. Zento often returned after leave like this as in some areas he was a slow learner. If wasn't for Zento's skills and quick recovery he would be looking for another occupation. 

 The whole ship had heard the welcome aboard when he emerged from the sickbay, even though it happened behind closed doors in the Captain's cabin.

 His other accomplishment of rapid recovery saved his hide yet again, and he resumed his duties quickly.

  The travel to the next system was unremarkable as was the following, by this time Roos had been moved to the kitchen as was Zento who thought this was even worse than Engineering. He let all and sundry except the Chef know what he thought of this. Roos, on the other hand, knew that likely she would be in a scout ship for her first command and would have to cook or starve. With a crew of three, one on duty and one sleeping meant the 'captain' had to carry a share of the load, or all would be miserable.

 'Zento is going to have to learn this unless he intends to spend his career as a junior officer on a big ship,' Roos thought, 'He has been told often enough, surely he is not that thick?'

 As they approached the next system, there was a flurry of work happening on the bridge with the order to assume a high level of alert. As Roos' action station was the close laser weapons, these were set and hold fire unless shut down, just lifting her finger would allow the firing of the guns aimed by computer radar link. These were a defence against fighters and missiles. 

  As they emerged from hyperspace, other pulses showed a significant number of Fornoon ships converging at a staging position and once the fleet had assembled orders were given to drive towards a planet.

 "Action stations," Blared the Intercom.

 That was the signal to man the weapons station and bring her weapons up to standby, the computer now actively tracked surrounding vessels and assigning them icons as friend or foe. 

 Orange meant the next level where approaching blips would be targetted ready for the final step of actual firing. The weapons controller could retag the target if the IFF were friendly.

 Red when called, meant finger off the button and the computer shot anything on an intercept course or hostile within range. Once this was triggered, it was extremely hazardous to approach the ship as it was on automatic and as likely to fire at friends as enemies.

  As the fleet approached, Orange was declared, and Roos switched the console to live tracking with one finger on the hold button and another on the cancel switch to reset to safe. Watching the screen for enemy ID, Roos concentrated while the two groups approached each other. The oncoming fleet was assessed as hostile and of a lesser force than the Fornoon fleet. Command lifted the condition to Red; Ito removed her finger from the pause button.

 This lopsided tactical situation had occurred to the hostiles, who after unleashing a barrage of missiles; vectored to an escape course. As the wave of missiles entered the defensive zone, Roos' canons flared into life zapping one after another as it zeroed on each blip until the order to resume 'Orange state' before relaxing to 'action' when Roos hit the cancel switch reverting to watch and track.

 The Fornoon fleet continued to the target planet and while half, including the Challenge, set themselves into a defensive cordon. The other half descended to occupy strategic points with the troopers dispersing to fortify buildings which cut off approaches to strategic sites.

 After blockading the strategic points, the local supporters of the usurping faction did the final push to disarm the loyalist ground forces.

 After a time at action stations, the duty crew gradually took over to relieve the tired personnel. This procedure allowed the troops to recover and be available in case of further assignment. After a couple of watches, each of the crew had recovered.

 Signals from scouts reported that the system fleet had dispersed into for and against factions, which rendered the threat ineffectual.

 Once the tactical command had settled the situation, the bridge announced the next phase over the intercom, "Supernumeraries to the Cargo hold." This order was to all trainees and the supernumerary crew; these were now to assemble equipped in ground battle gear.

 Roos and Hoos as military trained, now assumed their other role as a platoon commander. While this may seem a radical change; when the pair were cadets they performed as privates, junior NCO then Senior and the period before graduation held officer status and leading platoons in similar actions. This programme had happened during assignments to working troop ships as landing force officers. After graduation, the administration assigned half of the group as army and specialist officers. 

 During this assignment, Roos had assembled her platoon regularly; conducting tactical exercises with her serjeant and corporals on an available time basis.

 In the cargo hold, Roos gathered her Platoon and awaited orders. While they waited, the NCOs thoroughly checked their section's gear. The most likely instruction would be to relieve the garrisons so these could rest and regroup to act as strike forces able to react to countermeasures attacks from the loyalists.

