Author's Note: I came up with the idea for this story while watching a parody of old Star Trek episodes and made me wonder what the cheesy Sci-fi shows from the sixties would be like in a more gritty real world. This story is an attempt to capture the cheesiness of old sci-fi in congruence with a very dark future world.
Captain Isaac Morgan thrust his chest forward with pride while the President of Planet Earth read a list of his many accomplishments during his tenure as captain of the U.S.S. Silverman. "Over the course of the last seven years, Captain Morgan and his brave crew have contacted seventeen new species as representatives of the human race. They've negotiated a peace treaty with our old enemies, the Niburians, discovered a mineral capable of advancing our propulsion technology and cementing our intergalactic standing, and saved the planet from the Natural Death Ray that threatened us a year ago today. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I award you this Medal of Honor for your work."
The crowd before him applauded while a young, buxom blind woman who may have been a member of the exotic Haesad species pinned a bar on Captain Morgan's dress uniform. In reality, the medal he'd received was far too heavy to be held up by cloth alone. Most likely, it would find its home in Captain Morgan's trophy cabinet back on the Silverman.
While thousands of flashbulbs threatened to temporarily blind Morgan, he ignored the image to scan the crowd for his wife, Jennifer, and his three-year-old daughter, Karen. He'd spent a few hours with them since the ship had docked a day late earlier that morning, but Morgan hadn't spent nearly as much time with his family as he'd hoped.
Five years ago, when Morgan had proposed to Jennifer shortly after being offered his captaincy, he'd informed her of the challenges she'd face as a captain's wife. The dangers of space travel prevented him from bringing an untrained wife on-board, and Jennifer had always wanted to be a councilor, and unfortunately wouldn't have a job on a military ship.
At the time, Morgan had thought he was going to be serving a mere year in space and then returning to earth to be closer to his wife and to work at a comfy desk job. Then, earth's most deadly enemy, the Niburians, had appeared and declared work, and suddenly every trained man or woman capable of leading a crew had been ordered to serve on board. Thus, the young couple's rocky first year had become a rocky early marriage.
After a great deal of counseling during one of Captain Morgan's several-week long leaves, the husband and wife had worked out some of their most pressing problems, although the lack of physical contact had taken its toll. With the birth of their daughter, the couple had recaptured some more of their earlier love, but nothing was ever quite as good as it had been before they'd gotten married.
The night before, even though Jennifer had known Isaac's reception of this medal could very well be the crowning achievement of his career, she'd picked a fight with him after Karen had fallen asleep, complaining that he wasn't around enough for his daughter, and that he was absent too often to even consider himself a real father.
Eager to disprove her and also overcome with his own sense of guilt as to his absence from Karen's first steps, her first words, and soon from her first day of school, Isaac Morgan had made his own arrangements to spend some quality time with his daughter. Of course, during the fight the night before, he hadn't mentioned that, aware that when his wife heard of his plans, she'd protest. The time to break the news would be soon, however: before the Silverman left earth later that week.
Now, however, as he scanned the crowd, Captain Morgan was unable to catch a glimpse of his greatly missed family. At the back of the room, a flash of movement crossed his vision. For a moment, he thought he caught sight of the gills and fins typical to the Niburians, but a moment later, the vision was gone. Morgan shook his head and credited the hallucination to the blinding flashes and nervousness from the ceremony.
Although Captain Morgan was able to concoct a reasonable explanation for the strange sight, the mysterious flash of something troubled him throughout the night, even after he spotted his wife with their daughter on her knee sitting in the third row, waving at him with a smile on her face. Remembering at the last minute that he couldn't return the wave while on stage, Morgan took a deep breath of pride and allowed himself a smile.
Later on, while mingling with military leaders and well-wishers at his reception, Morgan kept a possessive arm around his wife's shoulder and held his daughter in his arms while people approached to discuss his many exploits with him. When Morgan's commanding officer, Admiral Lucas Owen, entered the room, Isaac turned to his wife and asked, "Can I get you some crackers and cheese?"
"No, I'm not hungry," Jennifer responded before she covered her mouth in order to yawn.
