The Terran Fleet officer known as Captain Graffiti had enlisted under his birth name, Carlo Sinopoli. Though an unexceptional recruit at first, he rose through the ranks. Later, during the violent Thoralesh war in the Narlikar sector, he was commended several times for exceptional valor. In one deadly encounter with a squad of Thoralesh fighters, he’d knocked them out of the sky, then followed the lead pilot down to the rocky planetary surface.
Not satisfied with downing the fighter, Carlo had ripped the reptilian creature out of its cockpit and scrawled a defamatory message across its broad forehead in indelible ink. “Gunfire makes me wet myself” was the phrase the alien would have to live down for years afterward.
News of the incident should have resulted in Carlo’s court-martial. Such conduct was frowned on by the Interstellar War Charter of 3752. But so despised were the Thoralesh that no one in Terran Command could stop laughing long enough to charge him.
Besides, soon afterward, the phrase went viral. “Gunfire makes me wet myself” began to appear, stenciled on the side of military bases from the homeworld all the way out to the Lovell colonies on the extreme edge of civilization. As a result, Carlo’s only punishment was a nickname he’d never be able to shake. He’d been “Graffiti” ever since and had ridden his accumulated fame all the way into a captain’s chair
For the most part, he’d considered himself lucky. He’d attained a coveted spot fairly quickly and was now on the brink of making Lieutenant Colonel. But as he gazed at the menacing alien lander through a monitor on the bridge, it was beginning to look as if his luck had run out.
Wait and see, he told himself.
No use making up trouble, he’d learned. Trouble had no trouble turning up on its own. All the same, the lander’s dark, featureless exterior did not inspire hope. Nor did Paul Sprague’s familiar voice, once again eerily distorted by static, offer him any reason to believe his worst fears weren’t justified.
“Carlo, old buddy,” said Paul. “glad you could make it. Hey don’t let the Begnati’s manners throw you off. They’re a little rough around the edges, but they mean well. And I tell you, you’re gonna love it here.”
But Graffiti’s military mind would not let him accept this friendly greeting at face value.
“Lieutenant Sprague, report,” he said. “What mission were you on that led you to crash way out here?”
The nervous laugh that greeted him was not in the least reassuring.
“Aw Geez, Carlo,” said the voice. “Look at you, sounding all military. It’s nothing like that. The Begnati invited me down here on my way back from a reconnaissance mission. I was kinda burned out with the Service and figured I had nothing to lose by taking a little detour. That was two cycles ago. After a couple of weeks I decided to stay, resigned my commission and I’ve been here ever since.”
“Sounds cozy,” said Graffiti. “but what about Theresa? She’s back on Burnell Prime?”
A suspiciously long pause followed, before Sprague’s voice returned, slightly muffled.
“We … we split up five cycles ago,” it said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Graffiti’s eyebrows arched. The two of them had been devoted to each other, inseparable. What, he wondered, could have driven them apart? But given the immediate threat to his crew if he didn’t comply, he realized he didn’t have much more leeway before he’d have to enter the lander. Still, he wanted to be as prepared as possible for what he’d encounter on the planet’s surface.
“Sorry to hear that,” he said. “But what’s your problem now? You sound pretty content down there. What do you need so bad that you had your friends pull my ship out of space-time to get me here?”
“It’s … complicated,” said the voice. “I’ll explain everything when you come down, OK? Look, I hate to be pushy, but the Begnati are ready to take your crew out for real next time if you don’t get a move on.”
The staticky transmission fell silent.
“We’ve lost them, Sir,” said Ensign Bell. “Should I try to reestablish….”
“Forget it,” said the captain.
Whatever craziness had come his way, it seemed, he’d have to deal with it alone. He picked up his comlink
“Lieutenant Banks,” he said, “I’m going down. Work with Engineering until you get Arcadia back under helm control. Then if I haven’t returned in a solar day, get the Hell out of here and don’t look back. Captain out.”
(To be continued)
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