As of today there are only two weeks left in the school year. That means only a few months until my oldest hits the age of double digits and my youngest turns the official age of Big Kids. Having my kids be 10 and 7 sounds so... old. I'm not really prepared for this yet. Good thing I still have a few months to wrap my brain around it!
As for writing... I had a few hours where my creativity and my "free" time lined up! Drafted up a new beginning for a short story and loved every moment of creating words. It's going to be sooooo nice when there's a routine again that gives me these hours of writing time a week. I feel like, especially this school year, the unpredictability of school closures and classroom quarantines interrupted so sporadically that it was really difficult to shift modes as needed between in-person and online learning. Fingers crossed that next year will be more predictable. I hope you have a good weekend!
Captain jogged into the control room as her second message finished transmitting. She nodded approval to her Officer regarding the speedy use of the first generation InterStel in spite of the lack of efficiency in the system, and then joined the rest of the below decks crew members in anxiously waiting for the next reply.
It took nearly ten minutes to come, and was in written form. The response was a draft, the production of a final version interrupted by the sudden evacuation, but it was still the announcement the majority of Dockland’s crew had been hoping for and contained a listing of thousands of names. All of the people listed were in Coalition census files as registered Daions, and the announcement legally reclaimed this Central World using recent New Wave changes to historical and hereditary ownership laws. Under Captain’s orders, the document was transferred to the file upgrader so she could save it into her smart. Leo caught a glimpse of her smart display as she saved the document again, this time to the shared file she had with Public Face.
“Open the channel for real time communication,” Captain ordered.
Seconds passed, the hurried ticking of entering commands into InterStel for switching to live data transmission and receipt loud in the quiet humming of the control room. Leo could see Trevor’s shoulders tightening from across the room, her uniform crinkling at the collar. He tapped a finger to NavCom’s rough pressure pad, careful not to activate it but hard enough to jar his aching knuckles until he realized he was hurting himself and stopped.
“Ready for real time communication, Captain,” InterStel Officer confirmed as she passed the first generation microphone to Captain.
“Daions of the Central World, as Captain of this ship I offer the use and service of Dockland in accordance with, and under stipulations per, the Agreement of One Cause,” Captain said into the microphone. It was the size of a smart, but wirelessly tied to only InterStel, and it could only perform voice communication actions. Leo couldn’t help but grin about using such old, clunky technology for something as important as Captain was doing right now. A second passed, and then another.
“Captain of Dockland, I respectfully greet you. Our only request is to be left alone by Coalition.” It was the same voice as had replied to the first message. Leo could see Trevor’s shoulders hunching tighter, but she didn’t turn away from the panel she was at so he couldn’t see her face.
“I understand,” Captain replied. “However, because of the current political climate in the galaxy surrounding Isolated Radicals, I first need to confirm if you’re aware there are three other Coalition ships converging at the coordinates of this world, and that the next ship to arrive has senior crew members known to sympathize with Isolated Radical ideals. With your permission, Dockland could remain in high orbit as a supportive and defensive asset to your construction and assembly yards, and what appear to be your main evacuation centers. This crew also has members who can aide and support construction and assembly should you choose to continue evacuating.”
Another two second delay. And then a further four seconds.
Static crackled for a moment and then the landside voice returned to Dockland’s speakers. “As you’re the first of four Coalition ships, our evacuation will continue. It’s more than somewhat ridiculous for us to stay and be arrested and our presence erased before we can have our Central World reclamation verified and provided with full Coalition support,” he said, the final part about Coalition support obviously mocking. “But while you’re talking to me, Captain, please explain why your Coalition ship would be needed to defend us from those other Coalition ships. Maybe tell me what possible defenses you could even provide,” the voice stated. His tone was unmistakably taut, although he made a good attempt at sounding cavalier.
