Written by Andrew Lee Oesterheld on . Posted in AE Stories

“We are very impressed with your report, Captain zu Ramburg.” 
They always said that. We are very impressed; we are very delighted; we are very grateful; we are very ecstatic… The Vice Admiral would always manufacture those loaded words coldly, the mandatory emotional swag to be handed out equilaterally to those who meet the mission’s “standard.” The 7th Royale Fleet’s Board would shuffle their DataPapers, rearrange the holographic patterns floating aloofly above the fluorescent-white table, preparing to part their ways once again. 

“Do you have any comments or statements you would like to add to this Board’s official report; remember that you are still under Oath.” Commodore Lord Marquee Des Champs-Castille briefly and formally announced. It was the final part of the monotonous ceremony – How are you feeling? 

Jason only had a minute to think about what he should and should not say. He was already beginning to crave for hard scotch and vodka. Was it worth reporting to the Fleet Board how bored he felt, how hopelessly dull and empty his mind was, an electrical, empty shell. To follow the routine would end the session; to break rank and ask “why” would hold up the meeting for another ten minutes or so, depending on whether they arrested him or not. Vodka now or vodka later? 
“No, sir. My report, along with my officers’ reports, has covered all the mission’s points.” Jason spoke dully, saluting the flag officers as they left the room. All four commodores and even the Vice Admiral Archduchess von und zu Gotthertzburg nodded approvingly to the captain, smiling plastically. Vodka now.   
“Wait, sirs. I would like to add something to the report I submitted.” Jason blurted the sentence out like vomit.

The admiralty – Commodore Lord Marquee Du Champ-Castille with his hand on the hand scanner – turned to face the sweating captain. The plastic smiles had melted away. Vodka would have to wait. 
“What is it, captain,” The pale Vice Admiral mechanically said as the Board took their seats again, expressions of annoyance clearly painted on their faces, “Please be brief. Remember, we have a Fleet of several hundred warships and three and a half million marines to run.” 
“Well, to be brief, I wish to retire into the Reserve Fleet forces. If you would please sign off on this DataPad, then I could complete the next six years of my service time in the Reserve. I have participated in twenty-five combat tours, fulfilled and exceeded all mission standards, and I have already selected someone to replace me. I believe Commander Lord Baron Ar-“    
“No.” Archduchess von und zu Gotthertzburg cut coldly into Jason’s statement, “This Board denies your request to transfer over to the Reserves.” Jason did not see the Admiral talk to any of the commodores, yet they all nodded in agreement. 
“May I ask why?” Jason became heated, scared and angry that he could not leave the frontlines after all his hard work, “Have I failed to meet a standard, or has the number of combat tours been increased?” 
“Retain yourself, Captain zu Ramburg,” The pale admiral said tonelessly, “We are keeping you in the action for a good reason. We do not need to explain our decisions or actions to you, but in this case we will. You are one of our most skilled and most talented commanders in the field presently. The needs of the Empire as a whole greatly outweigh your wanting to retire.” Jason’s mind went blank. He was going to die. He was screwed. It took every muscle in his body to continue to stand up, but his face portrayed his anxiety. 
“Don’t take this as some kind of punishment,” Commodore Lord Duke Wallaceport replied softly, “Take it rather as you being so critical to the cause of winning this war that you can’t be let go of; you are a tragic hero, who must give every fiber of his being to the war effort!” The Duke of Wallaceport was known throughout the Weltreich as a space opera junky. And that’s why, Jason thought humorously. 
“Shit.” Captain Lord Count Alex Petrovitch Mikhailov slurred. 
“Yeah. I’m still in the Fleet.” Jason replied blankly. 
67 Himmelsreich 01

Alex and Jason had been good friends for a long time. They met each other for the first time in a bar during their pleb year in the Maximum Regius Militum Academiae on the capital planet, Salacia. Mikhailov came to the academy from a minor noble family, who had financial ties in the Ichorium crystal industry and the weapons industry. He desired greatly to study and excel in the Art of Tactical Command; he dreamed of leading fleets of warships to victory over the KIDF forces. Jason simply went to the academy to earn his Doctoral degree in Special Physics and Quantum Mechanics Theory. Cadet Count Mikhailov wanted to fight and kill generations of enemy soldiers; Cadet Earl zu Ramburg wanted to build starships and lecture younger generations on how warp drives and Ichorium batteries work. It was in that bar that the two got in a fight – though neither could remember what started it, but Jason swore Alex asked him to punch him – and, naturally, Alex won, almost beating Jason into a juicy plump. What got them to truly bond was the “accident.” The “accident” was a revenge plot constructed by Jason to make Mikhailov pay for his broken nose, fracture skull, and near loss of manly dignity.

