A warship, Corporal Daniels ruminated, should look like a ship of war. It should be huge, blocky, and intimidating, boldly marked with the colors of its nation. It should be a thing of stark beauty formed in armor plate and fusion engine alike. A warship should menace with plasma cannons and missile banks. It should, in simple terms, tell the enemy that here was a half-megaton mass of "Fuck You" here to kick your xenomorphic ass back to the stars. A warship should have a name that spoke of power, like Enterprise , or one that spoke of battles long past, like Iwo Jima or Valley Forge.
It should not look like a giant orchid in space, and it should definitely not have a name like "Starlight Symphony."
"Try to hold back your prejudice, Corporal," Sergeant Lewisky said, chewing thoughtfully on a wad of spearmint-flavored gum. "In all the years since the Diaspora, the Conclave is the one human successor nation that's had a winning battle record against the Geist. Having them here could mean the difference between coming home alive or not coming home at all."
"I don't know," Daniels said, tugging uncomfortably at the stiff collar of his red-and-black dress uniform. No matter how he tried, that annoying stand-up collar never seemed to sit comfortably against his skin. "Their ship doesn't look that impressive. It looks kinda. . ." He considered his carefully, racking his mind for the right word to describe the pale lavender, gossamer-delicate vehicle in the viewscreen to his right.
"Effeminate?" Lewisky asked.
"Effete," Daniels said. "It looks like someone was more concerned with making this ship look pretty than making it effective in combat."
"Mmmm. That's one way to look at it," Lewisky agreed. "Another way is to say that the ship's so effective that the designers were able to spare the effort to make it look good too."
"Ten-hut!" Lieutenant Grimes called out. The small honor guard gathered in the docking bay snapped to attention. "All right," Grimes said, taking a casual parade rest in front of her squad. "The Conclave liaison will be arriving in five minutes. I want a good, crisp parade order, got that?"
"Aye aye, sir!" twelve voices called out in unison.
"Sergeant, bring them to order," Grimes said.
"Squad, paraaaay. . . ress!" Lewisky called out.
Twelve men fell into a sharp, solid parade rest.
The status light above the airlock changed color from blue (SAFE) to red (OPEN). There was a soft hissing sound as the airlock pressurized, and then a soft "thud" as the vents were closed. The light changed color from red (OPEN) to green (READY), and then, with a gentle whisper, the inner doors opened.
Daniels' first impression was one of riotously bright colors. There was a single figure standing in the airlock, dressed in layered robes of many colors, iridescent cloth scattering the light into myriad small flickers that danced across the folded cloth. "Teeeeeh. . . HUH!" Lewisky barked, and the small honor guard snapped to attention with a single, unified click, and Daniel snapped his eyes straight forward, away from the strange figure framed by the airlock doorway.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lieutenant Grimes give a crisp, military salute. "___ Kerafel," Grimes said. "Welcome aboard the Peleiliu. I'm Lieutenant Grimes, of Echo Company. I'll be your host during your time on this vessel."
"Of course," a clear, feminine voice replied. "Your hospitality is appreciated."
"If you would please follow me?" Grimes said. She turned to one side to lead the stranger out of the docking bay.
Daniels say a brief glimpse of the stranger as she passed by. He was startled to see that the captain of what was allegedly the most powerful warship in the combined fleet was nothing more than a small girl. She looked about fourteen to sixteen years old, with unnaturally flawless, pale skin, with a slight bluish tinge. Her ears were long and tapered, and her large, round eyes were pale blue, the color of ice in the evening twilight. She had long hair arranged in complex braids that fell past her feet and brushed against the floor. Her feet were hidden under her complex, layered robes, made of that strange iridescent fabric that glittered in the soft light of the docking bay, like the inside of an oyster shell.
When the girl had left the bay, Sergeant Lewisky dismissed them, and the twelve men left the docking bay, murmuring to each other. Daniels stretched out and sighed. "Well," he said. "She didn't look like all that much."
Lewisky looked out of the airlock door, stroking his chin as he studied the star-studded blackness of space through the armorcryst window. "I don't know," the sergeant said. "I think there's more to her than she lets on."
"Sergeant. She's a little girl. What the hell more can there be to her?" Daniels laughed.
"Well," Lewisky said, patting Daniels on the shoulder. "Before I answer that question, maybe you should answer one of mine?"
"And what's that?"
"Just how that 'little girl' managed to pass through the five thousand clicks between the Peleiliu and the Symphony without a shuttle or a suit."