"The smallest things count in large amounts, given sufficient time."
"It's unauthorized contraband, Mr. Varrick," intoned Captain Jons officially.
"Yes, sir. I know that, sir."
"Yet you brought it onboard with you anyway."
"I did, sir. I have no excuse, sir."
Captain Jons fingered the contraband, a tiny medallion fashioned from durable everlust. It bore the shape of a red rose, and it sparkled in the dim cabin light of their Time Clipper, Zuzu. "It seems personal."
"It is, sir." Chas Varrick stood stiffly at attention. Though it shouldn't bother him, his heart fluttered to see the tiny thing turning in his commander's thick, beefy hands.
Captain Collin Jons was a big, gruff veteran, a legend of the Time Wars. His face bore the leathery appearance of a man well accustomed to the hostile environs of foreign planetary battlefields. Scuttlebutt held that he had transferred from the infantry ten years previously, having become so proficient with killing that it bored him. He chose the Time Fleet to get his amusement these days. Nobody volunteered for a Time Clipper. Nobody.
Nobody except Collin Jons. The Captain grunted. Cocking a graying, wiry eyebrow, he held it higher in the light to read the inscription lased onto the glittering reverse side of the medallion. "A gift?"
"Dolly," he read softly. He returned his gaze to his second in command, and asked, "Dolly?"
"My eight year old daughter, sir. It's a nickname. Her real name is-."
Jons raised a placating hand. It was heavily scarred from an ancient firefight. "All due respect, Lieutenant, I don't want to know her name. I barely want to know yours."
"It's illegal, you know. I could break you for this. I could rank you as a pathfinder. You wouldn't last out your next mission."
"I know, sir."
Jons shook his head. He sighed, and tossed the tiny object to the top of his desk. "And I should, you know. It's little slips like this that kill a boat, Varrick. You should have asked me."
"You would have denied permission, sir."
Jons slammed a beefy hand against the desk. Despite his calm, professional demeanor, Varrick jumped at the noise. "You're right, Varrick! And for good reason!"
The lieutenant's shoulders slumped in surrender. "Yes, sir."
"A Time Clipper is no place for sentiment." Then the captain seemed to relent. He leaned back into his chair and rolled his eyes to a holograph fixed to the wall of his cramped but tidy cabin. "Ah, hell," he groaned, "what has a lack of sentiment earned us in this damned war? Maybe we need more of it, not less."
Varrick said nothing. He struggled to breathe deeply and evenly, his eyes fixed on Dolly's medallion. It seemed silly to believe such a thing, but Varrick suspected that his luck lived within that tiny, almost worthless scrap of everlust. Despite regulations and the threat of a horrible, time-twisting death as pathfinder, he had brought it with him on every mission, and he had returned nearly unscathed from every one of them. Even when dozens of his comrades had not.
Jons picked up the thin disc, which was shaped like the blossoming petals of a red rose, and he read its inscription again. Without further word, he extended his hand, returning it to his second in command. "Prepare Zuzu for departure, Lieutenant. We zap at mark five five zero."
Chas repressed a smile, as he accepted the token and deposited into one of the many pockets of his fatigues. He saluted. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
The captain growled, making a dismissive motion with his hand and returning his attention to his temporal charts and maps. "Don't thank me, number two. It will probably spell the death of us all. At least you won't die alone. That's it."
Again, Chas saluted, and then he spun on his heel and activated the cabin barrier to exit the captain's quarters. As the portal closed once more, Chas blew a long, relieved breath, returning his hand to his pocket to finger Dolly's medal. He turned his head to gaze at the sealed door behind him, as though he could see through it to his commander beyond, and then through the man's head into his mind, into his very soul. Surprise and wonder etched his face.
A cocky marine stood guard near the portal. He broke discipline to say, "He's a real ball-buster, huh, Lieutenant?"
Varrick frowned. "Mister, if I hear that kind of talk about our captain from you again, I'll bust your balls!" Then he strode away, ignoring the man's puzzled gaze, which burned upon his back.
Later, he sat with his peers in the officer's galley. Everyone kept a nervous eye on their temporal compasses. Nobody spoke. They sipped their spicy cups of crool, and they thought of home, of their youth, of the promise of life denied them, of their eventual, inevitable death.
Finally, a recent transfer from the Outer Fleet, a second lieutenant named Roland, asked, "Anybody know our zap plan?"
Another lieutenant nodded. "I hear it's sector seven, time quadrant Oh-Minus-One-Hundred-Meg."