Every one a standard month, on the last Friday, the academy’s Tactical Command and Special Operations majors would board a corvette-class warship and pod-deploy on one of Salacia’s three moons. On one of those Friday nights, in the sophomore year of their academic training, Jason was assigned to be one warp reactor-core watch on the corvette. During the flight sequence, he tampered with the tungsten crystals thread-pattern, altering in effect the frequency of the antimatter-matter reactions. When it came time to launch the pods, the ship could not generate enough energy, and when it tried to compensate the electrical grid short circuited, and the ship was doomed to crash into the moon Oasis. As Jason and the crew tried to escape the sinking ship, he heard the combat majors crying out for help. Mikhailov was crying like a baby. Feeling guilty for wrecking a multimillion credit warship, and endangering Mikhailov’s classmates with an egotistical overreaction, he helped activate the pod bay’s emergency protocols, barely jumping into one himself before the corvette crashed into the crated moon. 

Jason did not know how Alex could have known it was him who saved the jarheads, but after the “accident,” the combat majors aboard, lead by Mikhailov, did not file charges against the engineering crew, although an investigative board did find evidence of Jason’s obvious sabotage. Instead, the following night, at the same bar as they had fought in, Alex sat down by Jason and put his drinks, for the night, on his tab.   
“I find it ironic that you’re in command of a warship and complaining about it, while it took me more than a decade of hard work, and a leg, to earn my command on the H.M.S. George. You just got plopped in your chair because your late captain and his command crew were blown up and the 7th Royale Fleet couldn’t find a replacement soon enough to attack a defenseless KIDF outpost.” Alex badgered on as he took another shot of whiskey, wiping his sweating face one his dress uniform’s white sleeves, “I’m kidding. Yeah, Johnny! Open up a window or something! Its muy caliente, senor! Anyways, I guess I can understand. It would be like me, a tactician, being stuck in the engine room.” Mikhailov gestured sporadically, imitating a handicapped person.
Jason snickered and inhaled some Lotus smoke from a pipe.  

They let their minds wander for a while; Jason’s mind floating in the river of smoke blissfully; Mikhailov’s mind dancing with its double visions and raging thoughts. Ramburg craved and dreamed of laying loose in this transcendental moment; vaporous clouds holding his mind up into the light with cotton easiness; drowning his fears and worries in vodka and scotch. The colors of the blues bar seemed to mingle and swirl together like rays of sunlight that Jason would gaze at when laying in the meadows when he was a kid. Soft jazz played in the back, blurring out into simple beats of air. He was numb, and he wanted to stay numb forever. The captains longed for eternal peace. They could care less about how the others in the bar, military and civilian, looked at them and what they thought about them, as long as the dried Lotus flowers kept coming and booze poured endlessly.  

After a while, when the Lotus flower smoke began to run low, along with Jason’s credits, he began to think about the war. It was an uncomfortable subject for obvious reasons. Everyone thought, or was under the illusion, that the Empire would win. Das Weltreich von Engelberg was losing, and had been since it began sixty years ago. 
“You okay, comrade,” Alex laid a heavy hand on Jason’s shoulders, almost pulling both men out of their booths, “You look like real shit.” 
“Please, don’t be blunt.” Jason replied slowly. 
“What is on your mind?” 
“The war.” 
“Oh.” The captain rubbed his forehead with one of his mutton hands. 
“I know. It’s a sore subject.” 
“Unless you’re talking to a Patriot or a Conservative; I’m I right?!” Mikhailov cracked. 
“Yeah,” Jason chuckled, “I just… Uh… I’m frackin’ scared Alex. It feels like I’m going to die. I’m fated. But, I can’t do nothin’. Yet, on the other hand, I’m bored. I’m bored to dead, or almost at least, of getting shot up. But, I’m scared as Hell. I guess to better define it, I’m not nervous about going into the fight or being in the fight, I just get cold numb, but when I’m out of the fight, on patrol, on leave, or just cruising, I’m scared that some KIDF frigate will be hiding in the right place, fire a nuclear missile at me at the right moment, then poof! I’m radioactive debris to be files and sorted out by robotic clerks. I’ll be forgotten. You understand, right?” 
“Da. Da, captain. Even we trained professionals feel that way; we’re just taught to use certain chemical enhancements. My favorite is Ghatinian opium. Barely addictive.” As he finished his sentence, the large captain took out a thick, long role of Ghatinian opium from his dress uniform’s coat and preceded to light it and inhale its “non-addictive” chemicals.   