 The shuttles started to arrive, and the troops boarded ready to be dropped to the surface.

 Roos and her platoon were assigned a position at the head of a cross-city road, covering approaches to government buildings.

 Once landed Roos located the Lieutenant in charge to discover the tactical situation and weapons sites. Serjeant Gtoos recorded the information and once the briefing finished arranged the platoon for the best effect setting the corporals in a roster to cover relief for rest and recuperation to allow for twenty-four hours surveillance.

 The strike troops withdrew to rest and regroup. This interval was the critical time; if the loyalists were aware that reinforcement troops were in the process of settling in this would be the opportune time to counterattack.

 They had practised this scenario using computer games; the worst case was that the first evening after the strike group withdrew; the loyalists would be likely to challenge the garrison. 

 So at the critical time, Roos ordered all her platoon to 'stand to' quietly in preparation, minimising movement after sunset and the gathering twilight.

 Gtoos and Roos had consulted and considered that the assault they would stage likely would be from cover in a park adjacent. 

 As they waited, a lookout signalled movement in the park;  several people were assembling in the dark, only showing with infrared viewers.

 Using her radio, Roos warned her troops to await orders, then contacted company HQ to report the activity. The Company would then independently assess the threat and deal with it, so Roos' B platoon didn't have to give away her heavy weapons too soon. A small attack was often used to locate heavy equipment which the insurgents would target next wave. As they were already in the optimum position and moving them would be difficult.

 The Company responded by ordering B platoon to stand to while C platoon attacked the insurgents.

 The wait wasn't long before a firefight erupted behind the shadowy group dispersing them. Lt Hoos commanded C platoon; once the area was clear, C platoon returned to Company HQ to standby for similar deployments.

 While Roos stayed on alert as C platoon retired to their staging post, she warned the rearguard for attacks from the rear. Well that she did as laser fire started pinging their protective armour. A small number of insurgents intended a double feint.

 "Heavy weapons hold fire, seconds to me," Roos ordered.

 The second man at each position crept rearwards to the assembly point where Roos joined them ready to charge any insurgents who had evaded the guard line.

 Spotting a party that had done just that, Roos called, "Foreward," and routed the insurgents before they could cause damage.  Once the position was secured, the platoon restrained prisoners and treated wounded.

 This situation of to and fro carried on for several days before C platoon was relieved by the original team; Shuttles then lifted Roos and her platoon back to the Challenge.

 After storing her gear, Roos reported to the bridge for debriefing.

 All the officers had assembled and were giving their reports in turn.

 Captain Roos addressed them. "Well done, mission completed, we now hand over to the regular ships and return to the exciting merchant business," Fedo said, "Carry on, dismissed and have a good rest."

 Seeing that Ito was hanging back, Fedo waved her over, "What do you think happened?"

  Thinking 'I would prefer answers,' she offered, "Our new friends wanted our help to assume their rightful position as the government. There were some who objected, so we stood in the way."

 "Close enough, you performed to expectations officially," Fedo said, "Your parents will be proud as am I." 

 "Thanks, I had better hit the showers," Roos said.

 "Do that, you have work to catch up on," Fedo said.

 Later in the week, the ensigns were called forward for a ceremony, Fedo announced, "I have pleasure in awarding promotions to these fine officers, Lieutenant junior grade Ito Roos step forward."

 Roos did so, aware that the order of the advancement and position meant a minor bragging right over her peers. Usually, these were handed out in alphabetical order. Saluting, Roos accepted the rank badge and the campaign token accompanying it.

 "Lieutenant junior grade Zento Hoos step forward," He called, then by alphabet called the rest of the intake signifying equal standing on the official reports and recorded as having the same time of promotion.

 Reporting back to the first Lieutenant, Roos was assigned a more permanent role as Assistant Engineering officer. This role was administrative, concerned with personnel and repair supplies.

 When reporting to the Engineer Officer, her status had risen slightly; Chief Ghos now acknowledged 'Ma'am' as she walked up to him. "Good day Chief, I see the place hasn't fallen apart since I was here last?"

