"So some of you probably heard the rumors during your orientation at Nellis that you're aboard the black ship of the 304 fleet. She has a bit of history for sure. She's been around longer than the new shiny Apollo, and on more diverse missions than Daedalus's Pegasus shuttle runs. After all, 'Big D' just faces off with space vampires." Major Marks tapped the bulkhead beside him with affection and smiled. "Odyssey here has fought snakeheads, pirates, the Ori, travelled to three different galaxies...and counting, of course. So she's got a few more scrapes on her hull, but she's gotten her 200-man crew home every time. That's not a curse, that's a blessing, and that's what counts."
The other new transfers chuckled at the good-natured dissing of sister ships, but Captain Brandon McAllister felt a hint of unease. Major Marks's casual comments were the dark humor of a combat veteran. He'd initially thought transferring out of Afghanistan--dodging sniper fire while setting up power grids--was getting him to a safer duty. But these offhand remarks were the morbid humor of someone who'd been through the hell of combat and survived. Brandon was still on the front line–this time meeting aliens from outer space, and not all the little green men were like Spielberg's "E.T."
He turned to his seatmate, Tommy Jordan. Like Brandon, his old friend was excited at being assigned to an honest-to-God spaceship that put NASA to shame. Brandon had knuckled down, trying to learn everything possible about ZPMs and DHDs and all sorts of inconceivable power sources and crystal mechanics in their two month crash course. Tommy seemed to spend most of his free time hanging out in the lounge catching up on all the stories of this whole "visiting other planets" program the USAF had been keeping secret for over a decade. Right now, Tommy's expression was half amusement, half wonder, and he hadn't returned Brandon's sidelong glance. He probably already knew this "cursed ship" rumor. Maybe Marks's comments hadn't fazed him a bit.
While Brandon was lost in thought, the Major continued his briefing: "Which brings me to the next reason Odyssey's a bit special. This ship has the Asgard Core Room. As you may have already heard, it's very advanced alien technology. We've been Earthside two months now to copy and glean as much information as we could, but Odyssey's needed out there with the fleet, especially since she's the most advanced weapon we've now got against the Ori. We're going to have to keep learning as we go on missions. The core room itself is obviously a restricted area. Only a few of you will have direct access and clearance to it. But the core has been integrated with every system on this ship, so you all have to be aware of its relationship with standard operations on board."
Brandon listened to the overview of the core room with rapt attention, but the remarks were more cursory than anything else. Marks soon moved on to other topics, and the lecture became the standard military drone of regulations Brandon had heard at every base he'd served. It was almost as if that hint of adventure had never been discussed. Brandon noticed Tommy starting to doodle in his notepad. But Marks's comments were not forgotten. After the talk was finished, the room buzzed once again with excited murmurings. Brandon exchanged a smile with Tommy.
"We made it, bro!" Tommy held up his hand for a high-five. "It's a long way from Clarkson, isn't it? I always told you we'd reach the stars."
"Here, I thought you'd meant Hollywood stars." Brandon said the line from their old joke. Tommy had the same grin Brandon remembered from school. They'd always been opposites--Tommy gregarious and a city boy, and Brandon the bookworm from the small New England town, but they'd hit it off from the start. After graduation, Tommy and he hadn't been stationed together. Just once when their stints at Eglin partially overlapped, but they'd stayed in touch as much as possible. Meeting up at Nellis was a pleasant surprise, and they relaxed as if graduation was last week instead of years ago.
On their way out of the room, they got caught in the bottleneck of people leaving. Directly in front of them, a redheaded man was laughing at his dark haired colleague. "Curses in the briefing, and now you're telling ghost stories, Cho? C'mon."
His friend retorted. "I swear, the ship's totally haunted. I've heard that there's a blood spot on the deck of the bridge that no amount of scrubbing can ever wash off."
"You've been watching too many horror flicks."
"No, I swear, Dutch." Cho repeated. "Their first commander got killed on the bridge, execution style. They say his blood still runs through the ship, and you can hear his cries of vengeance."
Dutch snorted, and Brandon heard a woman nearby snicker, "Melodramatic, much?"
Cho was not swayed. "No other commander's stayed aboard for more than six months. Plus on Deck Five..."
Brandon was jostled from behind. He opened his mouth to protest, but his voice caught in his throat as he realized it was Major Marks. The Major reached out and pulled the hapless Lieutenant Cho back from the crowd. The Major had not struck Brandon as a particularly intimidating man before. But at this moment, the fire of a drill sergeant seemed to be possessing the man as he loomed over the subordinate.
"The murdered commander you so brazenly toss off as a ghost was Colonel Paul Emerson, a man who gave his life for this ship and her crew, and one of the best officers I've ever had the honor of serving under, Lieutenant."
"I meant no offense, sir." Cho was obviously flustered, looking around for some kind of support to help dig him out of this hole. Everyone had backed away, giving the pair wide berth.
Marks was giving no quarter. "Offense, taken. Every man and woman aboard this ship does their duty. We depend on each other, because the stakes are too high if we don't. Perhaps you don't appreciate that, Lieutenant. Relegating the Colonel's sacrifice to a ghost story demeans his memory and cheapens the lives of every crew member who owes their lives to his command. Every officer who we've been honored to follow has kept to that example, no matter how long their tour...I trust they don't have to explain themselves to you!" Marks looked around at their audience as if spotting them for the first time, but Brandon had no doubt he not only was aware, but wanted his lecture heard. "I believe I dismissed you all?"
A chorus of muttered "sirs" were heard as everyone scattered. Only after they were a deck away and Tommy triple checked no one else was nearby did he speak up. "That Marks is one to talk. There's stories about him too, you know."
Brandon looked around as well before responding. Tommy was confirming his own impressions of the nerdy-looking officer–there was more to him then met the eye. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that he's considered the luckiest dude in the fleet. Been on at least one mission with every 304 made to date. Plus, he was one of Prometheus's crew. You know, that 303?"
Brandon vaguely remembered the history of the predecessor class vessel. "I, um, it got blown up by an Ori satellite, right?"
"Yeah, but not before most of the crew was evacuated by its commander. Marks was bridge crew there, got injured, but survived. You heard him mention Colonel Emerson? Hostage situation with those pirates--the Luchan Allies or something like that. Anyway, after the Colonel's death, Marks led the crew with SG-1 to take back the ship. Another time, he fought in the battle of 229 and survived. There were lots of casualties there, not to mention the Russians' cruiser destroyed. Plus, he went from captain to major in record time. Actually, there was a whole group of guys that got accelerated promotions. Rumors are they went through some kind of time warp, but everything's hush hush."
Brandon looked at his friend with incredulity. "And people are saying he's lucky from that? Sounds like more of a curse to me. Forced to abandon ship twice? Losing Prometheus, and several commanders?"
Tommy shrugged. "This duty's pretty weird. I mean, back at Nellis, I was berthed with a guy who used to be stationed at Cheyenne, and since coming on board have met a couple guys on their second tour. When they heard we were getting briefed by Marks, they called him the Odyssey's Daniel Jackson."
"Who's Daniel Jackson?"
Tommy looked at him and shook his head. "This is what you get for spending so much time studying engineering manuals instead of finding out the real scoop of what's out there, bro. You've got a lot to learn."
Before Brandon could counter his friend's jibe, he was distracted by the sight before him. The corner they turned revealed a row of exterior windows. They could see the blue oceans of Earth and the peninsula of India peeking out amongst the swirl of clouds. Brandon didn't realize he was holding his breath until he heard Tommy's sigh next to him.
Brandon turned to his old friend and smiled. "We've got the coolest jobs."