by Shaun Duke
Captain Raj Markle’s red skin glowed orange around his palpitating cheek membranes. He flipped his dual arm up to scratch each membrane to calm himself. There in the screen on the deck of the Jealous Lover II, shining blue with hues of gold as an orange, G-class star dipped behind, hovered Oliarchus Three. A holodisplay nearby showed the eight planets and a dwarf. Now his face turned azure with disappointment: Oliarchus Three was mostly covered in water.
Raj seated himself in the nearest chair and tickled his membranes with the longest of his four fingers.
“Sir?” an operator said, swiveling to face Raj.
“Percentage of contamination?” Raj groaned.
“Roughly seventy-percent. Mostly salt water.”
Twenty-five galactic years for this, he thought, what a waste of time. “Inhabitants?”
“Bipedal. Stage four intelligence. Feeds show a high probability of self-destruction. Heavy focus on weaponry. I’d estimate a requirement of one million ground troops or a forty-eight hour aerial bombardment. Sixty-percent chance of failure for clean sweep. Bombardment would decimate fifty-percent of available resources.”
“So, given the best case scenario, we lose five-hundred thousand troops with a yield of a two percent gain in resources?”
“One point four percent. Or a negative return of six percent loss of resources. There’s significant mining in the outer planets and debris fields, too. The inhabitants have exhausted most of their non-renewable resources.”
Raj took a deep breathe, his membranes twitching with irritation and his elongated lung pushing through the confines of his chest. “Who had the intelligence on this system?”
He rolled his eyes and quivered, letting a stream of air hiss through his teeth. “Contact central command. Mission a failure. Jealous Lover II returning to Proctus. Mission not worth risk.”
The operator nodded and sent the transmission.
“Next time they could send a damned robot to do this job.” He flicked several commands on the console before him. “Twenty-five galactic years and twenty-five contagious planets.” A holoscreen filled over the blue planet, followed by the orange glow of Ujine’s membranes and a long, scratching double arm.
“This better be good,” Ujine said.
“No, sir. Mission is a failure. Bad intelligence. Planet is hostile to Linian soldiers and personnel,” Raj said, lowering his gaze.
“Your orders are to land upon arrival. I have personally selected this system.”
He nodded. “I understand that, sir, but I cannot issue that order. I won’t risk that many soldiers.”
Ujine leaned closer, membranes turning purple. “I didn’t ask for your opinion. Do it. Now!” His voice was laced with venom—figuratively and literally; droplets of black poison flew from his mouth.
“By Linian law I cannot obey that order.”
He sighed. “Commander Ujine, I am hereby relieving you of command.”
“Operator, please note that Mar Ujine has been relieved of command due to willful negligence, which is a violation punishable by death.”
“You have no right,” Ujine roared. The boom of his voice caused the screen to crackle.
The operator looked up, peering at Raj with narrow suspicion. Then the look fell away, as if the muddy waters of the operator’s mind had been consumed by clarity. A narrow, conspiratorial smile formed on the operator’s lips. “Note taken and supported.”
Raj smiled back. His hand wandered over the console, found the appropriate command, and activated it. A moment later and the holoscreen view began to fill with a white fog. Ujine struggled, banging and screaming; his eyes bulged and filled with red streams of blood while crimson bubbles oozed from his membranes.
Raj watched as his former commander fell out of view. When the room began to cycle out the toxic gas he knew that Ujine had been properly executed.
“Orders, commander?” the operator said, looking back with a glint of hope.
Raj knew that look; it was the look of longing for home. Twenty-five galactic years searching the Spur Arm and finding nothing but contagious blue specks would do that to an individual.
“Return to Proctus. Let’s get home. We’ve been gone long enough.”