MARLEBONE DOCK, LUNA BERTH OF THE CORVETTE LOUP DE MERS It had been a busy few weeks for the crew of the UNN Thomas Cochrane. Eros was a trauma still fresh in the back of everybody’s mind, but a few weeks on leave had at the very least softened the visceral nature of the shock. Now it was just a black, underlying thing, sitting below the surface of every conversation, lurking in the corner of every quiet moment, but fading. With each day, it was fading. Less so for the Officers, though. They had spent the first week or so of this leave with Naval Intelligence, being debriefed to a degree that bordered on invasive so entirely that it had actually created an enclave within invasive, and a vibrant cross-cultural society had developed. Dolores Muwangwa, for one, could not help but dwell on it. They had started off as most such hearings do, a simple recounting of events, how the aftermath was handled, fairly basic stuff. But as the days wore on, the questions became less about the naval manoeuvres, and the actions of the Martian ships, and more about what they had seen inside Eros. About what was inside the Asteroid, how it had killed nine Martian marines, what it had done to those Marines. Over and over again, dissecting each and every detail, playing the sound files, analysing how far the information could have spread. Normally, when she encountered traumas like the incident on Eros, Dolores tried to push it to the back of her mind, to think about it as little as possible, keep only the useful lessons and bury the painful parts. But the debriefing seemed chiefly concerned with digging up all her traumas and dissecting them in the open air. Even weeks later, she could still hear the sounds of what Eros had done to those marines. The pleading, the screams, the things that were not screams. All this leave had done was muffle it. She sighed, looking up into the crowded sky of Luna, at the hovering mass of the Thomas Cochrane lying still like a sleeping dragon as it maintained a geostationary orbit above the dockyard. The ship had seen a lot over the course of its service, duelling with pirates, chasing down smugglers, even escorting Earth’s Ambassador to Mars on one of its rare non-combat assignments. She was a warship, top-of-the-line, designed to stand up to the worst Mars had to offer. Every inch of the Temerity class was the cutting edge of Earth’s technological capabilities, the very zenith of what they were capable of as a people. And yet, on Eros, she had been left in the dust by an asteroid. A lifeless rock, animated to speeds at which no living thing could possibly survive. They had been made obsolete in a day, and nobody was even talking about it. Because you don’t waste time obsessing over about things you can’t change. The harder, more clinical part of Dolores’ brain cut through the self-pitying with a voice startlingly similar to her mother’s. You control the things you can change, so you can be prepared for the things that you can’t. And we have certainly been endeavouring to do just that, Dolores noted with a self-reassuring smile, her footsteps leaving sharp metallic reports as she crossed the diamond-plate floor of the dockyard, the Loup de Mers looming over her like a Manganalloy-plated colossus. It was an odd sight, seeing it from the outside, getting a rare chance to appreciate just how large the Cochrane’s remora-like corvette was when one didn’t have the Cruiser there for comparison. Well, as long as one doesn’t look further up. She could just make out the smaller ship’s torpedo tubes, mounted on what would be its underbelly were the ship not resting on its engines, the PDC’s dotted all over the hull, perched like chrome gargoyles on their articulated mounts. It was a comforting sight, seeing this ship, a vessel wholly under her command, almost a homunculus of the vessel to which it was attached. It was nice to see it crouched on the launch pad just visible from the window of her quarters, a reminder of her responsibilities, certainly, but also of the power she held. That, she noted, with a spirit of resolve filling her eyes as they traced over the hardpoints of the Loup, the sharply angled armour plating, the distinctive UN font and insignias adorning it like war paint, that is what I can do about all this. I am a Captain of the UN Navy. I command the UNN Thomas Cochrane, I command the Loup de Mers, I am a descendant of the mighty Benin Tribe. I will face this oncoming storm with a weapon in my hand and a smile on my face, like the warrior-queens of old. Thus resolved, she climbed up into the Corvette, ducking under a doorway just a little too low for her, and smiling in mild surprise at the sight of Lieutenant Samir Al-Mubarak, the Cochrane’s Chief Weapons Officer, idly fiddling with his terminal and nodding his head in time with whatever music was playing through his earbuds. A smile broke through the officer’s dense beard as he noticed his captain standing in the doorway. “Afternoon, Cap,” he spoke amicably, correct only by the grace of a minute. Precision, Dolores supposed, was an important trait in Samir’s trade. “Lieutenant Al-Mubarak,” Dolores replied with a smirk. “It’s traditional to stand when your captain’s on deck.” “Ah, but we’re on leave,” Samir argued facetiously, wagging a finger at his captain with his trademark insubordination, his grin glinting white in the low-level lighting of the corvette. “Not for much longer,” Dolores replied brusquely, transferring a file onto Al-Mubarak’s Terminal. “There’ trouble on Ceres. Riots, a potential OPA Uprising. We’re loading another platoon of Marines, and then we’ll be heading for Ceres on a high burn. The Jakarta is coming with us, and we’re meeting the Tereshkova and the Shanghai en route. Al-Mubarak reacted to the news with a frown and a small nod. “Makes sense. I wondered why Mendelssohn had me doing weapons inventories on a Saturday.” He smirked again, tapping out a few more details into his terminal Dolores nodded slightly, refraining from smiling at Samir's joke. “All crew on planetary leave have been recalled, any requests for planetary leave have been cancelled. We ship back up to the Cochrane in forty-eight hours." "Oh damn," Samir's eyes widened, his head tilting slightly. "When are you giving that order?" As the weapons officer spoke, Dolores retrieved her terminal, and pressed her thumb onto the screen. "Now." She spoke sharply, returning the device to her pocket with a single, sharp motion. "It's past time we got back into the fight."