“I already smoke and drink. It doesn’t help; it just tastes good. I mean, don’t you have a plan on how to get out of this mess?” 
Alex raised an eyebrow: “Promise me you are not a Volkeguard agent.” 
“For Deus’s fracking sake!” 
“Promise!” Captain Mikhailov growled, the veins in his eyes bulging like roots of red.  
“What do you think you shitzel!” 
Poor Alexander Petrovitch Mikhailov was paranoid that anyone could be a Volkeguard or Folkeguard agent. They were both “security and intelligence agencies” funded by the Oberkommando, or High Command. Both were legendary as the perfect spy agencies, but were flawed in one way: They were well known. However, as Mikhailov had come to find out one day, their agents were totally undistinguishable from the average citizen and soldier. Mikhailov would never speak of his incident with the Guard, but his sheer paranoia and unreasoned fear of telling secrets was evidence enough for Jason. 

“Fine! I promise I am not a Volkeguard or a Folkeguard agent, by the Archangel Gabriel’s blood do I swear.” With that Alex sucked in another shot of vodka. 
“Okay. Here’s my plan: I got no plan.” 
“I hate you.” 
“More scotch?” 
“So how do keep fighting?” 
“I just do; it’s the only thing I know how to do. What else are we going to do after the war? Work in the information and consumer services industry? Our glory is here. Best die here.” Alex raised his bottle of vodka and Jason clanked his bottle against Alex’s in agreement. “To a pointless existence!” 
A strange and alien thing happened to Jason as he stumbled out of the Plutuspolis spaceport. Swinging from side to side, trying to balance himself with his bottle of scotch and his head, he wound his way across the high rises and skyways. The robot police patrols had spotted him earlier and identified his malfunction: drunk off his rockers. As the detoxification unit mobilized and approached his position, Jason stared at an advertisement for the Aurora system. His eyes were washed in the techno-color of secluded beaches, artful meals, women, parties, and the planets’ seas red-wine shade. He craved the palm tree paradise.   

“I guess when angels fall from the sky, right?!” The drunk yelled, spewing saliva, looking to the starry night sky. He could barely make out any stars, between the immense light pollution and his critical central nervous system. However, he could make out one thing: a girl, tumbling down until she hit the concrete walkway. Jason stared at the scene for a moment, his mind lagging behind painfully. The girl, somehow, was still intact, and there was no impact crater. He shook his head, wiped the slobber off his face. She was still there.  

By the time the detox unit arrived at Jason’s position, the captain was passed out. While they loaded him into the truck, and attached tubes and IVs into his grimy skin, the Earl continuously, and confusingly, muttered about taking his girlfriend home with him. 
“Be sure to check her head. Somethin’ not right with this gal.” The medics then put him into deep sleep until they transported him to his family’s villa in Millicentia.   
When Jason woke up the following morning he had two things in mind: 1) where is the hot girl how somehow survived that fall? 2) What fracking hangover! His brain soon seared with electricity and fire. When he turned over out of bed he threw up into a bowl. Looking up after his voiding, his eyes met his butler’s. 
“Good morning, sir,” The penguin shaped butler said cheerfully, smiling as he handed his Lord Earl’s bathrobe to him, “You slept well, I assume.” 
“Yeah, right!” The Earl whined, tripping his way into the bathroom, “Those detox guys were epic failures. I mean, they drained my body of the alcohol and drugs, so why do I have a headache and a stomach ache?” 
“You must remember, sir, that you had all that poison in your body for at least four hours,” The butler explained, his voice rumbling with his thick accent, “Your brain was hurting way before you were detoxed, so you were just too drunk to feel it.”  
“Yeah, yeah,” Jason replied as he cleaned himself up. The Butler, whose name was Gottfried, opened His Lord’s room’s door to let the robot delivering His Lord’s fresh pressed suit. 
“Note also, my Lord that you need to attend a Family Meeting in the office suite in about an hour. The corporate stewards have been wondering what to make of the recent decline in some of your companies’ stock value over the last month-” 

