The General and the Chairman stood at the huge windows of the space station, at the back of the seating area for the Terra Grill. The Terra Grill was famous for its real beef hamburgers, crispy fries and onions, though the potatoes and onions were as apt to be imported from some of the newly populated agricultural worlds, rather than the Terran home world. The restaurant windows offered a grand and slowly rotating view of the starfield above Terra, and even an oblique view of Terra itself. The starfield rotation was due to the rotation of the station, which provided gravity for the living quarters, restaurants and other amenities in the outer rings. The windows also looked over some of the docking ports for the station. The General and the Chairman were waiting to see the Millenium Falcon, as she was being docked.
Being docked. Normally, the MF could use her maneuvering thrusters and pull up to the docking port under her own power. This time, she needed the assistance of the bulky space tugs, as the thrusters were included among the damages sustained in the recent defense of the home system from the Shawmuts and Bellicose, their commander. General Dimitroff stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and was the slightly more animated of the two, rocking slightly forward and back on his feet. The Chairman simply stood still, arms folded, staring almost morosely out the window at the starfield and the docking ports below. Even the General became still when the Millenium Falcon finally hove into view.
She was a mess. Visible breaches in her hull still spewed visible gases and other detritus from the hits she'd suffered that punctured the inner hull. It appeared her hanger deck had taken a hit, and some of the attack ships that were unable to return to the deck were simply moored outside the hanger, trailing the ship like forlorn balloons. From their vantage point, they could see jagged pieces of the port side thrusters, bent completely outside the pods. Holed in various locations along the outer hull, and streaked with flash burns from the shots she'd absorbed, the Millenium Falcon bore little resemblance to the proud and dangerous craft that started the campaign. General Dimitroff sighed audibly, and his shoulders sagged just a little.
Chairman Blank spoke softly. "Can she be ready for the Werblin?"
Starfleet, or more appropriately, its governing body, the National Federation of Lifeforms, had mandated a schedule for the campaign that had the Millenium Falcon once again defending its home system in less than a week. This time, they were to face the Werblin, a racy but disorganized group of warriors from the heavily populated section of the galaxy generally described as the "Apple." Their leader was a colorful curmudgeon with a comic book villain's name, and he was rumored to be losing power within the Werblin hierarchy. At this point, he'd do anything to win. Give him a foot and he'd take a parsec.
General Dimitroff deflected the Chairman's question. "I have to take responsibility for this, Sir. It wouldn't be fair to hang all this on Captain Ryan. We really haven't paid enough attention to fortifying his protective forces."
The Chairman turned his head and looked at the General appraisingly. He allowed a small, almost sad smile. "I know that, son. But at this point we're only a quarter of the way through the campaign." He looked back out the window, once again almost morosely. "We can't find and train suitable forces now. Thank goodness we have some time after the Werblin for rest and repairs."
His original question still hung in the air. After a moment of staring at the battered ship, Dimitroff answered it. "We'll patch up the holes as best we can. Make sure the main engines are operable, and treat the injured. Hopefully, we can get enough of them in shape to fight. We'll be counting on some rookies." He sighed again. "We'll make it work."
* * *
Sergeant Brian Boigner had his entire crew waiting in the port bay. Responsible for equipment and repairs on the Millenium Falcon, he'd been told they had to get her cleaned up and ready to go in only a few days. Corporals Osuwah and Hay were standing by him, awaiting orders. They all stared as the big MF approached the bay. "Holy Mother of God," said Hay, awestruck. "We're supposed to fix THAT in four days?"
Boigner knew how he felt. His heart sunk thinking of the work ahead, and the gloom of the loss. But he wouldn't add fuel to a bad fire. "You think we have it bad? Think how the officers and crew must feel. C'mon, let's get to work." He started laying out the game plan for the repairs. Listening intently, none of the crew noticed the shadowy figure standing behind the center support column in the port bay, holding a communicator.
Author's note: I hate Microsoft Word. After an alcohol-fueled, furiously productive writing session on Monday night, I had this week's story written, and I thought it was one of my best. Just as I was finishing, and before saving even the first draft, a mysterious flashing of the screen occurred, and I thought I was running out of juice (had the laptop unplugged). As I plugged it in, I noticed a warning question, "Do you want to save?" I did. Want to, I mean. Before I had time to click on the "yes" button, my story blinked, and was gone. Auto save on? Yep, but it didn't work. Version 10 recovery to the rescue? No, somehow, there was nothing saved. Did I say I hate Microsoft Word?
It's hard enough to write the story after a loss. It's more than doubly hard to write it twice, and I don't think this version is as good as that Monday night, alcohol-fueled errant effort. My apologies for any aesthetic inconvenience, and from now on, I swear (once again) I will make judicious use of the "save" button. Especially while using this horrible program with which I seem to be saddled.