Commander Lucan knew the secret to a successful career in the Imperial Legions: it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, and it sure isn’t how you act.
It’s how you look.
And, gazing at himself in the mirror after his two-hour morning ritual, Marc Lucan looked good.
His teeth were whiter than a Hegelian landscape. (Hegel is the frozen moon of Cygnus 5. It’s pretty snowy there.) His hair was renowned throughout the officer corps for its body and shine. His blue eyes had been augmented to be particularly piercing. His jaw-line could cut glass.
After examining himself from every angle (every angle, he had mirrors installed on the ceiling and behind him so that he wouldn’t miss a detail), Lucan gave his jacket a smart tug and stepped into his quarters. “Ensign Meriwether,” he said.
The lump under the blankets on his bed shifted slightly and said, “Mrrf?”
“Don’t forget you’re scheduled for duty on the bridge at 0900.”
A sleepy voice said, “Yes, sir.” And then began to snore.
It had been a productive night carousing with Captain Harper, a legend in the officer corps. He had the bushy white beard, weathered cheeks, and deep-set eyes of a sea captain out of an ancient vid. Rumor had it that the captain paid a year’s salary to obtain that look of genuine salt-of-the-earthiness. The tales of Harper’s drunken exploits seemed apocryphal until you witnessed them. Lucan was fortunate to be assigned to the E.S.S. Sun Tsu under Harper’s command.
Lucan strode down the hall to Harper’s quarters. All was right with the world. In two days they would be back on Earth, celebrating the three hundredth birthday of the Emperor in what promised to be a month-long bacchanalia unrivaled in the history of the Empire. Captain Harper had arranged invitations to some of the most… intriguing parties, and Lucan would be right there with him, rubbing elbows with every command officer in the Legions.
The Captain often shared breakfast with the Commander in his quarters, where they would recap the prior evening. Standing before Harper’s door, Lucan snapped straight and announced, “Commander Marc Lucan, reporting for duty!”
There was a long pause, and then the com next to the door lit up. “Lucan. I’m… dealing with some official matters today. The helm is yours until further notice. That is all.”
Lucan nodded. “Yes sir!” He turned sharply on his heel and strode to the bridge. His chest swelled with admiration for his mentor, who was likely either entertaining company, unable to move, or sick to his stomach.
Got to admire the old man’s commitment to the mission.
The commander paused before stepping onto the bridge. He straightened his jacket, checked his hair one more time, and confirmed that his posture was perfect. The standard bridge of an Imperial starship was equipped with seven cameras to monitor everything for posterity, training, and the occasional court marshal proceeding. The Sun Tsu’s bridge had fourteen, by order of the captain.
The crew barely noticed when Lucan took the helm. Everyone knew their duties, the ship practically flew itself, and there wasn’t anything for the Commander to do but sit in the captain’s chair and look captain-like. It was the easiest job in the Imperial Legions.
But… Lucan was feeling frisky today.
The crew paused and glanced back and forth at each other, daring someone to speak up. Finally the navigator, a new recruit named Balz, said, “Just entered the Imperial system and course is laid in for Earth, ETA thirteen solar cycles.”
“Very good. Very good… wait. Thirteen?”
Lucan double-checked the com-panel. He shook his head. The opening ball was in two solar cycles. They were going to miss more than a week of the ceremonies. How could they have mistimed things so badly?
As if reading his mind, Lieutenant Nobunaga, the ship’s puffed up protocol officer, said, “I did advise you that we were spending too long in the casinos of New Terra, Sir.”
Whenever Nobunaga said his “sirs,” they came out capitalized. Lucan hated that.
Lucan muttered, “Not my fault, there are no clocks in there…” His mind was racing. Then he looked up and snapped his fingers.
“Fire up the VVF engine!”
The low hum of activity on the bridge immediately ceased, replaced with an empty, tense silence. All eyes turned to Lucan. No one spoke.
To understand this reaction, one must understand the VVF engine. Its logic flows from the following premises:
1. A pangalactic empire cannot exist without faster-than-light travel.
2. Faster-than-light travel is impossible.
3. Therefore, the Pangalactic Empire cannot exist unless...
4. The VVF engine!
The VVF engine allowed the Pangalactic Empire to exist. The VVF engine had to exist because, otherwise, there would be no Pangalactic Empire . Beyond this logic, no one actually understood how the VVF engine worked, save one person. But she was a sheep farmer on a little-visited agricultural world, whose opinion no one ever asked.
Everyone else tried not to think about it. It might have something to do with wormholes, or hyperspace, or string theory, or warping the universe around on itself. Clearly it worked though, because otherwise, no Pangalactic Empire.
Ensign Balz spoke cautiously, as though to a particularly slow child, or a suicide bomber, or a particularly slow child-like suicide bomber, “Sir. There are very... specific... protocols for using the VVF engine.”
Lucan responded with a withering glare. “I am aware, Ensign. But just because the engine has only been used for travel between star systems, what’s to prevent us from using it within a system?”
Balz looked around for support. No one made eye contact. “There is too much matter. In a solar system. The VVF engine is... it’s inexact. It’s really meant to be used as far away from... well, from anything... as possible.”
“Exactly! There is no technical reason we can’t use it. Just silly bureaucratic regulations! Look, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Balz was now on firmer ground. Quickly tapping on his panel, he said, “There is about a one in ten chance that if we try to use the VVF engine to get to Earth, we will collide with solid matter and destroy he ship, killing everyone on it.”
Lucan crossed his arms, “Balz you worry-wart, that means there’s a ninety percent chance we’ll be fine! I’d bet those odds any day. Fire up the VVF engine.”
Ensign Balz swallowed. The crew members all studiously tapped the proper commands into their panels, said technical sounding jargon like, “quantum reinforcers are at 3.5 flux” and “bringing her about to heading 850.”
Then someone pushed the button.
Lucan smiled broadly, “Well that wasn’t so bad was it? Where’d we end up?”
He was right. They weren’t all dead.
Balz exhaled. “We’re just past Venus, sir…”
The navigator was interrupted by the communications officer. “Urgent message coming in, sir. Five Solarwind Fighters heading toward Earth, armed with quantum-fusion explosives. Enough firepower to blow up half the planet.”
Lucan took a moment to parse the message, “Solarwind fighters? That’s ancient technology, why don’t they just…”
“Saboteurs hijacked the planetary defense system twelve hours ago, used it to disable every ship in dock. The entire fleet already arrived for the celebrations.” The communications officer looked up, “Sir, we are the only active vessel within five light-years. The Solarwinds will impact in sixteen minutes.”
“Balz, how fast can we intercept?”
“Thirteen minutes, sir.”
Lucan stood up. He straightened his back and raised his chin. He leveled a steely gaze at his crew. Then he paused for exactly twelve seconds (the proven optimal suspense-building pause duration), looked directly at camera five, grinned, and said, “Then it looks like we arrived in just the nick of time.”
History is fuzzy on some of the details as to exactly how Commander Marc Lucan uncovered the nefarious plot to destroy the Empire. The accounts do document, however, that Lucan boldly took command when his captain took ill. They describe the tactical brilliance Lucan exhibited in delaying his ship’s arrival at Earth to avoid the sabotage that sidelined the rest of the fleet. And they chronicle the incredible daring by which Lucan risked the lives of himself and his crew with an unheard-of maneuver, in order to arrive at exactly the right place at the right time and avoid disaster.
Officials at the highest levels would speak of Marc Lucan’s heroism and genius as a thing so implausible, it was almost indistinguishable from dumb luck.