Eat at your own peril

There it was just sitting on the Captain’s table, all steamy just off the cookery. The barbary steak, still sizzling, was a treat he’d been waiting for all day. Just as he was about to dig in with his knife and fork, a loud booming noise caused his ship to lean to port, and the iron plate holding the captain’s steak slid left, held by the table’s framework, in turn, causing the captain to stab the table. He noticed the scrapes there from his errant stabs at past meals. Damn ship. A knock at the door added to the hapless night. His ship, a fishing vessel in disguise, was on the eve of destruction, ready to enter one of the biggest battles he had seen in three thousand years of living.

“What is it?” the captain grumbled.

Another knock. Silence. The captain contemplated the news on the opposite side of the sliding door.

“Enter for heaven’s sake,” he said, finally.

His first mate entered the room with a telegram from the admiral. With shaky hands, he set the piece of crumpled paper on the table next to the steak. At that moment, another loud explosion, this time even closer, sent the ship lurching to starboard, thereby nearly upending the steak, but spilling valuable juices onto the telegram. Fresh ink ran off the message. The captain took a deep breath. His eyes bore holes into the first mate.

“Just tell me what it says Mero!”

“Yes, sir,” the first mate stammered, the large overbite of his fangs nearly cut into his chin as he gritted his teeth. “I could easily…”

“Just read the message.”

“Well, captain… the admiral says he wants you to increase speed to cut your arrival time in half, and… he said if you don’t, to not bother coming at all because there won’t be a fleet to defend. End of message.”

A pregnant pause intervened.

“That’s a sign.”

The captain stood up on spindly insect legs and brought his human hand up to caress his long flowing grey beard. His other hand fell to the knob on his sword, sunk into a scabbard hanging from his waist. It glowed brightly at his touch, lighting up the dark cabin.

“What do you mean sir?” the first mate asked.

“It means he’s telling the truth,” the captain said almost to himself. “He’s never told me to rush a plan before. He’s lied to me, many times. This time, no lies. Are you sure that’s what the message said?”

“Ah… yes, sir.” The squinty eyes of the first mate narrowed as he nodded. Creases appeared across his broad blue face. “I’m sure as I’ll swear my life on it.”

Before he could say anything else, the captain spread his waspy wings and flew out the window of his cabin and up to the bridge. Entering from the outside never startled his crew. It was his way of making a grand entrance. The sailor manning the wheel quickly stepped aside, announcing their leader. “Attention on deck!” The bridge crew stood stolidly at attention, awaiting their captain’s orders.

“Let’s get this old bucket moving.” The blue faces around him grinned and relaxed at their posts, staring at a sea of stars under attack.

“Plot a course for Omega Prime.”

“Plotting Sir.”

“All ahead full.”

“All ahead full, aye.”

“What say let’s get in this fight!”

The captain dug in his coat pocket for his pipe, and bit on the chewed-up tip. A deck hand quickly appeared to sprinkle green tobacco into the bowl, and lit it, a long-kept tradition before entering battle. He washed the waves of smoke over him and chanted a spell of protection. Another nearby explosion rocked the ship—the long-range torpedoes rarely hit their targets. Time and space disallowed that. His grip softened on the pipe and it fell to the ground. The crew gasped in unison, but the captain had already regrouped his authority.

“What are my orders? All ahead full.”

With that, giant organic wings spread from the sides of the vessel, transforming the disguised fishing boat into a warship modeled after the first Spanish galleons. Large solar sails quickly raised up along the masts, three across from bow to stern. Their nation’s flag, a star-spangled banner, fluttered from the tip of the center mast. Ten thousand fighting sailors stood muster, cheering throughout the ship.

Upon arriving on the fringes of the battle, Rear Admiral Jordee, rushing to welcome the captain, materialized on the bridge of the ship with his entourage, a small group of staff officers.

“Well, Captain Manu, I have bad news and good news. How I wish it wasn’t so.”

“Start with the bad…”

“You haven’t changed, Albert. We’re done. There are no countermoves on our part. We either surrender or fight nobly to the death, and I already know your answer, in which case I was wrong. There is no good news.”

“You’re wrong and right admiral,” the captain demurred, stamping his insect legs. “There’s good news in an honorable death. I just have one request…”

“And what pray tell is that?” The gray headed puffy chested admiral guffawed. “Let me guess, a sip from that rare cognac on my ship.”

“No sir. Although that might be a fine chaser for what I have in mind. A moment sir.”

The captain withdrew his sword and waved it front of him, tearing the fabric of time to minutes before Mero rapped on the door of his cabin. This time, he knew when that knock would come, he chose not to answer the door. Instead, he dug heartily into the juicy steak, savoring every rare bite. When he finished, he dabbed his mouth with a checked napkin, withdrew his sword once more. Waving the glowing weapon before him, he could see through the tear for just an instant. A torpedo ripped through the bridge as a fire engulfed the entire ship. Too late, the captain stepped through, watching the tragedy and floating in space.

Published by: frankmarquezwritings

I'm a writer, and have been for most of my adult life. Without making this sound like a resume, I wrote creatively in college, dabbling in poetry, short stories and play writing. Later, I became a journalist, public affairs specialist, copy editor and eventually a guy who ran his own newspaper. Now, I'm back to letting my imagination run wild in some new creations including a science-fiction novel. Somehow, I also managed to teach English to high school kids, and roam the battlefields of Afghanistan as a field historian. Field historian may be a misnomer considering all I did was write abstracts summarizing military unit profiles and missions that included hundreds of interviews of troops and contractors in combat. I grew up in a small town called Gering, Nebraska, before escaping to Pomona, California, where I spent my last two years of high school, graduating from Ganesha High School in 1983. I have a Bachelors in English from the University of La Verne (1987), and a Masters in Education from UNLV (2007). In between, I worked for government - the Army and TSA. I served tours in Panama, D.C., and Tokyo, all thanks to a teacher who encouraged me to see the world before I settled down. As hobbies, I run, hike and bicycle long distances. I have also been known to surf and ski. I now live in my hometown after moving back in June 2015. I get to see family on a regular basis, breath fresh air, and not have to ride the D.C. metro or get stuck in traffic. In fact, I ride my bicycle whenever I can. I'm happily married to my wife Lisa, and we watch over a pack of fur babies, our dog Charley, and three cats Spike, Bootsy, and Franky (his shelter name). If you should ever visit me in west Nebraska, be prepared to feast your eyes on paradise.

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