 "By sheer chance and not the skills of the students, Lt j.g. Roos," Ghos replied both acknowledging and reminding her that her status had only changed slightly.

 "I am sure we can still depend on your good luck, Chief," Roos said.

 Her role continued with regular stints as a platoon leader, and she still had dirty hands as she brushed up her skills in Engineering.

 As the wheel turns, the system sent new graduates to the Challenge, where the crew taught the same lessons she had learnt. This time she viewed the stumbling students with amusement with the hope that she hadn't been as naive.

 As all good things come to an end, the time arrived to leave the comfort of the Challenge, actually to enter the real world.

 When she marched to the Administration building, it was as Lt Roos senior grade. As still a relative junior, the clerk dispensed the news that she henceforth would join the fleet as captain of the scout Rambling Gambler.

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First Command

  This time Ito had to walk further towards the smaller parking points where the Navy housed minor ships. Eventually, she found the designated park.

 On the pad in all its glory was her ship, Rambling Gambler, a scout. Perhaps not new but heaps better than serving as a junior officer in a large vessel. She even had her first assignment, exploration of a binary system Rim ward.

 As she strode to the ship, her new crew discussed what they knew about her.

 'It is her first command, carries herself like she owns the world, the people on the Challenge reckon they would follow her to hell, sticks up for juniors,' Sucos said.

'I also heard, you shouldn’t try to flirt if you don’t want to land on your bum, she is a martial arts champ,' Ruckos returned, 'Here she comes, standby.'

 Her new crew were waiting to welcome her on board; she had met Engineer Sucos and Ensign Ruckos before joining the ship.

 'Take your stations, Engineer Sucos, Lt Ruckos; we lift in an hour towards the rim, a system that has erratic signs of activity,' Roos said as she returned their salutes and entered her new command. 

 The orders were to travel to the system then search for any planets and minerals after they had completed a shakedown cruise around the Forno system. Having determined that the ship was serviceable; Roos ordered Ruckos to set the course for the jump.

 The Hyperjump was uneventful, and the ship arrived at a binary system with a red dwarf sun relatively close.

 The scans as they arrived closer insystem indicated several artificial objects which as they approached these appeared to be a derelict craft with ambiguous life signs.

 Sucos reported, 'Nearest vessel has one life sign which seems to be throughout through the ship, fungus perhaps? The vessel is consistent with an Imperial Scout and doesn't respond to hails.'

 'Ruckos bring us alongside, prepare to board and secure for salvage,' Roos ordered.

 All three donned their spacesuits as the Gambler matched airlocks, Sucos transferred to the derelict.

 'No one aboard,' Sucos reported, before giving a strangled cry.

 'Sucos report,' Roos ordered, there was no reply. However, the figure of her crewman entered the airlock.

 Ruckos approached to investigate but had his suit ripped by the figure and shrieked in pain.

 Roos drew her gun and flamed the grey blob before it could attack her. She ran through to the airlock and slammed it closed; then relocated the Gambler well clear of the hostile scout. 

 Using her sensors, Roos determined that there was now no life signs on the derelict vessel; so she radioed a report declaring an emergency before setting course to return to base. 

 Receiving no reply on the radio, Roos approached the jump point and initiated the entry to Hyperspace. Nothing happened as crackle and smoke erupted from the equipment bay; the Gambler remained in the system.

 Having secured the ship in a stable orbit, she investigated the damage. It seemed that a stray bolt had hit the equipment and she was stranded. 

'I hope that report got through,' Roos said to herself, 'Perhaps I can salvage some parts from the derelict.'

 While she was organising some equipment, The sensors detected a Hyper pulse from the opposite side of the system; Roos started to reach for the radio; however, the transponder squawked the code for an Oxzen ship.

'Oh great, 'bluebags', what else could go wrong?' Roos asked herself. To maintain anonymity, Roos switched off all detectable equipment; then she settled into waiting for them to depart.

 Then an emergency beacon was triggered near the new ship, which then approached the source. A couple of hours passed, then there was more activity with two shuttles started cruising around investigating the system.

