Chapter 1
Someone to Talk to

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Smythe ONB, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Thu 27 Jun 121
Time: UST 1124

The ESS Ticonderoga had been docked at the Smythe Orbital Naval Base for ten days undergoing repair and replenishment following the capture of the space pirates known as the Seven Deadly Sins. It would not be much longer until the battle group would be ready to set out on its next mission. Before it departed, though, it was set to receive a few waves of new personnel.
One such new arrival was making his way down to Deck 7, following the directions of the Officer of the Deck. He was a lean man in his early thirties wearing the service dress uniform of an Army officer. He had jet black hair and a close-cut beard that would not normally be allowed by uniform regulations. No one was likely to dispute this, though, due to the emblem of the Decalogue at his throat. It was easy to dismiss and excuse apparent uniform violations in chaplains as having some religious significance. Few people were eager to step on toes and risk an EO complaint, after all.
On Deck 7, the chaplain first went to HHD, where he was then directed to the headquarters offices of Charlie Company just down the corridor. Once there, he was fortunate enough to find the company commander, Captain Robles, outside his office talking to one of the staff personnel. Listening in for a moment, he determined that it was not a critical matter they were discussing, so he stepped in to introduce himself.
"Pardon the interruption," the chaplain said. He then nodded to the Captain. "Hello, Captain. I'm Isaak Teufel, the new company chaplain."
Captain Robles took a moment to size up the chaplain before commenting, "So you're the new padre?" He immediately caught himself. "Ah, er, I mean, what is it we should call you?"
Chaplain Teufel simply smiled and told him, "I don't mind being called padre, Captain. We all have to be inclusive, don't we?"
"Right..." Captain Robles trailed, not entirely sure of himself. He quickly switched gears and went into full CO mode. "Well, I'm sure you were briefed about the unit. A little out of the ordinary, but we're still combat arms, so that means you're going to have a lot of work to do."
"I look forward to the challenge," Chaplain Teufel replied, not appearing daunted in the slightest. "I'm here to help, after all. If you won't be needing me, I thought I'd go make the rounds and get acquainted with the place."
"Without your sponsor?"
"I can manage."
"If you say so, padre. Things are fairly well-labeled and even if you do get lost, there's usually someone not far off."
Chaplain Teufel nodded. "Thanks for the advice."
"S-1 probably won't get around to finishing your inprocessing until Monday, so you don't have any official responsibilities until then."
"I'll try to stay out of trouble. Good day, Captain."
With a wave, Chaplain Teufel turned and left. He had things to do, places to go, and people to see.

* * *

Even though their platoon had been relocated to Deck 6, Jack and Ally would slip back down to Deck 7 whenever they could for chow. The Marines of Deck 6 weren't the most welcoming to the 'greenback' intruders. If they had to make a choice, inter-unit rivalry beat inter-service rivalry any day of the week.
As they were making their way to the DFAC, they saw a man standing in the middle of the corridor--or 'passageway' as they were supposed to call it. As they got closer, they saw that he was an officer. He was blocking the way, so they couldn't just walk past him. Standing as far to the right as possible, they stopped and went to the position of attention.
"Mornin', sir," Jack said.
The officer turned to them and gave a friendly smile.
"At ease, son," he said. Nodding to Ally, he added, "You too, missy. I'm just making the rounds and I wanted to introduce myself. I'm the new chaplain for Charlie Company."
Going to at ease, Jack replied, "Oh, hey, we're both in Charlie. Uh, pleased to meet you, I guess. I'm Jack and this is Ally."
The chaplain eyed him somewhat critically. Glancing at Jack's nametape, he said, "Not one for military formality, are we, Corporal Grisson?"
"I, ah..."
Before Jack could start trying to dig himself out of the hole, the chaplain laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Take it easy, Jack. I was only kidding. I'm no fan myself, but what can you do? You never know who's going to get their tights in a wad."
This wasn't the sort of talk Jack was expecting from an officer, much less a chaplain.
"Are you sure you're a chaplain?" he asked.
The chaplain looked down at his uniform and replied, "The collar says yes." Turning his attention to Jack's silent partner, he took notice of the infantry badge above her jump wings and said, "So tell me, Ally, what prompted a young lady like yourself to bust through the reinforced concrete walls of this man's Army and cross into combat arms?"
Averting her eyes, Ally mumbled, "It's not like I wanted to, sir..."
"Well, that sounds like something you might want to come see me about."
Ally glanced at the chaplain's insignia and said, "But I'm not Jewish..."
The chaplain laughed. "I'm Reform, so as far as some of the Orthodox are concerned, neither am I." Putting a little more gravity in his voice, he then said, "Seriously, though, it doesn't mean we can't talk."
"Thank you, sir," Ally said quietly, still not quite looking him straight in the eye.
"The door is open, you two," the chaplain said. "I hope to see you come by my office sometime soon. Well, it's been a pleasure, but I'd better let you get back to your business. Carry on."
The chaplain then walked around them and went on his way.
"Well, he seemed cool enough," Jack said.
"I guess so," Ally replied.
She didn't sound so sure, but Jack didn't dwell on it. Instead he ruffled her hair and told her, "Come on, shorty. That grub won't eat itself."