“As historically proven, Coalition intentions toward Daions have been publicly civil and overwhelmingly abusive,” Captain said. “My orders, the reasons Dockland are here, were to confirm your population met legal, Daion reclamation of this world and, if so, to ensure mistakes of the past are not allowed to repeat. I cannot in good faith ensure the intentions of the other ships currently on course, but” –her smart chimed and she smiled at the short, written message she received– “I assure you that your claim is recognized and supported by Coalition’s Public Face and therefore by Dockland and all of legitimate Coalition. As for what support and defense Dockland can immediately supply, I assume the use of this generation InterStel means you’re using Daion tech current to the time of the plague. Do you have intact records of Coalition technology per the Agreement of One Cause information exchange?”
A two second pause.
“We do,” was the suspicious reply.
Leo watched Captain glance around at each of the people in hearing distance, her empty hand clenching into a fist. It was the most blatant display of a full stomach of nervous butterflies Leo had ever seen Captain exhibit, and it was followed up with a sigh dropping from her lips heavily enough it left a terrified crater in the center of his gut. What could she possibly plan to say which was so bad it was making her look like that?
“Dockland is an original, Class Nine Odyssean Gunship,” Captain stated into the smart-sized microphone.
Leo felt the terror in his stomach solidify and drop all the way down to his feet, sending nothing but cold fear in a ripple back up through his entire body. She couldn’t possibly mean... after letting Mollin learn the weapon systems...?!
“Original construction from Assembly Yard 6 of the Tannis solar system, Aerestarkian quadrant,” Captain continued. “Dockland carries a full complement of long range ammunitions and fully charged, particle beam battery short range offensive systems,” Captain added.
In a unified jerk, everyone in the control room recoiled from everything they were close to. Leo didn’t want to touch anything. He didn’t want to be on this ship. He didn’t want anything that –
The crew member at the long range weapon panels, Teal, shot up to her feet and darted three steps toward the door. Lastin caught her and shoved her back into her assigned seat, his glare only slightly more controlled than her panicked stare up at him. Teal swallowed hard and perched at the edge of her seat furthest from the panels controlling what was, as far as Leo knew, likely a collection of armaments only rivalled by the defense systems of Coalition’s Top Central World.
“How can I trust you not to use your weapons on us?” The landside voice sounded as frightened as the crew in the below decks control room looked.
“At this moment I can only give you my word I and Dockland are here to support and defend whatever course of action you choose, in accordance with the Agreement of One Cause.” Captain’s voice was calm, and nothing about her posture or bearing had changed from before revealing what type of ship Dockland was. Leo put his trust in his belief Captain knew what she was doing and stayed firmly in his seat in front of NavCom, his hands clenched into fists in his lap and as far from NavCom as possible.
“I can’t trust your word,” the voice replied.
Trevor stood stiffly and walked to Captain. She looked like she was about to cry as she approached the most senior officer on the ship, but she also didn’t look like she had any tolerance for argument as she held out her hand for the microphone. Captain’s brows wrinkled together in the middle, concern in her eyes, as she gave the microphone to Trevor.
Dockland established a high orbit above the hastily made assembly yard. The final ships returning to the planet surface disappeared from visual monitoring once they’d slowed enough to lose the flaming tails marking their passage back to the landside construction site.
“I guess that proves there are people here,” Lastin said. He chuckled, first in disbelief but sounding nervous when he stopped, and then ran his fingers through his hair.
Captain had ordered Leo and Trevor not to disclose their report’s findings. Right now was when the majority of people on Dockland were finding out why getting to planet seventy-four was so important that the order to route here had come from Public Face directly. Lastin had been one of the people theorizing settlers being landside, but he’d been a minority of Dockland’s population in thinking so. Most people on board believed a weapon had been found.
The voice intercom between the bridge and below decks control room toned. Everyone hurried back to their assigned consoles, glancing at the intercom speaker nervously and waiting for the expected orders from Captain. Trevor swiped her smart’s holoscreen closed and disconnected from her friend’s vid.
“Bridge crew, scan surface and open comms for all InterStel channels.” Captain was on the bridge for the initial contact with the landside population, so they heard the order through the open intercom link. “Below decks control room, scan and sweep surface, and open comms for both InterStel channels not bridge monitored,” Captain ordered.