 After what seemed like an eternity the Oxzen ship finished its inspection and departed to Roos' relief.

 'Now perhaps I can get something done?' Roos said as she guided her ship back to the original vessel.

 Having retraced her path she cautiously approached and checked the derelict. There were no life signs; so Roos transferred over, her gun in hand to see if the ship was serviceable. All indications were that it was dead with no energy left in the systems. The modules she needed were not able to be tested. 'The parts may be useful,' Roos thought as she removed a few of the radio and Hyperdrive modules ready to transfer to her ship.

'My mother advised never to ask "what else could go wrong",' Roos said to herself as she returned to the Gambler to take stock of her fortunes. as per standard fit, there were enough provisions of food, water and air, to maintain three crew for a month longer than the planned duration, if a search ship was slow, the most significant danger was boredom.

 Roos settled into a routine of exercise then tinkering with the equipment to see if she could make repairs. It wasn't long before she realised the radio had been one of the casualties and therefore hadn't transmitted a signal.

 Still being resourceful, she soon had it spread out on the deck examining each component and trying to source a replacement from the wreck's radio. She was well underway and had just reassembled the transceiver ready for a test when the sensors detected a Hyper pulse from rimward.

'Not a 'bluebag', strange ID, I will send a distress signal and see if I can get a tow,' Roos said as she triggered the Distress Beacon.

 The strange vessel approached tail first. 'Commendable caution, though it is only a shuttle,' Roos commented.

  The radio crackled, 'Shuttle Little Red, Captain Firebrand, do you require assistance?'

 'Rambling Gambler, Hyperdrive disabled,' Roos transmitted, the accent was a problem sounding like the bluebags; perhaps they learnt Galbasic from them.  

 'What crew do you have? I have limited resources,' Firebrand sent back.

 "Captain Roos, crew Sucos and Ruckos, from Goosos, Nitrogen-oxygen 75-25," Roos responded using the standard format for alien vessels, though it jarred her nerves lying.

 "Perhaps I can give you a tow?" Red responded.

 "Sigma Epsilon?" Roos asked in return.

 "Grnatz would be closer," Red replied.

 'Damn a bluebag lover,' Roos thought, then declared, "Do not send a signal or energise your drive, I have you in my sights." She leapt to those controls and aimed her cannon, but before she could zero in on the shuttle, it hit its drive and skipped to the side as Roos pressed the trigger; an overwhelming lassitude descended making her collapse at the weapon station.

 Roos struggled awake to find two men in spacesuits standing on the bridge covering her with pistols. 

The shorter one asked, "Remain calm unless you wish another nap. Why did you fire on us?" 

 As they looked like Corellian rather than Oxzen, Roos assumed the standard response to them, "Sorry I thought you were Oxzen."

 "We are here now, what can we do?" The man asked.

 "My hyperdrive is down due to accidental flash damage," Roos said.

 "Your crew?" He asked.

 "Dead, a thing broke in and killed them; I destroyed it," Roos admitted, "The crew will be a problem to replace."

"Grey Ooze in the form of a man?" He asked.

 "What I saw of it, yes," Roos answered cautiously.

 "You were lucky, not many survive the Zombie beast," He said, "My friend Humph the Droman told me he cleared out an infestation here a little time ago, why didn't you hail him?"

 "I had just finished repairing my radio when you turned up, I thought that he was on an Oxzen ship," Roos explained, "That is annoying because I have met him before and he would have been a great help."

"I am Steve Firebrand, show me the equipment I do have some spares," Steve said, "What is your drama with Oxzens, I have no problems dealing with them?"

 "They swarm a trade planet and exclude everyone else, I just avoid them," Roos took him to the equipment bay, "Over here, I will show you."

 Steve examined the bay and after talking to his shuttle, asked, "Could you place the Hyperdrive on standby?"

  Roos did so, while he mumbled to himself waving his hand over the modules as they gave a couple of crackles.

"Well it seems that modules A and C are Unserviceable, you're in luck I have a couple of spares. If I bring them over; will you be able to fit them?" Steve asked.

