Obsidian Command

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Stars on the Water

Posted on 01 Oct 2022 @ 1:05am by Ensign Marcello Wiser

Mission: M3 - Into the Deep
Location: Pathfinder, Wiser & Tilmer's Jr. Quarters
Timeline: MD 06 Evening
2060 words - 4.1 OF Standard Post Measure

As Marcello wound down for the evening, it was quiet in his quarters. His roomate, Ensign Max Tilmer, was no doubt working after hours, pulling those power cycling nodes he'd skipped and tuning them all properly to stay out of hot water. With any luck, Marcello would be asleep before Tilmer got back to torment him for catching the junior engineer cutting corners.

Marcello didn't waste time today with the scoring exercise. He'd kept score as they went and filed it without any more bellyaching. Nothing he could report from this point on could be as difficult as what he'd already had to say between Wonai and Tilmer. The scenarios Commander Zahn had thrown at them the second time weren't as impossibly impossible. He was able to drive the fine balance between testing the edges and keeping to his orders. The ensign knew the truth of the matter- the fact was that if any scenario actually came down to Ensign Marcello Wiser commanding the bridge everything would by definition already have gone to shit on the Pathfinder. There was no way in hell that he was going to get an easy turn if he was up to bat.

 This time around the simulations, holographic Captain Callum had even survived a couple of the scenarios and held off the Pyrryx in time for both ships to make it out. Or whatever remained of both ships anyway. There was no scenario where heavy losses weren't a factor, which made Marcello's stomach ill. It was undeniable that Commander Zahn believed the direness of the combat models being anticipated. If it was true, then there was no confrontation with the Pyrryx that was going to end in a treaty and a diplomatic dinner. All of them would begin with an exchange of fire. All of them would end with a body count. Or no bodies at all when the Pyrryx dusted everyone with their thalaron rays.

But it remained that Pathfinder's orders were to try not to engage, or even to be detected, and that was the best option of all- to never get into a fight. Hopefully it was an option that would remain available to them. There was probably a real risk of an encounter, though, otherwise why send the Theseus? He still wasn't clear on who was escorting who. Some scuttlebutt was that while it looked like the Theseus was sent as some muscle behind the Pathfinder, it was just as possible that DeHavilland was sent to keep the Theseus and her risk taking commander in check. It was probably a mix of both, Marcello settled in his estimation and let that puzzle go. Who could know the minds of fleet admirals, anyway?

Marcello had defaulted to replicating a plate of comfort food— ziti and meatballs, topped with plenty of cheese, with a big chunk of bread on the side. When he was young, there was no replicator in his house. He'd seen them at friends' houses and asked his father why they couldn't get one. Dishes and cooking seemed like so much work, even if it was mostly work for mom, but his father had just gruffly declared that they didn't belong in this house, and Mom had never seemed to challenge the decision. The house had been the way it was for seven generations and it wasn't going to change with any modern contrivances. And that was that. In those days, no one argued with his father without regretting it.

His mother, who had learned to cook from her mother in law, had made the meatballs herself in bulk for her growing sons, and, though she sometimes made the egg and flour linguine nests herself by drying them over dowels before setting them out in jars in the pantry, she generally kept stocked on handcrafted pasta from one of the family owned grocers in their tiny town. If you stood out on mainstreet you could watch the little nona rolling them out by hand through the big picture window. Later, after mom was gone, his father had always defaulted to serving him and his younger brothers ziti and meatballs... from the replicator in the apartment.

The brothers had burned a lot of calories when they used to run around the fields, trying to outdo one another in setting fence rails, hauling field stone, chopping firewood, hacking out brush, or being the first in chasing down and catching someone's stray goat. Everything was a competition. Marcello had strived to be a match to his two older brothers but always came up short for the most part. He hated their consolations— they always made it worse with their insincere encouragements turned mockeries. He couldn't win and they never let him lose with any real dignity. Maybe if the family had stayed on the land he'd have overtaken them at some point. It had been his entire childhood ambition to grow up and best them at everything. It seemed petty now, in retrospect, but it had been something to reach for at the time. By the time they were older, his two younger brothers didn't really relate to the life the family had lived before they had moved to the city block apartment. There wasn't even a garden to weed in the city.

Then there was his mother's very last birthday. Marcello remembered the trouble he'd brought that day when he'd hacked out one of the hedges on the side of the apartment building and put up a post tall enough to hang a bird feeder visible from his mother's upstairs bedroom window. The next morning there was a whole team of ticket welding zoning coordinators unhappy with the unauthorized change in the landscaping. He'd expected a tongue lashing from his father but it never came. In fact, his father had just wordlessly paid the ticket for ten months straight, leaving the post and the bird feeder outside of mom's window up until... until the day she'd passed.