Leo glanced a smile at Trevor as he settled into the seat at NavCom. She was trying to scrub the rough feeling of needing sleep out of one eye with her fist while using the other hand to start the satellite sweeps Captain requested. Leo waited from his seat in front of NavCom, watching across the room to where Trevor was working, Lastin beside her and punching in the commands for engaging the old landscan sensors. The odd terminology Leo had only heard before in Technology History of ‘punching in’ commands had finally stopped sounding like a joke now that his hands ached from using the antique systems for more than half the week.
Captain kept the intercom link open. “Initiate message send,” she ordered. The bridge InterStel Officer promptly deployed the pre-recorded message from Captain across all of the bridge channels as the below decks InterStel Officer punched in the commands to send off the message on the first of two channels so outdated they weren’t recognized by the bridge control systems.
Everyone’s smarts chimed with a message from Captain being saved to each member of Dockland’s crew. The file was a transcript of the message she’d just ordered sent landside.
Leo read through it quickly. The message was a goodwill greeting and a warning. It requested viable and verifiable identification of the peoples now apparently inhabiting Daion Central World. The goodwill part of the message was that – if appropriate identification was provided – any action by Dockland would be in accordance with current laws and Daions would be treated respectfully per the agreement signed many, many standard years ago. The warning part stated failure to provide identification would be viewed as evidence of illegal settlement and illegal settlers would be detained landside for removal to Coalition Central Worlds and fair trial.
“Message sent, Captain,” the bridge InterStel Officer stated. The below decks InterStel Officer huffed, muttering about how ridiculously long it took to operate the old InsterStel as she switched to the second channel and began punching in commands to send the message again.
“Message sent, Captain,” she confirmed a few moments later.
Leo closed out of the transcript file. He yawned out of pure exhaustion and swiped the screen on his smart to begin scrolling through news pages. He hoped the distraction of whatever else was happening in the galaxy would stop him from thinking about the all-channel message making its way to the planet and initiating the wait for a response.
For the past few cycles, the news pages Leo had checked were dominated by releases of information pertaining to the latest investigation of corruption in Senior Coalition. The name ‘Shaverrim’, which Public Face had mentioned when Captain first reported to her about planet seventy-four being populated, was popular in the articles and often got mentioned as belonging to a person suspected of being an Isolated Radical sympathizer. But, Coalition Games were also getting underway – the opening ceremonies happened a few standard hours ago – so the news articles Leo scrolled right now were definitely split.
Coalition games happened every ten standard years, but corruption investigations in Senior Coalition were relatively common, happening every three to five standard years. Usually investigations were due to some minor scandal or another coming to light and then quickly disappearing from head article positions. Leo was interested in this investigation only because he had been part of triggering it.
He and Trevor had both also already received written notifications thanking them for their testimony and politely removing them from any further parts of the investigation. Captain had smiled about it when they’d showed her.
“I guess Annise liked you two enough to keep you clear of the politics,” was all she’d said. It felt anti-climactic.
Except now Dockland was here, a full three cycles ahead of any other ship, staring down at the cause of the investigation and as deep into the politics as any crew could get. The next ship to arrive would be Shiner. Captain had frowned about that, but hadn’t shared her thoughts for explaining the expression on her face. Buccaneer and Oscareous, the two starting from furthest away, would both arrive on the fourth cycle.
The bridge received the response to Captain’s message first, but it was a mess of static and tones when they tried to play it back. The second channel of the below decks’ InterStel provided a calm, male-sounding voice requesting identification of the people on Dockland before agreeing to transmit any information of those on the planet. Leo could picture the grin Captain would have after listening to that message. Probably, he thought, it would be the exact opposite of the sickened stare Trevor was throwing at InterStel’s antique panel speakers.
