The massive United Central Space Station orbited the Earth below. When humans first expanded into space, it was assumed the simple nuisances of terrestrial life would be a thing of the past, giving way to grander, more imperative issues at hand. It was a foolish assumption, as proven by the constant traffic jam of arriving and departing ships forever buzzing around the station. Serving as headquarters for the human arm of the Alliance navy, along with both civilian and military spaceports, Dax wasn’t alone in considering the aging station as a bloated, lumbering mess.
He made his way down the main public plaza toward the administrative offices. One perk of the station’s constant bustling crowds was that Dax was easily able to blend in during most of his visits here.
Most of his visits. Scattered whispers and shouts echoed through the plaza, and Dax responded with crowd-pleasing waves perfected with routine. Hard to complain when it paid the bills, yet he breathed an eye-rolling sigh of relief once out of sight. His personal phone buzzed in his pocket just as he entered a more secluded hallway.
“Harrison,” he answered.
“Donating to charity?!” The voice on the other end was clearly not happy.
“How ya doing, Eddie?”
“Are you outta your goddamned mind?!” Zellev’s right-hand man and business manager, Eddie (last name unknown) wasn’t much of a people person on a good day, let alone after watching Dax promise resort profits away on the air.
“I had to say something! I was being backed into a corner!” Dax looked around, making sure no one could hear his whispered shouts. “And what’s this about questionable practices, huh? Is your boss running a mob out there or something? Is that new hotel sitting on a foundation of busted kneecaps?”
“I have no recollection of that, Your Honor.” The line was rehearsed plenty. “Meantime, that charity of yours? It’ll be coming out of your share only. Got it? A hundred percent!”
The call dropped before Dax could get a word in edgewise. Gangsters and thugs, he thought. Okay, maybe Marisa had a point. But it was nothing to worry about. Soon enough he’d be out of the service, and he still had other completely legitimate business arrangements to supplement his retirement. Such as the Japanese toothpaste company, a cardboard standee for which stood in the window of a gift shop directly in front of him at that very moment. Dax stared at the cartoon image of himself, beaming back at him with comically oversized eyes and sparkling teeth.
“They never get my eyes right.”
“Do you know what the current public opinion is of the Alliance Navy, Lieutenant Weaver?”
Logan stood at attention near the doorway of Sykes’s office, contemplating how best to answer the question. Ever the soldier, she went with the response drilled into her head since her academy days. “Sir, we are the proud and diligent protectors of our—“
Sykes dropped his SmartNews paper on his desk with a disapproving thud, the damning headlines glitching for a moment before continuing to scroll. “You can cut the good soldier routine with me, Lieutenant. I’m not talking about those bullshit public service announcements.”
“Right, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“And sit down, would you? You’re making me nervous.”
She did so. There was a warmth between them of old friends, though she did her best to keep to regulation around Central. Having grown up on the station, some of the career officers were more familiar than family at times. But she dared not chance any excuse for her fellow officers to claim favoritism. Her title was the sole product of her work, her skill, her blood and her sweat.
Sykes, on the other hand, was seasoned enough to not care in the slightest for mincing words. “The people don’t care about us anymore. More than that, they want us gone. Recruitment is at an all-time low, and the only time we see any press is when some jackass politician convinces everyone that we’re the boogeyman behind their tax hikes.”
Logan stifled a chuckle. “With all due respect sir, I never imagined you to be much for politics.”
“One of the unfortunate responsibilities of promotion,” he resigned. “And in the hope of turning this tide, the top brass are launching a bit of a campaign. There’s going to be a lot of PR, some new recruitment spots. The tenth anniversary of the ceasefire will make a good opportunity for a public song and dance.”
Logan nodded along, still unclear what a PR campaign had to do with her. Sykes appeared particularly perturbed as he shared the next detail.
“We’re bringing in Dax Harrison.”
“Commander Harrison?” THE Commander Harrison? She thought.
“You’re familiar with him I take it?”
“Of course. Well, I mean, not personally, but everyone knows Commander Harrison.”
“Uh-huh. What do you know about him?”
Logan stared quizzically at him for a moment, trying to decipher the necessity for such a grammar school lesson. “He’s a decorated officer. Led the Alexandra into battle at Feron. Destroyed the Carteagan’s largest warship by turning an asteroid into a projectile. Records now refer to it as the Harrison Maneuver. Went on to command—“
Sykes held his hand up. “All right, that’s enough. Hero of the Alliance, right?” He reached into his desk drawer, producing a small paperback novel and tossing it to her. “You ever read that crap? Personally, I think they make me sound like an asshole.”
Logan examined the cover, an atrociously cheesy artwork featuring an idealized version of Dax front and center. Rippling muscles, damsel in one arm, laser rifle in the other. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“While I admire the commander’s service record, I find it very odd that Command has allowed an active duty officer to profit from his exploits.”
“Harrison has been allowed some special privileges, but we make sure nothing classified gets out. And after the war, well, the people needed a hero.”
That much was true. Logan had a front row seat to the flood of refugees that poured into Central during the war. At sixteen, she was just shy of academy age by the ceasefire, but she had unofficially helped run supplies between the station’s medical wards during the worst of it. Humanity’s back was near broken. And were it not for the victory at Feron, the final straw may have snapped it.
“Regardless how much history gets embellished,” Sykes continued. “Harrison is the face they trust. So, he’ll be overseeing the campaign, and I want you as his second-in-command.”
Logan had been enjoying a long stint on the SSV Combine, Admiral Bennett’s frigate where she had hoped to stay. Working with the commander, however, could be quite the opportunity. “Sir, I don’t know what to say. It’s an honor, but I’m no public relations officer.”
“No, no. Harrison will handle all that. I just want you to keep an eye on him for me. Assist in any way you can, and make sure he stays… on point.” Sykes seemed to be choosing his words carefully, which was not his usual modus operandi. But Logan knew he wasn’t one for playing games. If he wanted her on an op, it was for a good reason.
“Tell me where to report, sir. I’ll be there.”
“Good. I’ll keep you posted. I knew I could count on you, Weaver.” He stood to show her to the door. “You know, some of us still feel the hole your father left in this station. I’m sure he’d be proud to see you filling it in his stead.”
“Thank you, sir.” The compliment ran deep. So much so that she almost forgot the nagging question at the back of her mind. “Sir? How much of that history you mentioned is embellished?”
“That’s classified, Lieutenant.” He shut the door on her.