“Please let Dick deal with that.” Jason cut in. He understood how the stock market worked, how contemporary economics functioned, and while being tutored in such areas by a famed Engelburgan economist Dr. Hermann von Goldberg Jason, Jason and his younger siblings had visited the Engelburgan Economic Center, witnessing the screaming and panicking chaos that ran the Imperial Free Market. He never wanted any part of it. This opinion was not based on lofty ideals; the market system simply never interested him as it did to Dick, Otto, and Olga. He liked studying physics and playing with equations. And, that field never was the cause of anyone’s misfortune.   
“No, you must attend like the other six.” The Butler stated blankly, “You are of royal blood. It is not something to be debated about, it is a requirement. You and your kin where given to us by Deus to bring order to a chaotic Universe; to lead Humanity into a Golden Age, a Himmels Reich, if you will.” Gottfried really did, like most of Humanity, the poor, believe in such primitive superstitions. Jason didn’t want to argue. He loved Gottfried dearly. Political debates are pointless in such relationships.  
His shore leave was over now. It had been a week, the same amount of time given to him every time he returned from a tour. He did what he usually did: Party. The other Ramburgs, his siblings and other distant relations questioned his habits. None of them had seen combat, or had been remotely close to the front, except for Xavier, who was still serving aboard as a tactical officer aboard the H.M.S. Kong, a specialized cruiser-class warship, designed to take on entire squadrons of enemies. Xavier, the second eldest, had seen intense fighting and enjoyed it. Jason, whose warship was a dreadnought-class vessel, could barely stand a fight with a squadron; and, he hated to fight.   
“I just don’t know why you choose to degrade yourself in such institutions,” Olga would chiv. Margaret, the youngest girl, would nod along. Otto and Dick would aide in the ritual ambush in the living room on the fifth floor, which overlooked their villa’s garden. 
“Ah. See you’re off to war and glory!” Dick often chanted. He did serve in the Imperial Forces, but as a funds manager. Olga was an officer, managing one of the Planetary Legion’s science faculties. Otto, due to his hefty build, was excused from combat roles and placed instead into the signal analysis department. Gustav, the youngest, who was still being tutored, was absent, as well as Xavier, both of whom where is allies.  
“Yeah. I’m off. I’ve routed my pay from the Imperial Fleet to our family’s main account. It’s to pay for the damages I’ve caused.” Jason said somberly as he straightened his summer-white uniform. The others laughed. They couldn’t help it; they could tell he felt guilty for all his sins, and that he was scared to death by the war business.   

“Don’t worry, I’ve already routed such funds,” Dick chuckled. 
67 Himmelsreich 02
The Plutus orbital starbase was always crowded. Soldiers going to the front, body bags and quiet veterans returning; it was a mess. Its cleanness and slick High Metro feel was well known throughout the Reich. Jason’s warship was docked close to the main terminal. Before he boarded and sealed his fate for another three months, he would stare at the massive superstructure. More than miles long and a half-mile thick, hull crowded with rail-guns, point-defense turrets, plasma torpedo launchers, laser phase emitter turrets, missile launchers, ion turrets, and photon torpedo launchers, and a myriad array of sensor and communications gear patched up all over the gigantic war-machine, the Sisyphus was a big gun that never worked. Jason would stare at this useless artifact until one of his aides found him and asked him how he was. He would answer: “Put my bags in my quarters. I’ll be in my office.”   

When Jason entered his office after much scanning and other security protocols, he fell into his desk’s old oak chair. He loosened his dress uniform, took out a bottle of vodka, and proceeded to analyze the ship’s reports with the liquor flowing burning down his throat.   

As he flipped through the holopapers, he noticed a shadow sitting in the corner of his office. It’s too soon for me to be drunk, The Captain mused. He turned on the room’s lights and found a black women sitting on his couch, hands folded neatly on her lap. She was wearing a well trimmed dress and beaming at Jason. There was a calm smile painted on her face; Jason was panicking – It was the same girls who fell down out of the sky! 
“I’m drunk aren’t I,” Jason began, slowly, “Or, how the Hell are you real!” 
“Relax, Jason,” The mysterious woman replied softly, “The Lord looks favorable on you and your family. You are blessed and will be saved from the flood to come.” 
“What?” Jason goggled, “How do you know my name.” His hand was one inch away from the DataPad’s alarm bottom. “How did you even get through all the marine guards?”  
“Jason Clovis Gottfried zu Ramburg, I am your guardian angel.”     
67 Himmelsreich 03

This story was submitted by Andrew Lee Oesterheld for the AE Stories Event. Find Details on sending your own Story here.