* * *

In the Engine Room, the dozens of personnel working on this and that were too preoccupied to notice the figure of Chaplain Teufel wander in and make his way down to the center of the room at the bottom level. There three sleek black monoliths rose ominously. The chaplain continued to walk as if drawn to these mysterious pillars. He did not get far when a bellowing voice pierced through all the ambient noise of the machinery.
"Freeze!"
Chaplain Teufel stopped.
"Hands in the air!" the voice shouted.
The chaplain slowly raised his hands, his face showing not the slightest sign of fear or anxiety.
A very angry looking Chinese Naval officer stood in front of Chaplain Teufel with his arms crossed, flanked by a pair of Marines with pistols drawn and trained on him.
The Naval officer growled, "You've got about two seconds to explain precisely what the hell you're doing here before PFC Rasheed here puts a few extra holes in you."
"I seem to have gotten lost," Chaplain Teufel replied.
The Naval officer looked at him dumbfounded for a moment, but it did not take long for his anger to return.
"Gotten lost? Gotten lost!? Oh, that does it. Bianchi! BIANCHI!"
The officer's bellowing was quickly answered by the appearance of a bespectacled enlisted woman. She was a good ten paces away when she stopped, went to the position of attention and asked, "Yes, sir?"
"Goddammit, Bianchi," the officer growled. "I warned you about a thousand times to keep people away from here."
"None of my people have gotten anywhere near the Ka--, the things that don't exist."
Thrusting an accusing finger at Chaplain Teufel, the officer shouted, "Explain this!"
The enlisted woman--Bianchi--did not seem to realize the chaplain was even there until just then.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
Glancing over at her, Chaplain Teufel replied, "I was just telling this gentleman that I seem to have gotten lost."
Eager to defuse the situation, Bianchi told the officer, "Sir, let me take care of this."
"Take care of it before I take care of you."
"Aye-aye, sir."
That apparently qualified as 'dismissed' because Bianchi went out of the position of attention and motioned for Chaplain Teufel to follow her.
"Come here, sir."
She led him to the door out of the Engine Room.
As they were walking, he told her, "It would appear that I got you into trouble. You have my apologies."
"I don't need your apologies, sir," Bianchi insisted. "What I need is for you to stay out of my Engine Room. Captain Huang keeps those Marines on a hair trigger. How could you ignore all those signs? I even had the area roped off so people would stay out."
"I was curious," Chaplain Teufel replied. "I've never seen anything like that. What did you say they were called again?"
"I didn't," Bianchi said in a guarded tone. "Curiosity killed the cat and it'll kill the greenback, too. Honestly, sir, what were you thinking?"
"I suppose I wasn't. Again, my apologies."
"If I see you in here again, sir, I'm going to have to call the MAs."
"He really puts the fear in you, doesn't he?"
Bianchi averted her eyes, reminding him of the young soldier he had met only a few minutes earlier.
"I'm not at liberty to say, sir."
"Well then, Eva, if you ever need to talk, stop by Deck 7. My door is always open."
Bianchi looked at him in surprise. "How did you know my name?"
"I must have overheard it. Good day."

* * *

Chaplain Edwards, the Command Chaplain of the Ticonderoga, was just leaving Sickbay after visiting on some of the patients and staff there. As soon as he stepped into the passageway, he was met by an Army officer in his service dress uniform.
"Hello, Anthony," the officer said.
Chaplain Edwards was not used to anyone except his wife calling him by his first name. He did not recognize this officer and could not possibly imagine how or why he would be on a first name basis with him.
"Do I know you?" Chaplain Edwards asked.
"I'm sure you do."
Chaplain Edwards did a quick assessment of the officer from his uniform. He was a Jewish chaplain, captain, fairly new to the service judging from the mere two ribbons on his chest, no deployment stripes, no combat patch. His service clearly did not date back to Chaplain Edwards' own time in the Army, so who was he supposed to be?
Maintaining a genial tone, he said to the Army chaplain, "Refresh my memory, if you don't mind."
"Isaak Teufel, just recently assigned to Charlie Company of the 78th."
The name did not ring a bell.
"I'm sorry," Chaplain Edwards replied, "but I don't remember ever meeting you."
"That's quite alright," Chaplain Teufel said, completely unfazed. "You know how it is."
Growing somewhat impatient but trying his best not to show it, Chaplain Edwards asked, "Was there any particular reason you've come here? If you're wanting to catch up on old times, you're going to be disappointed."
"We can put that on the back burner for now," Chaplain Teufel said. "I just wanted to say hi. We chaplains have to stick together to take care of our flocks and on a ship like this, we don't have any reason to let the color of our uniform or the emblem on our collars keep us apart."
"Of course," Chaplain Edwards replied, almost reflexively.
With a slight nod, Chaplain Teufel said, "I suppose that will be all for now. Good day, Anthony."

