Captain Donald Edwards III lay in his bunk reviewing his career. After 5 years of brownnosing, backstabbing and political maneuvering, He finally had a command. HK104 ‘Prometius’ was his. Of course, his Uncle Benson, having been elected to the senate, helped.
Edwards grimaced when he remembered his conversation with Admiral Washburn. When the orders had come in, he had been called to the Admiral’s office.
Striding into the office, Edwards snapped what he thought was a jaunty salute to the Admiral. Dropping his hand, he assumed the rest position. “Good morning, Admiral.”
Washburn stared coldly at Edwards. Speaking slowly, and with an obvious attempt to control his temper, Washburn said “Mr. Edwards, against my recommendations and vigorous objections. I am in receipt of orders requiring me to place you in command of the Prometius. I am aware of where those orders originated, and who instigated them. In my opinion, you are a pompous, arrogant ass. I wouldn’t trust you to command a rubber ducky, let alone a hunter/killer. But I have no choice in the matter. What I do have is the authority to assign your patrol station. When you take command, you will be assigned to sector 5D. Before you get excited, this is the deadest sector in the zone. There are no smugglers, pirates, aliens or any other glory that you might have fantasized about. It is unlikely, but if you do contact any shipping, you will NOT take action. You will contact the Fleet and request direction. You will remain on station until relieved. Resupply will be sent out to you. Communications will route through this office, so you can forget about crying to your uncle. Your crew is being selected right now. I anticipate a substantial increase in my available brig space. And a corresponding reduction in my morning blotter reports.”
“Admiral, I take exception...”
Losing his temper, Washburn shouted “Shut your Pie hole Edwards.” Pausing, Washburn took a deep breath and regained his composure. “Mr. Edwards, my apologies for losing my temper. If you wish to file charges, they will be forwarded to Fleet command. Be aware, however, that the reviewing officer is Admiral Taft. He also, is not a fan of yours or your uncle.”
Looking at Edwards, Washburn’s eyes softened, “Look, Don, the best thing for you and the fleet right now would be for you to resign your commission and return to civilian life. We both know that you have political aspirations. Your naval career up to this point has been non-descript enough, it won’t hurt your future. If you resign, I’ll write your final evaluation in such a way that you’ll look good.”
The usual hardness in Washburn’s eyes returned “But, if you continue with this, I can guarantee that you will retire a very old captain. Not the senior senator from wherever.”
Captain Edwards was jolted awake by the general quarter’s alarm. Reaching over he slapped the intercom. At the same time, he reached for his coveralls.
“Captain here, Report!”
“Sir, XO here. We have an inbound. 20 au’s out, on a close intercept.”
As Edwards struggled into his clothes, “Continue”
“Sir, the shadow detector first spotted it at 30 au. The initial estimate was a .5 diameter.”
“Christ, at 30 au, that’s big.” Edwards muttered to himself.
As Edwards entered the bridge, he barked “REPORT”
The Ensign at the helm responded, “Sir, we have an inbound shadow contact currently at 19.95 au. Computers estimate a .5 diameter and an estimated velocity of 25 km steady.”
“I have the Conn.”
“Captain has the Conn.”
“COB, what’s our Emcon?”
“Sir, at current projections we are at 0 for 10 more minutes, 5 at 15 minutes and detection range at 18 minutes.”
“Commo, any chatter?”
“Negative Sir, all emissions are outside of target trajectory.”
“Ok, let’s spin up the torps. COB, set us at Emcon 1. Condition Q”
As these orders were issued there was a flurry of activity.
“Sir, Emcon is at 1, detection range is now 30 minutes. Torps are spun up. Port, starboard and aft tubes loaded and ready. Condition Q set on all decks.” the COB reported.
“Very well” responded Edwards.
“Shadow, range to target?”
“Sir, estimated range is 19.87 au’s. No change to estimated velocity.”
“Commo, set a remote hailer at .1 au, port, ascension 15. Let me know when it’s ready.”
“Aye Sir, ready to launch.”
For 5, long, minutes everything waited.
“Sir, Commo, remote hailer is in position.”
“Very well, send an IFF.”
“Weapons, what is our target solution?”
“Conn, Weapons, Target solution fixed. All torps dialed in, ready to fire. Target solution degradation is at plus 5 per minute.”