 "Yes," Roos snapped, thinking, 'In my sleep.'

 Steve gave her a wry look, "Kev keep an eye on her, I will be back in a moment. Gizmo is getting the parts out of the storage cabinet."

 As promised he returned with the items and handed them over, "You will be able to fit these?" Steve asked again, Ito gave a curt nod, so he said, "I will stand by until you are underway." Gesturing to Kev, they transferred back to the Red shuttle and moved it away.

 With the visitors gone, Roos soon had the modules fitted and tested, powering up the insystem drive she steered the Gambler to jump point, without another word.

 The Rambler arrived at the hyper jump point where Roos engaged the drive. Exiting into the  Forno system with a less than favourable report to deliver. She had been away for longer than the department had planned for the task.

 Having landed the Gambler, she marched over to the debriefing building to deliver her report.

  Roos conveyed the news that another race was active near their borders with Corellian features. The administration received this potentially adverse news; balanced by the assessment that the AC system under investigation was likely beneficial for minerals. The loss of her crew was not received well. The scientists welcomed the news of the elimination of the attacking beast and description of its form.

 After a week of investigation, Roos was recalled to the debrief department, to receive the verdict.

 "Lieutenant Roos, it has been determined that you are not responsible for the loss of your crew, we analysed the report that you delivered, and the alien vessel approach protocols will be amended."

 "Yes, sir," Roos said with relief though she didn't let this show.

 "Crew will be assigned, and your ship will complete the survey of System AC," The Captain ordered.

 "Aye, Aye sir," Roos said as she saluted and marched out.

 She returned to the Gambler where the last of the repairs and restocking was nearing completion.

 Settling in and cleaning up the last of the mess, Roos grumbled, "Can't those mechs clean up after themselves."

  Before the time for liftoff, her new crewmen were Engineer Jiloos Foos and Lt Heta Hostos, who would arrive later in the afternoon.

 At the advised time two women arrived with their luggage in hand, hailing the ship, "Ensigns Foos and Hostos reporting for duty."

 The pair marched aboard and saluted their new captain.

 "Welcome aboard, I am Lieutenant Roos, stow your gear away, and I will brief you on our mission," Roos said as she returned the salute.

 After the girls had done this and returned to the cockpit, Roos invited, "Sit down, have you heard what happened to my last crew? I am now prepared to prevent any further incidents."

 "Yes, the word is that you were lucky to escape that beast. Usually, the infected ship is blasted to avoid contamination; the board policy is to deem all hands lost," Foos said.

"So they informed me, our mission is to return to that system and complete the survey, once done we then approach a potential client system to observe," Roos said. 

The Rambler's crew had settled into this routine, they assumed their stations and carried out systems checks before the appointed departure time.

 "Ensign Foos as the engineer, please ensure that adequate repair modules are available, I was stranded until a passing shuttle provided modules to enable me to return. Since I now know the policy with the zombie infection, my luck was in that the radio was damaged; I don't believe I should rely on that sort of luck in the future," Roos said.

 That settled, Foos rechecked the stores and left to arrange the extra spares, returning later with a cartload. Then stored these away securely.

 As the departure time arrived, the Gambler lifted off and headed to the jump point. Engaging Hyperdrive the ship departed towards AC system; emerging cautiously to survey the area. Several small craft were detected, and each was examined and logged as salvage or wreck.

 The planets they saw were dry and hot, Roos commented, "These are too variable to be habitable, on long-range sensors the small red sun may have a planet in close orbit."

 Once Foos reported her final sweep as confirming the previous assessment, Roos ordered departure to the red sun.

 As it was only a short jump, they were soon orbiting a fertile planet.

 "Promising if you don't mind the stars whipping past," Roos said, "There is a suitable sun further rimward which is our next port of call, this one is likely where the spacers came from, so we go in quietly with all caution."

 "Aye, Ma'am," Hostos said as she set the new course.

