[1430.215.0645 System] Slaver's Folly, Birach system

"Turret Five, firing three, target Gamma Seven." Cadet Sergeant Alba Ester "Al" Domici squeezed the trigger. Her laser cannon pulsed with energy, but the asteroid flew by unscathed. She muttered under her breath and then spoke into the comm. "Miss. My fault. It's out of my firing arc now."

"Turret Six, firing three, target Gamma Seven." Cadet Monte "Mon" Pascal's voice came over the comm. He laughed. "Hit, target destroyed."

Al and the other cadets were enjoying a summer session aboard the Slaver's Folly; a Free Trade League pirate hunter assigned to the Birach Merchant Marine. Everyone called her the "Folly," she was six hundred displacement tons of newly refitted Laoshi class medium merchant ship. Her old systems had been gutted and replaced with all new maneuver controls. The entire engineering section had been replaced with Howell AeroSpace power drives. Corridors were narrow and conduits ran along every bulkhead, while the fire suppression safeties actually worked. The Folly was better than many brand new ships coming out of the space yards.

Yet she had a history. Al, Wilbur, Jo, and Mon had been captured by slavers, and last year the ship was called the Karava Manoi. Everything was filthy, smelled of sweat and urine, and few systems worked. Al's brother Akil was captured too, and his leg was broken. Marthy, the slaver First Officer, had taunted Al and the others. Captain Vigeron was going to sell Akil and the team on Draku, a lawless desert planet. Al was old enough to know what would have become of her.

Then Wilbur sacrificed himself so that Al's rescue plan might work. Wilbur's bloody and broken body barely clung to life as Al fought Captain Vigeron. A few weeks before, Al had failed her zero gravity sword fighting exam. Clutching a dying Wilbur to her side, she fought for her life against a pirate. In the end, Al was bleeding and in pain. Vigeron's body was dead, but she haunted Al every night.

The Slaver's Folly was a beautiful ship with terrifying memories.

"Sensors confirm, target destroyed. Excellent work, everyone," Cadet Sir Wilbur Lefron's calm voice said. He still had scars all over his body and his hair grew back in patches. After a moment, he added, "This is a drill. Battle Stations. The captain has initiated Drill Seventeen; Boarding Action. Sergeant Johnson, evaluator. Assault team Domici, Lefron, McKenna. Cadet Pascal, report to Sensors. This is a drill."

Al unstrapped her harness and turned to the hatch. She paused; they were at battle stations. She'd do a proper turret shut down when she got back. She was already in her personal combat armor and wanted to look good this time. Like the others, her armor had a flexible mesh weave garment with attached hard plates for non-moving body parts. Her integrated computer was more advanced than Birach standard since her father loved to try out new options and marketing departments loved to advertise that he was using their wares. Al got the latest too, she and Dad trained together at home and in the Dragon training facility in orbit. She was really liking the new atmo scrubbers, they let each oxygen canister last half again longer than normal. Al had been practicing her breathing techniques, between bouts of hot chocolate, and was pushing the new scrubbers' endurance even further.

The others would have to switch from ship vacc suits to combat armor. Al jogged the short corridor to the armory. Sergeant Johnson was already there, his chrono running.

"Good hustle," he said, handing her a lacar. "GF-2X7. Check it out."

Al did the ready check on the lacar. She wasn't as fast as Johnson, but she was faster than the other cadets. It took her less than fifteen seconds to have all lights green. "GF-2X7 confirmed ready, sir!"

Johnson nodded to Al as the others pulled themselves through the containment hatch and tromped down the corridor. "Secure port airlock three. Complete function check."

"Function check port airlock three, sir. Enroute!" Al moved to the right side of the corridor. The rest of the team moved to her left as Al called out, "Coming through."

Al knew airlock three was ready to go because everything on the Slaver's Folly worked perfectly. But she jogged over the metal grate deck and checked the airlock again. Sergeant Johnson pushed her to do everything well and with urgency. She liked getting his hard earned nod of approval.

She grinned as the others jogged to the airlock. Their face plates were blacked out, their helmet HUDs were active, and she could still tell who was who. Johnson was in the rear, he had to secure the armory. That meant the tall armored figure in front was Wilbur. He was a full sized adult now, and working out had given him a muscular frame. Other girls didn't ask for his comm info, they just asked if he was still with Gray. When Al affirmed, the girls just sighed and left. It was impossible to compete with Miss Anwyn Grace "Gray" Webb-Marston. Al knew this for a fact. Given that Wilbur was the most loyal guy on the planet, every other girl knew they would have to settle for second best, whoever he was.

Between the two men, the shortest suit of combat armor ever made fast timed it. Cadet Lieutenant Dede McKenna, otherwise known as Desert Rat, never let the tall people have a break. She ran faster than most adults and pushed herself to do just a little more. Al was proud of her.

"Port airlock three confirmed operational, sir," Al said.

"Goo-"

"Sergeant Johnson, turret five is still showing hot." Captain Ian Domici's voice came over the comms.

Al froze. Johnson looked at her, and she said, "I was going to secure it after we got back."

Johnson shook his head. "That's not the procedure, cadet. Go secure the turret. McKenna, you're point. Lefron, cover her. I'm the observer, not in play. Verbalize actions. Go!"

Al stepped back and watched their textbook exit procedure. She could have been point. Or cover. Or flank. She could do them all well, when she was allowed to. When she didn't mess up. Instead of assaulting in zero gravity, she trudged back to turret five.

"One blasted thing after another," Al mumbled. She double checked that her comm was not on send.

The team was back together, which made it painfully obvious that Al was back to being last place in everything. She flicked a switch off. Monte "Mon" Pascal and Josephine "Jo" Franco were with them for the special summer session. Jo had eyes, sort of, but she didn't talk about it. She wasn't happy unless Mon was around. Mon was barely himself. He had grown while they were away, and was now as tall as Wilbur. Still skinny and full of energy, but tall. Jo had grown two centimeters but wasn't going to grow any more.

Wilbur was only able to stay for the first half of the summer semester. Gray was off to do mandatory socialite gatherings with her family and Wilbur was being hosted by corporations who wanted him to sponsor their products. Al flicked another switch off and grimaced. Oddly enough, Wilbur and Gray had the same travel itineraries. Imagine that. Fancy parties and smiling crowds for the beautiful couple. Al bit her lower lip and flipped the last lockdown switch.

She didn't want to go back to the others just yet. No one would say anything, but they'd think it. Pretty loudly, too. Al had crashed again. She began redoing the lockdown sequence.




The Domici War novels are easy reading level science-fiction Coming of Age stories with a Christian Warrior ethos.

The characters struggle with their imperfections and the challenges of an unknowable future.

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