fiction by michael werneburg

"No morning on board a Ranger-class vessel, your Lordship," the Lieutenant said in a factual tone.

"Ah, don't remind me. What a pain! I didn't even know there was a third shift. Take your seats, please. I thought you guys were cooking staff or something," he grumbled.

"Cooking staff?" the Ensign said, a touch of confusion creeping into his tone. "There are no cooking staff on a ship of this size, your Highness."

The Prince glanced at the young man with narrowed eyes for a moment. The Ensign turned to face the Prince, and made a small nod to emphasize what he said. The Prince decided that the Ensign wasn't being impudent, and turned to get himself some chilled water at the back of the bridge. He didn't notice the Lieutenant indulging himself in a quiet smirk.

"So what' s the big deal? We find something interesting?" the Prince said, somewhat testily.

"Interesting to our young Ensign, your Lordship," the Lieutenant stated, drily. "Someone's colonized a cache world."

"Hmm. Isn't that illegal?" the Prince said, sipping his drink. The Lieutenant smelled a faint tincture. He sighed mentally and hoped that the Prince was showing some judgment and would be avoiding narcotics at this hour. It was just passed the middle of the Prince's sleep shift, and this promised to be a long day.

"Alien races can hardly be appraised of legalities in this matter, your Lordship."

"Oh, God. It never ends, does it?" the Prince asked, before being wracked with a coughing spasm. After a full thirty seconds of coughing, he suddenly headed for the hatchway, and left the bridge.

«That's why it's called community service!» the Lieutenant told the Ensign, quietly, leaning across the space between their seats. He'd used their shared native tongue for the comment.

The Ensign glanced nervously in the Prince's direction and nodded. The Lieutenant frowned at the younger man. Speaking Oluk wasn't strictly forbidden; the younger man could at least acknowledge him! There was nothing to fear, of course; there was no way the Prince spoke their language.

"What's the matter with the Prince?" the Ensign asked.

"It's a reaction to the narcotic tincture."

"Narcotics!" the young man gasped.

"Get used to it, kiddo. These reprobates are all the same."

"It's not right," the kid hissed. Switching to Oluk, he said, «This is an admirable function. We bring prosperity to the corporate body; why do they saddle us with narcotic addicts and criminals?»

The Lieutenant gave the Ensign a surprised look. "Well, when you finally speak you say a mouthful, don't you!" He leaned forward again, and reverted to their people's tongue. «It's politically expedient, isn't it? Who knows what this character did. But he's embarrassed someone, that's for sure. They needed him out of sight for a while, and here we are. You can hardly get more out of sight than us!»

The the hatchway slid open once again, and the Prince returned. His eyes were still watering from his coughing fit. "So, what's the situation," he said.

"It looks like a mining operation. They'd parked themselves about five hundred kilometers from a repository site, and have certainly uncovered some of the, ah, matter. Figures for that site are way down. Total volume of matter is down maybe 80%."

"So they're digging into the stuff? God help them."

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