“Conn, Commo, Negative on IFF.”
“Weapons, hold, Commo, ready a second remote for .18 au’s, starboard, negative 9. XO, update the logs and prep a capsule for the fleet.”
“Aye Sir, advisory sir, transit to the fleet is 3 days.”
“Acknowledged. Keep it updated, but don’t launch until I order.”
“Conn, Commo, remote dialed in, awaiting launch order.”
“Commo, hold the launch, send a remote hail.”
“Conn, Commo, sir we are getting a garbled response to the hail.”
Craig Johansson was on another commo shift. At 17 he was the youngest commo tech on the roster. This was not of his choosing. He preferred hydroponics to communications. But he was standing communication watches due to an unfortunate incident involving an unauthorized bottle of wine and an intoxicated coworker. The fact that she was under 16 didn’t help Craig’s case.
At Mothers Mast he had been given the choice of standing Communications watches or working in Reclamation. Knowing about the various smells and substances that are found in the bilges, Craig opted for the Communications shack.
What Craig didn’t know, and didn’t learn until years later, was that both the Mother’s Council and Ship Command had high hopes for his success. If they could only, as Grandmother put it “knock the wildness” out of him.
Being the youngest tech on the roster, And the Communications Chief’s stated attitude that Craig was “A snot nosed punk”, Craig picked up the worst of the rotations.
The Communications shack of a vessel in deep space is one of the most boring places’ in the universe. The most boring shift was the mid shift. After listening to static for 8 hours. Your mind is mush. Doing the same thing for 5 days in a row was worse.
Craig lasted 2 hours, and then he began investigating. One of the first things he found was the quality of the shack’s speakers. That and the soundproofing fueled his passion for music. That was one of Uncle Jimi’s legacies.
Craig’s Uncle Jimi had introduced him to music. Specifically, mid-20th century rock and roll. Jimi wasn’t really Craig’s Uncle any more so than the dozen or so other of Craig’s Aunt’s and Uncle’s. But Craig and Jimi had clicked for some reason.
Jimi had joined the crew 6 months out. He had been running to the deep in a 1-man scout, heavily damaged and leaking O2. When questioned about such an obviously foolhardy thing. He explained that some of the local thugs on Mars had developed a dislike of him. At the mention of Mars, Grandmother had bristled. Grandmother DID NOT like Martians. The rumor was that one of her first husbands had been lynched by a local vigilante committee. The debate on reclamation had been long and heated. But when the genetic review report came in, Grandmother decided the issue and Jimi joined the crew.
Craig first met Jimi in hydroponics. Craig had been monitoring nutrient levels in the potato sector when he discovered Jimi stealing samples. After swearing Craig to secrecy, Jimi took Craig to his “Home Away from Home”. In an unused service tunnel, just off of the bilges. Where Jimi had created a private sanctuary for himself.
Jimi had taught Craig about piloting a scout, music, and distilling liquor. Jimi never admitted it, but Craig suspected that his Martian troubles involved bootlegging. The potato’s Jimi had been ‘requisitioning’ were for a special order from a trusted customer. Jimi never told Craig who his customers were, and when pressed, Jimi would smile and tell Craig to find his own scams.
Jimi bought the farm 3 years into the harvest. He had been EVA, setting grapnels on a high iron roid, when a microroid had clipped his visor. If it had hit anywhere else, or more directly, he might have had a chance. As it was, the roid had creased Jimi’s visor for 4 inches. Between air pressure and the length of the crease. Jimi’s visor had blown out.
Jimi’s service was attended by everyone not standing a watch. The Communications Chief had relented and switched watches with Craig. When Craig reported for his next watch, the Chief had taken him into his office. In his usual gruff voice, he told Craig. “You keep your trap shut about this.” turning in his chair, he bent down and opened a drawer. Pulling out a bottle and 2 glasses, he poured 3 fingers into each glass. Handing one to Craig he raised his own. Craig, confused for a moment, mimicked the chief. The Chief starred at Craig for a moment. Then said “Absent Friends”, and tossed his drink down. Realizing the reason for the toast, Craig repeated it and swallowed his drink.
“Can’t have a drunk on watch, take the day, dismissed.”
Stunned for a moment, Craig said “Thanks Chief.” and left the office.