"Well, I am," Isaac responded. He tried to shift his daughter's weight without waking her, but the young girl still stirred as he passed Karen off to Jennifer's waiting arms. Bleary-eyed, she cast him a questioning glance, but he answered, "Why don't you go see Mommy for a while? Do you want Daddy to get you some mints?"
"No," Jennifer interrupted firmly. "No candy. Besides, Karen doesn't like mints."
As Isaac made his way across the crowded dance floor, he reflected bitterly that his daughter's like or dislike of different kinds of candy really was the sort of thing that he should know about. Maybe Jennifer had been right the night before, and he really was a failure as a father.
No, he couldn't allow himself to think such destructive thoughts. Instead, he focused on the task at hand as he approached Admiral Owen. "Sir," Isaac grunted in his most professional way in order to hide his distraction.
Apparently, Owen wasn't so concerned with professionalism or formality. A plate of crackers with cheese and sausage occupied one hand while with the other he patted Isaac on the back. "Congratulations, my boy!" he hollered.
"Sir, I was wondering if I could have a word with you tonight." Hopefully, his clipped, professional tone would betray the import of his request.
Indeed, Owen sobered and said, "Let's step into the hallway, shall we?"
Once in the relative privacy of the nearly empty hallway that was nearly devoid of people, Morgan explained to Owen what he'd seen. After blanching and then looking around to see that nobody had overheard, Owen demanded, "A Niburian? Are you sure?"
"No, that's the thing," Morgan responded. "I'm not. I'd feel a lot better if someone could check into it, though."
"I need a lot more than that to authorize a search of the facilities," Owen responded. "After all, Isaac, while you're very respected, you were also the captain who first discovered the Niburians, and to be frank, they killed your second-in-command. If anyone has reason to be paranoid and think he's seeing his enemies everywhere, it's you."
"And if anyone was hated enough for the Niburians to violate their treaty and come to earth to kill him, it would be me," countered Morgan.
Owen considered for a moment, then asked, "You really think they'd risk an interstellar incident, and find a way to bypass military security just to show up at your award ceremony?"
"Maybe," Morgan responded, then, aware of how arrogant the answer must sound, amended, "Probably not, but maybe it's not about me. Maybe it's an attack on the government as a whole."
With a loud exhale that belayed how unconvinced he was, Owens hazarded, "If it means that much to you, I'll run a search."
"That's all I ask," Morgan answered before they both returned to the party. From across the room, he could feel his wife's questioning gaze on his back, and lifting a flute of champagne from the snack table, he toasted her.
The couple wasn't able to talk alone until later that night. The night Morgan had arrived, he'd been so exhausted that he'd fallen asleep mere minutes after arriving. Tonight, he anticipated spending some very important time with his wife, and even while he tucked Karen into bed, he imagined everything he'd like to do with Jennifer.
"You know, she misses you a lot," complained Jennifer from Karen's bedroom door. Light illuminated her profile as she continued, "When I told her you were coming home, she didn't stop talking about it all week. She needs her father at home."
"And I need her with me," Morgan breathed. "I wanted to talk to you about it, although I wasn't going to bring it up until later."
"Bring what up?" Jennifer asked.
"It's Karen," Morgan answered. "I hate not being there for her; I hate not being a real dad. I'm bring her along on the Silverman with me when we leave."
"It'll be a short journey," Morgan assured her, "with almost no chance of serious danger. We're escorting an ambassador to a foreign planet, and coming right back. We won't be gone more than a month, tops, and I've arranged for a tutor."
"Isaac, I can't take a full month off work," Jennifer interrupted.
Here was the challenging part of the discussion. "Well, Jennifer, I didn't arrange for passage for you," he confessed. As anger smoldered in her eyes, he protested, "It's not like that. Please, honey. I miss my daughter. I got the admiral to make an allowance for her and her tutor, but there was no way I could have brought you along."
"No," Jennifer hissed. "No, Isaac, I won't let you do it."
"You can't forbid me from spending time with my daughter," Morgan retorted. "I'm your husband, and her father, and I have a right to spend time with her."
These words shamed Jennifer for a moment; he could tell from the way she lowered her eyes and her lip quivered as though she fought tears. Hope that she would give in flared for a second, then abruptly died as she announced, "I want a divorce."