The Captain’s Duty

6 06 2016

A few days late, but here is my the story I wrote for the previous week’s challenge by Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds. The challenge was simple: It starts with a bang. But it was somewhat more difficult to get the story out of my head and down in text, and while it’s late, I’m still just posting it here.

The Captain’s Duty.

Bang!

The sound of the shot reverberated through the large hangar space, followed by the thud of a body hitting the floor. Then, silence. No one spoke and no one moved, the tension in the hangar so thick it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Everybody had expected the shot, but once it happened, it was still a shock to the system, the sound loud and almost painful to the ears.

Quinn stood with the smoking gun in her hand, staring at the body of the dead man at her feet. He deserved it, she told herself, even as a sour taste spread in her mouth. The man had betrayed her, betrayed her crew and betrayed the whole godsdamn Commonwealth. The law was clear on what to do with people like him, once exposed, and Quinn had the thankless job of being judge, jury and executioner. She had taken that oath when she had been promoted to captain, but at the time, she’d never thought that she’d be forced to actually follow through on it.

“Dispose of the body,” she ordered, giving the gun in her hand distasteful look before she holstered it at her side, spinning on a heel to walk away, knowing that even if she hadn’t given the order to anyone specific, it would still be followed, and the body would be taken care of.

* * *

The mission was a simple one. Get in, extract the asset, get out. At least on paper, it was simple. In reality, it was usually the simplest plans that proved to be the hardest. And this was no exception: despite it looking as if the prison was woefully understaffed and in dire need of upgrades, Quinn knew very well that appearances could be deceiving, that even if there had been no walls at all and no more than a handful of guards, simply getting in and getting out would be harder than it looked.

And true enough; while it had been easy enough for the small extraction team to get inside the prison and to pacify the guards, everything had started to fall apart the moment they had liberated the asset from his cell. Quinn had watched it all from her seat on the bridge, safe in orbit above the planet, as the Martian Defence Force had swarmed up from a sublevel basement that their intel had neglected to inform the Commonwealth Intelligence Division about.

Bad intel. Or worse, deliberate misinformation. Either way, Quinn had walked her team right into a trap, knowing now that it had been too easy. The information about the asset’s whereabouts and how poorly the prison was guarded should have scream trap, but even if she had realised that from the start, it would have changed little. She had orders. And those orders were to free the asset at any cost.

That cost was becoming evident now as she watched the feeds from the extraction team’s cameras: every member of the five man team either dead or captured and the asset still in enemy hands, only now the Martians had additional prisoners, and though Quinn knew that they were trained to withstand interrogation, she also knew that there were methods that could be put to use that no one, not even the toughest spies, could stand against.

As the last of the feeds were cut, Quinn remained quiet for a long few moments, listening to the quiet breathing of the bridge crew. She could feel their anticipation, sense how they awaited her orders, though every one of them knew what those orders would be. Still, she took her time to sit in quiet contemplation for a few moments, cursing the bad intel and the orders that had followed.

“Retreat to Hold Point Delta,” she finally said, when the anxious silence on the bridge had gotten to thick you could cut the tension of it with a knife. “Make sure we remain stealthed.” Orders given, she got up from her seat and stood there for a moment, staring down at the screen on the console, showing nothing but dark blank feeds with the words ‘transmission failure’ printed across in white letters. “XO, you have the conn.”

***

The investigation hadn’t taken long. Even before returning to Earth, they had found the buried transmission logs, and from there it was a fairly simple matter of tracking them to the person who had sent the information regarding the extraction to Mars. What Quinn hadn’t expected was for it to be one of her longest lasting crew members and someone she had considered a friend for more than a decade.

She and Ingram had come up together, had served together on this ship since they were both just junior lieutenants and while Quinn was on the bridge officer track and Ingram an engineer, they got along well enough to become close friends in a short time. So close that most people on the crew had believed for a long time that they were an item, though that couldn’t be further from the truth, and it wasn’t until Ingram found a boyfriend that most of the rumours died out.

But finding that Ingram was the traitor, that he had given vital information to the Martians was not just a shock, it was something that Quinn had a hard time believing. She had questioned him for hours, for days, but had never gotten a satisfactory answer out of him apart from him claiming a newfound sympathy for Martian causes. It was utterly ridiculous and Quinn refused to believe it, even when she found his bank accounts empty of any payment for services rendered.

In the end, answers didn’t matter. What mattered was that Ingram was guilty, that he had confessed, and that it was Quinn’s job to pass judgement on him. Despite wanting badly to be able to lock him away forever, or send him to prison for the rest of his life, there was only one acceptable punishment for treachery.

And that was death.

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