From that day on, on Jimi’s anniversary, Craig would go to the memorial hall, and repeat the toast that he had shared with the Communications Chief.
From that point on, Craig’s rotation schedule improved. The Chief would drop by the Communications shack a little less often. When he did, he would usually discuss some aspect of the equipment, or procedure. Craig realized that these were teaching moments. He paid attention during those sessions.
As was the custom, Jimi’s property became the ships. But because his hidden sanctuary wasn’t on the books, Craig decided that it should remain secret, and took possession.
As time went by, other members of the crew contacted Craig. Discrete inquires and negotiations were made. The disruption to supply was minor, and Craig’s popularity increased.
The most surprising, and frightening moment was when he was called to Grandmother’s cabin. Juniors did not meet with her, unless there was a very serious reason. In Craig’s case it usually involved punishment.
Craig responded to the summons with a certain amount of fear. All of his transgressions, real and imagined, and the possible punishments that could result, ran though his mind. Presenting himself to Grandmother’s secretary, she announced him and ushered him into the sanctum sanctorum.
Standing at attention, Craig barked out the required presentation. Amazingly Grandmother smiled, and offered Craig a seat. After Craig sat down, at attention, she began questioning Craig about his family, his friends, and his job.
Craig answered all of these questions with a brutal honesty, certain that Grandmother would see through any lie.
Finally, Grandmother ran out of questions. She sat behind her desk, staring at Craig. His nervousness mounted, but surprisingly, it seemed, so did her’s. After a minute, Grandmother reached down and brought out a bottle. Placing it on her desk, she cleared her throat and asked Craig if he recognized it.
Craig was in shock. He did recognize the bottle. Jimi had been using that same unique blue bottle for the vodka he had been distilling when they first met.
Sputtering and stammering, Craig was incoherent. His mind was racing, trying to find some kind of escape. Deciding to take the bull by the horns. Craig took the only safe route he could think of, He lied.
Listening to Craig’s denial, Grandmother lifted her hand and stopped Craig in mid-sentence. “Son, before you dig this hole any deeper, you need to know that you are not in trouble. That is, up to the point you started fibbing to me. We’ll forgive you this one. But, during your explorations of the service tunnels, if you should ‘find’ any more bottles like this. I would appreciate you bringing them to my attention.”
While Craig might not have been the smartest kid in the tunnel, the light bulb in his head went off. He assured Grandmother that she would be the first to hear if he made any ‘discovery’s’. Handing Craig, the empty bottle, for ‘reference’, she dismissed him.
After leaving Grandmother’s office, and making sure he was not followed, Craig made a beeline to Jimi’s place. Searching towards the rear of the tunnel, in a container labeled ‘Bio-Hazard’ Craig found 5 identical blue bottles. He also found handwritten instructions concerning distilling vodka. Included in the instruction packet, was a message to Craig from Jimi.
“Kid, if you’re reading this, then I’m no longer around. What you’ve got in this crate is a special reserve. Not to be distributed, except to one special customer. Sooner or later, you’ll know who it is. When you make the delivery, put the bottle in storage locker 82B12. The customer will pick it up. You need to check that same locker periodically, I’d say about every 2 months or so. When you find an empty, replace it with a full one. I’ve also left you the distilling plan for this batch. Stick to it, the customer was quite specific about this.”
Of course, none of this was going through Craig’s mind on ‘The Day’. In fact, he was pulling another mid watch in Communications and rocking out to Stevie Rae Vaughn. The volume was high, and he was playing air guitar when he noticed the IFF light blinking.
Standard procedure with an IFF signal was to identify the signal and report it to the bridge. Craig’s adjusted procedure included the first step of cutting off the music.
When Craig reached over and hit the play toggle, he missed the full off, and switched to transmit. He didn’t realize his mistake in his haste to identify the IFF.
Identifying the signal, He reported, “Bridge, Communications, we have an incoming earther IFF. It’s one of their naval codes.”
“Communications, Bridge acknowledged. By the way, did you realize you’re transmitting?”
Looking down, Craig was horrified to see that he was, indeed transmitting. Not only that, but his signal strength was maxed out. Reaching out he killed the transmitter.
Unfortunately, at the same time the hail came in.
“Unidentified Ship, this is Federated Naval Vessel Prometius. Identify yourself.”
“Bridge, Communications, Incoming hail.”