* * *

Lydia dragged herself into Officers' Country to hit the rack for some shuteye. She had just finished an eight-hour session in the simulator. As long as the Tico was docked, no birds could leave the hangar, so the simulator was all the pilots had until then. Her sessions were longer than everyone else's to serve as corrective training. General Pfeiffer was none too pleased with Lydia half-wrecking her Hornet to ram one of the Seven Deadlies into submission and this was her punishment.
She was in a foul mood, which wasn't improved any when she saw a green-uniformed figure in her way. At first she thought it was a pilot in aviation greens, but the color was off and there weren't any stripes on the sleeve. That meant he was Army, but why was he in Deck 3's Officers' Country?
He had a captain's silver and gold, so he hadn't quite opened up the gates of Hell as if he were an enlisted man, but he was still an intruder deep in Navy territory and Lydia was keen to see him gone.
"What the hell are you doin' here, greenback?" she demanded irritably.
"I seem to be lost," the Army captain replied.
"You damn well are," Lydia snapped back, annoyed at how casual he sounded about it. "You greenbacks are down in Deck 7. You ain't got any business up here."
The captain did a little deferential half-bow. "I apologize for the intrusion then, Captain."
Lydia glanced at her shoulder and then back at him, her annoyance blunted by his obfuscating stupidity.
"It's Lieutenant," she said.
"I see. You'll have to excuse me. This is my first time working with our Navy brethren. You have to wonder why they have completely different names for the ranks."
"Hunnerds a' years a' proud nautical tradition or some bullshit like that," Lydia replied, rolling her eyes. Seeing that he was still there, she folded her arms and said, "Weren't you going?"
"Am I not welcome?"
"I got nothin' ta say to a greenback."
"That's a pity. I won't take advantage of your hospitality any longer. Take care, Captain."
"It's Lieutenant."
"The day may yet come, little Liddy."
The Army captain walked passed her, patting her on the shoulder as he went. A shock ran through her, either because she wasn't expecting him to touch her or because he called her that name. She turned, about to confront him on it, but checked herself.
You're just hearin' things, she told herself. Leave it.
And so she did, but she'd probably need to punch a bulkhead a little to help her forget.

* * *

Commander Aaron Joachim, well-worn from a simulated twenty-kilometer run, eased himself off the exercise bike and into his exoskeletal frame, brushing off the offer for assistance by another officer working out in the gym. He did not want any help. This was something he had to get through on his own.
After weeks of torture at the hands of the Seven Deadlies, only the miracle of modern medicine and sheer willpower kept him going. He could easily have cashed out on medical after all he had been through, but he had an obligation to the men and women he lost to keep on fighting.
The doctors would complain that he was pushing himself too hard, but he needed make up for all the atrophy and get back in shape so he could be qualified for flight duty. Ideally, he wanted to be cleared before the Ticonderoga launched, but that was being a little too optimistic.
As he walked out of the gym, he saw an Army officer in the passageway talking with Lieutenant Han. By the look on her face, it was not a conversation she was enjoying, but there was not much she did enjoy besides causing trouble.
Turning the corner so he was safely out of view, he listened in on what turned out to be the tail-end of the conversation. The two went their separate ways, but not before the Army officer patted Han on the shoulder. She looked spooked, but then shrugged it off. Clearly this officer had no connection to her and was not supposed to know her name.
Just being in Officers' Country on this deck was enough to make the Army officer suspicious, but the way he carried himself and what he said was too much to ignore. Although it might have been better to continue to observe from afar, Commander Joachim opted instead to intercept and see what he could learn.
Going down the port passageway, Commander Joachim walked at a brisk pace to catch the Army officer from the other side. Once their paths crossed, he walked past the Army officer and kept going a couple steps, like someone who would not be expecting to see him.
Turning around, making it look abrupt, the Commander took on his authoritative CO persona and demanded, "What are you doing here, soldier? Army personnel belong on Deck 7."
"So I hear," the Army officer replied, turning to face the Commander slowly, smoothly. "I seem to have gotten lost, but I was on my way out."
His bearing gave no indication of someone who was lost. Commander Joachim made a quick assessment from his uniform. Captain Teufel, or rather, Chaplain Teufel. He had less than three years of service or had had some incident that invalidated him for a Good Conduct Medal. No deployments or at least none that lasted the minimum six months to get any stripes on his sleeve. No combat patch and the unit patch on his left sleeve belonged to some signal unit, a fairly obscure one by the look of it.
All in all, none of that information told him what this Chaplain Teufel was doing there or why. Although he seemed like a smooth operator, perhaps the Chaplain would give something away when pressed.
"Lost my ass," Commander Joachim scoffed. "Either the OOD isn't doing his damned job or you're hard of hearing. Which is it?"
"I must have misheard him is all," the Chaplain said, not showing any signs of being flustered or intimidated. "If you'll excuse me..."
Commander Joachim's arm shot out to bar the way, his hand loudly striking the bulkhead. He had started this and needed to see it through, even though his chances of gaining any useful information were not looking good.
Staying in character, the Commander growled, "You think you can get off that easy? You're wandering around in a restricted area and 'I'm lost' won't cut it. Now what are you doing here?"
The Chaplain's eyes swept over the braces on his arm and very solemnly he said, "They did some terrible things to you, didn't they, Aaron?"
It took all of Commander Joachim's considerable reserve not to recoil. It was a fairly basic deflection, but it cut a little too deep for comfort. He had seriously underestimated this so-called Chaplain Teufel. He had no choice but to cut his losses and pull out.
He stepped away and said gruffly, "Get out. And don't let me catch you in here again."
"Will I be seeing you this Saturday?" the Chaplain asked.
"Don't count on it," Commander Joachim replied, although it would have been better to say nothing.
Chaplain Teufel left and Commander Joachim cursed himself for sticking his neck out like that. He made a bad call and compromised his position. Now it would be much more difficult to get a handle on who this man was and what he was after. He was no ordinary person. That much was certain. But was he on the same side? It was a question that needed to be answered and answered soon before the lives of everyone on board were put at risk.