Captain saved her pre-recorded reply into the below decks InterStel Officer’s shared file, and then saved a transcript of this next message to the entire crew. Leo opened it quickly to read that this message provided Dockland’s registration and standard crew information, already complied and prepared for sending landside at a moment’s notice.
Leo quit scrolling the list of crew names and jobs when Captain informed the whole ship in a single announcement that contact had been made with a landside population. She finished by saying she was moving stations to the below decks control room to continue the conversation.
Trevor still looked to Leo like she was going to vomit on a console, but now she was staring at the intercom speaker as if willing Captain to take back the announcement of coming below decks.
“What’s wrong?” Lastin asked Trevor. He was the closest person to her and the way she’d jerked to stare at the panel for InterStel and then at the intercom speaker had caught his attention.
“I… what?” She snapped her attention to Lastin and then shuddered, as if a full-body quiver could shake away whatever thoughts she was having. “Nothing,” she said, clipping the word short of its ‘g’ in her haste to spin back and stare at the satellite screens.
Leo didn’t believe her for a second, and obviously neither did Lastin, but Leo was all the way across the room so couldn’t very well call out for Trevor to publicly share whatever was making her so uncomfortable. Leo was grateful on Trevor’s behalf that Lastin knew better than to ask again.
Another week down and oh... oh no... only another month and then we're half way though 2021?! I was – apparently – not prepared for time to go so fast this year. (It's not like I'm ever really prepared for how quickly the calendar pages turn, but things seem accelerated right now.)
Flip side, the acceleration appears to be mostly for good happenings at this moment in time. So... I suppose the feeling of daily lacking hours despite mountains of tasks being completed and mentally riding the line of being overwhelmed by my anxiety monsters is... good? Sort of?
I know I've told you that we'd purchased a freeze dryer and it was delivered a couple of weeks ago. It had a designated place before arriving, and since then has been happily running almost constantly. However, throughout the past couple of weeks we've been developing labels, designating / setting up house space for working and for product storage (ie: moving furniture and shuffling stuff, which now requires a garage sale once life is less restricted again), making up orders and getting sales, creating a website (freeze dried food! FliedersFoods.ca), and all the other tasks that go along with having an in-home small business (ie: side hustle). While at the same time the kids were online learning. And my husband works full time.
Shit's been busy, y'all lol.
With everything else going on, writing seems to just not be a priority. Again. And it sucks so much. The online communities I'm part of prove I'm not the only Independent Author in this predicament right now, and while that does give a solidarity between acquaintances and friends, it doesn't make it easier. The stories are all stuck in my head with no time to let them out, and my hands are barely working at the needed level at this point anyway.
A collective whimper shuddered through the crowd of crew members as the deck hummed under their feet. The over distance engines powered up for the usual two second count and then Dockland smoothly transitioned to full speed for inter-stellar travel.
Leo’s stomach was a hard knot and he startled when Captain swivelled the chair she was sitting in with a loud squeak so she could address everyone in and nearby the below decks control room.
“I spent three cycles down here when I was a Tech, reprogramming this NavCom when the previous bridge control systems were installed,” she explained. “When Dockland was upgraded in the first half of this exploration, I confirmed the reprogramming was still operational. This NavCom provides routing, but then relays the pre-programmed route through Dockland’s bridge controls for verification prior to initiating the course. The hard programmed routes are simply a lot faster to calculate than the ‘measure every variable in all of space in real time’ routing modern NavComs do because there’s only one defined path to verify as safe to traverse.”
The collective sigh from everyone but Captain was laced with nervous and relieved laughs. She chuckled along with her crew, getting more than a few wide and sheepish smiles in reply.
“You seven just became my lead shift in here,” she announced to the crew members who had gotten the below decks control room powered on and operating. “Each of you, except Leo, pick one person from the crowd in the hallway who’s good at learning and start teaching them what they need to know for monitoring your consoles while you’re sleeping. You get one shift off and then I expect you back here to operate what are now your stations and begin to train someone else. Our route is five cycles, and there needs to be three competent people per station by the time we reach our destination.”