That was when Marcello had gone outside himself and ripped out the post, pushing it over powered by nothing but his agony, and leaving a gaping hole where the foundation had been.

After uprooting the cement foot he had poured, he had sat in the dirt beside the remaining hole and cried profusely without shame. They'd moved to the city for the hope of a cure, but it had only prolonged her life a few years. It seemed like for every old illness eradicated from modern life, a new one would come up and take its place. No one on Earth could reverse her degenerating condition. And she was never coming back to ruffle his hair and tell him he was a good boy after he'd dressed his best and been the only one to attend mass with her that week. She had never called him her favorite, not in so few words. Not out loud. But he could see it in her eyes, how pleased she was with his faithful company. He never understood the Latin performed services, but the repetition had become rote to him, and he had an inborn awe and respect for the old religion and the strange way he felt like he had walked into another realm under the colors cast by so much stained glass, and before the glowing gold leaf of the passive icons reflecting candle light. Eager to please his mother, he'd even gone through confirmation.

Marcello stirred his ziti with his fork for a long time, thinking until it grew cold, and finally pushed it aside, reaching for a padd to record something heavy on his heart.

"Hey Pop. If you're watching this... I'm gone. There's not really anything of mine around anymore. I mean, you made me unload it all before I went off to the Academy. So... don't have to worry about that.

"I've been thinking about that fishing trip. The last one you took all of us with you on. When you wouldn't let us go back to the dock until we had caught dinner but nothing was biting. And it was getting dark and you said we could just kip on the boat. The night was so full of stars, shining back in the lake from the sky. And we were wet and cold and then Vitto and Ettore got into that argument and Jack started crying.... And you still wouldn't let us go back until we caught something. The fish woke up before dawn and we landed four trout, one right after the other. It was exciting, I mean, even if none of them were on my line. And then when we were headed back and the motor burned out half way to shore, and you were so calm about it? Taking out those massive oars and trying to get Vitto and Ettore to stroke at the same time so we didn't zigzag the whole way back... It's a good thing that park rangers' repeller craft happened by. I guess we did bring back dinner in the end. Just not for the day we set out to.

I wish I could go back out on the lake with you again. I guess... this message means I missed my chance, though, huh?

If... if they send my body back, I want to go to the plot back home, in the church yard somewhere on the hill. The one near Mom. But I did leave a pair of gym sneakers in the hall closet, in the shoe box on top. If they can't send my body back, just bury those. Probably for the best either way, if you bury the shoes. Anyway, don't worry about me. If I'm lucky I went out flying something. And if I'm really lucky then I saved the day and got the ship home, Right? No matter what, A Wiser keeps his oaths, his family, his roots, and his principles. I love you."

"Awww, Cello, baby, I love you, too!"

Marcello had barely hit the stop-record key when Tilmer burst into their shared junior quarters and immediately took up mocking Marcello. Max made some kissy fish faces and then cursed Marcello out on the way to the sonic, ending with, "You and your sucking up, you son of a—"

"Don't finish that sentence, Max."

Tilmer pulled off his shirt and got right up in Marcello's face. "—bitch." He pronounced it with quiet intention.

Marcello was on him in an instant and Tilmer was shocked at first. Cello'd never hit him before and he hadn't expected him to now. Marcello wrangled Tilmer on the floor and socked him in the face before Tilmer wrenched Marcello's attacking arm back with a block. The two men rolled, breaking a table and kicking a hole through a built-in case until Marcello had Tilmer half propped against a bulkhead and was beating the back of his head on it.

"Truce truce!" Tilmer was calling out, giving up to the red rage in Marcello's eyes. He'd forgotten Marcello had told him his mom had died, but the memory had returned with the thrashing and even Max knew he had gone too far.

"Take it back! About my mother, take it back!"

"Your mom's a saint!" Tilmer shouted. He spit blood from a broken lip. "She's a saint," he repeated.

That was all it took. Marcello got up off him.

Tilmer stood, dusted himself off and flexed his jaw, walking cautiously around Marcello back on his way to the shower. When he was out of arm's reach he added, "but her son's an asshole." The bathroom door closed behind him.

Marcello looked back down and flexed his sore, skinned knuckles, knowing his mother would have been disappointed, but not knowing what else he was supposed to do about Tilmer.

His fists stayed balled up until he took his padd and his cold ziti and retreated to his room.

"Fartsnuffer," Marcello griped as if he were secretly getting the last word against Ettore after a row. It didn't change anything, or even make him feel better, but it made him reflect on how childish it all was, how much he wished he'd made amends with Vitto and Ettore after they'd left him and the rest of the family behind.

Tomorrow, he swore to himself, he was going to clear the air with Max.


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