 The ship emerged in the planetary plane and drifted at entry speed towards the sun, as they went noted each planet as they approached. Once through the ice cloud, they travelled past a couple of gas giants with multiple moons which while cold, were worth further investigation. As there was no artificial energy detected they probably weren't being exploited. This lack of signals meant that space exploration was in its infancy.

After the Gambler passed the inner gas giant, the next planet was a small, dry, red planet; this was a source of radio transmissions though sparse and primitive. So there was some activity so that the inhabitants may be looking for alien ships.

 Eventually, they approached a green and blue planet with a high sea to land ratio and much more likely, as the sensors indicated a breathable atmosphere similar to Forno.

 "Engage the cloaking field, avoid occlusion of the stars," Roos ordered. This technique involved reading radar frequencies and locally broadcasting an inverted wave to cancel returns. The avoidance of star blocking required being aware of the sight line between the target planet and stars.

 "Heavy radio traffic on multiple bands, several thousand mobile transmissions in low orbit and airspace, there is also sea vessels," Foos reported.

"Logged," Roos acknowledged.

 After several days observation a likely candidate for approach, the approved model for the contact was an isolated country with a firm control of their population. While most of the radio transmissions were in unknown languages, the computer was able to translate a sample of the most likely country.

 The selected country called itself the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, with the southern neighbour calling itself the Republic of Korea. As most of the seaborne trade was between the South and the rest of the world; the Northern state would likely welcome the business from anyone.

 The radio transmissions were belligerent and warlike, especially towards the southern neighbour. The South, in turn, broadcast a description of how good the life was in South Korea which resulted in attempts to jam them by the North.

 "This according to our training brief is the perfect place to start our program. They claim to be at war with most of the world except for their Northern neighbour China and a couple of others, emphasised by their protests of unjust boycotts. They would be keen to trade with us to acquire advanced weapons and goods," Roos said, "So once we have a language tape, I will descend and see if I can speak to those in control and negotiate a basis for a treaty."

  After several weeks the time came when Roos was confident in the language so wearing makeup to match the inhabitants. Using a small shuttle Roos descended to the surface and waited for contact with the Government.

  Ito landed her shuttle at an airport; the Korean soldiers soon surrounded her vessel dismayed that such an aircraft could penetrate their defences unchallenged.

  Dressed in local style and looking like an inhabitant except for her height and hair colour, "I come in peace to the Peoples Republic of Korea. I am from a far distant nation who sympathise with your struggle," Roos stated, "I have available goods and technology to help you throw off the yoke imposed on your glorious Country."

 This speech hit the right chord, and the listeners gushed in enthusiasm as they had heard that the Australians were trading with the stars. The authorities soon invited Roos to an audience with high officials, and between them commenced trade negotiations. Roos wasn't allowed to complete the task as she didn't have a senior enough status to meet diplomatic protocols. Roos promised that a full ambassador would be assigned to their country; as soon as she reported the contact.

 To demonstrate the technology Roos called down the ship and had her crew run rings around the local fighters. Taking a military commander to a range, Roos proved the power of her sidearm by destroying the target spectacularly. She had ensured that she didn't use a too powerful a weapon, only alluding to the potential.

 Having set a basis for the treaty to be arranged, Roos farewelled the Koreans and lifted to return to report the good news to the Fornoon Government.

 After the debrief, Roos was assigned a desk to be available for consultation at need, as this was the programme that the Government followed. An ambassador and staff were appointed, and they lifted off in a small group with two ships to land, with a third vessel in a stationary orbit to observe. 

 While they were gone to set up the next stage; the enforcement fleet was assembled to wait for the order to proceed.

 "Lieutenant Roos you are promoted to Lt Commander and assigned to Customs Corvette Braveheart," Admiral Faroos ordered, "Congratulations, Commander you will join the E Fleet as an auxiliary vessel."

 "Aye, aye, Sir," Roos acknowledged, saluted and marched out to locate her new ship.

 

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Second command

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Agent Provocateur

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Should Blue and Green be seen?

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Destination Droma

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Light Vs Dark

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Troubles at Home

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Visitors from Corellia

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War Clouds Gather

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Battle for Corellia

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~

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