She made eye contact with each of the six others, getting a chorus of ‘yes, Captain’ in reply.
“Leo,” she said. He straightened his shoulders and focused on her rather than staring at the scrolling NavCom display numbers. “You seem to be good at using that handheld. Take the rest of this shift to get fully familiar with it. On your next shift, train two people at a time for it so there will always be someone in this room who can look up information. We have two hours left in this shift everyone, let’s use them well.”
The next five cycles passed in a blur of double shifts and live training exercises. Leo fell into the pattern of long hours working and short hours sleeping due to the amount of practice he’d gotten during his Academy years, and every cycle he woke up exhausted but excited to be using the antique systems. Trevor seemed to barely notice the change in working hours. Her apprenticeship in construction yards and then years of working shipside installation and training contracts meant she was used to schedules requiring double shifts.
During the first couple of cycles, grumbles from the lead bridge crew about Captain spending so much time below decks made their way as rumors to the lead crew in the below decks control room. Trevor suggested Captain offer them positions training to be alternate lead crew members in the below decks control room, and the grumbles stopped hours after Captain smirked and communicated the offer through the intercom. The double shifts expected of the below decks lead crew weren’t a recruiting incentive.
Captain had frowned when Leo’s first chosen pair to get trained on the antique handheld was Mollin and Hodahvay, but he knew she couldn’t argue his logic. They were two of the fastest crew members for learning new consoles and systems, so would likely be among the fastest to learn these old panels and handheld.
Under the threat that Captain would eject them into open space at over distance speed if they even thought about corruption pranks, Mollin and Hodahvay had been waiting for Leo at the start of his next shift. At the end of three cycles, they had taken over training duties on the handheld, plus Hodahvay had started learning primary optics and radar and Mollin was starting to learn short and long range weapons systems. (Trevor had raised questions about teaching Mollin anything to do with weapons, but Leo convinced her it was only a problem if they went back in time to before demilitarization.)
No longer tied to the handheld, Leo received two full cycles of instruction directly from Captain for operating NavCom. It was exhilarating to learn the pre-programmed routes over-rode current safety regulations, which is how their route was five cycles of over distance travel and not the six cycles it should have been. However, it was terrifying to understand their route would have been twenty-six hours longer except the pre-programmed routing factored Dockland’s structural and radiation shielding capabilities, so right now they were traversing illegally close to stars and dangerous anomalies.
For those two cycles of NavCom training, time had flown by and Leo barely noticed the length of the double shifts… at least, until the shifts ended and he was hungry and tired and so mentally drained he joked with Trevor about expecting a final exam once they arrived at Daion Central World.
Per Captain’s orders, the lead crew slept on a short shift and started minutes before Dockland dropped out of over distance nearby planet seventy-four. One of Trevor’s friends was off shift and opened a live holostream on her smart looking toward the planet out one of Dockland’s small hull windows. Trevor linked into the vid, swiping it up to her smart’s holoscreen so the below decks control room lead crew could all watch. They gathered around her just in time to witness the first five ship components launch from surface to low orbit for final assembly.
Her friend zoomed in on the view and Trevor pointed out personal ships which had been repurposed into impromptu assembly yard worker rest points, and that three transporters were bringing up duplicate components.
“What do you mean about duplicates?” Leo asked. His confusion was visible on the faces of other lead crew members who weren’t familiar with ship construction.
“It means more launches to complete multiple ships,” Trevor answered. “I’d guess to assemble a fleet, and not a single ship.”
“So how many ships are they assembling?” Leo asked. In the vid with the personal ships as reference, the components looked small.
“That’s impossible to guess with only five components up,” Trevor said. She used her confident tone, but even Leo could tell none of the parts seemed like they would assemble into ships large enough to evacuate the number of people he and Trevor had seen through the satellite network.
The components were clunky, the visible wall thicknesses of attaching parts similar to what Leo remembered from working on Dockland during upgrading. He wondered how old the tech was these people were assembling as the vid continued to show transporters positioning components in the large area between worker rest points. Activity around the components suddenly doubled.