* * *

There would be no flights for at least another week, but Matt still made a point to make regular checks of the squadron's ships in the hangar. All the birds were in optimal condition and the crews had no complaints, so all was well for the time being.
He was heading back to his office and saw an Army officer in the personnel lift.
"Going down?" Matt asked, not having noticed what the light indicated just a moment earlier.
"Yes," the officer--a captain--replied.
Matt thought that Army personnel were not allowed to have beards, but this one did, albeit a very close-cut one. Then he noticed the Decalogue emblem at his throat and wondered if that was the reason.
He hit the button for Deck 5 as the doors were closing and then stepped aside to wait unobtrusively until he reached his destination. Unexpectedly, the Army officer approached Matt with his hand extended.
"Isaak Teufel," he said, "company chaplain of Charlie-78."
Matt shook the Chaplain's hand and replied, "Matthias Harold, of the Four-Two-One Fighter Squadron, commander. Teufel... Isn't that German for--"
Chaplain Teufel held up his hand and said, "I know. I get it all the time. A little ironic that I'm a chaplain, isn't it?"
"Unless you were a Levayist, maybe," Matt said with an uncomfortable chuckle.
"Perhaps," the Chaplain replied, "but were you aware that LeVayan Satanism is actually atheistic and Satan is simply a symbol, an archetype for individualism and carnality?"
"I didn't know that," Matt admitted.
"Satan is just an idea," Chaplain Teufel continued, "not an actual supernatural entity to be worshipped. And you know something? I'm more inclined to think this way. About Satan being an abstraction, that is, not that he's a model for conduct. Although you have to wonder. Many of the virtues of modern society were the vices of the old tradition. We've been going further and further down the Left-Hand Path for the past several centuries."
He moved in closer and said, "If there is a Satan, I wouldn't see him so much as a villain. He's just a guy with a job and that job is to test people's character. You see, it's not what you do when all eyes are on you. It's what you do when no one's watching. That's what counts and that's when he's there, offering you a choice."
Now standing directly in front of Matt, the Chaplain took hold of both his wrists and twisted his hands palms up. Matt was so taken off-guard that he did not even try to resist.
"Matthias, you're going to be faced with some difficult decisions and you'll have to make a choice, between the Right-Hand Path and the Left-Hand Path, between what you're told is right and what feels right. And between those two, you'll have to figure out what is right, or at least what you can live with."
The personnel lift dinged. Deck 5.
"Your stop?" Chaplain Teufel asked.
Matt nodded. The Chaplain gave his wrists a little squeeze and then let go.
"Take care, Matthias. And if you ever find yourself lost when facing a choice, look me up. If nothing else, I'll hear you out."
"Uh, thank you, Chaplain," Matthias said awkwardly, backing out of the lift.
The doors closed and as suddenly as he had appeared, Chaplain Isaak Teufel was gone.