“They just saw Dockland,” Trevor said. In the vid, the transporters disengaged from the now-orbiting components and dropped back to the planet in bright plumes of atmospheric burn, a few rest point ships following.
“There would have been no way to pass a commissioning inspection with weapon panels, though,” Leo said quietly.
“At the time Dockland was commissioned, before demilitarization, navigation and targeting used the same core systems. Removing one made the other useless,” Captain replied. “Weapon panels couldn’t be removed without a complete rebuild, and that was only feasible for ships still in assembly yards. Most operational ships were allowed to retain weapon panels as long as they disarmed weapon functions, whereas ships actually in construction were rebuilt without weapons and weapon panels.” Captain rested a hand on the door frame and smiled at the ship in general, as if she and it were mutual conspirators of something they were both proud of. “Someone decided after Dockland was upgraded with InterStel technology that Coalition records should forget its actual commissioning date,” she added, her smile including Leo, Trevor and Lastin when she focused back on the below decks control room. “The first inspection on record includes InterStel, but that’s not Dockland’s commissioning inspection.”
What she was saying made sense, and triggered one of Leo’s memories from a Technology History class when his instructor lectured about demilitarization taking a standard decade, maybe even a full twelve standard years, to be completed. It took another few decades for disarmed ships to become outdated, being replaced with new construction that didn’t include the weapons panels per the natural order of things.
Leo stepped out of Captain’s way when she came into the control room to start powering on a bank of panels he and Trevor hadn’t touched yet. Trevor looked like she wanted to keep arguing, but instead joined Leo as he ducked his head and quickly got back to work. Lastin yawned again, still standing in the doorway and attempting to blink himself awake, as he looked around to see where everyone else was working so he could begin in a different place and expedite powering on the entire below decks control room.
A few passing crew members noticed the strange activities and news spread quickly that something interesting was happening. The hum of equipment within the panel banks was broken by the beeps and ticks of Leo, Trevor, Lastin and Captain setting every panel to operating status. A growing group of onlookers was gathering in the hall outside the below decks control room when Leo looked up from confirming the life support system panel was running properly per the checks listed in the antique handheld.
Never someone who liked being the center of attention, and definitely someone who noticed when he was being watched, Leo quickly set down the handheld and glanced around the room for somewhere to look other than at the people in the door. Luckily Captain was sitting at one of the panels close to him, and the screen displays were ones he recognized from his Academy classes.
“Is that NavCom?” Leo asked, looking over Captain’s shoulder at the live screens he’d only ever seen vids of before now.
“It is,” she said. “I think this one is fourth generation.”
“No, it would have to be fifth. Fourth didn’t have the progressive readouts that became common during first generation InterStel,” he said, pointing to the side of the screen where initial starting points and travel progress information were all blankly waiting. Leo felt a nostalgic pang that the current bridge controls meant these systems would likely never again provide a display of routing information.
When he remembered she was there, he realized Captain was looking up at him, eyebrows raised. “How do you know that?” she asked him.
“He’s an educated man,” Trevor said, obviously boasting as she finished entering data for the current date and time into the last of the three NavBank panels.
“My Academy training,” Leo said, using the fastest explanation possible as Trevor’s answer meant the people in the hallway were looking his way again. Aside from making him the center of attention sometimes, this was one more point Leo loved about Trevor: she was mean to him on their own time, but remained glowingly proud of him all the time.
“I didn’t realize learning about old technology was part of standard Academy training,” Captain said, turning back to the antique NavCom and continuing to enter commands.
“I took a lot of Technology History classes for the extra credits I needed to meet my scholarship’s requirements. But, to be honest, it was my favorite subject,” he admitted.
“Really? You’re going to love this, then,” Captain said. Her hands paused above the controls. “Lastin, are all NavBank panels live?” she called, not looking away from the readouts on the screens in front of her.
“Yes, Captain,” Lastin answered after visually confirming.
“Trevor, are the long and short range monitoring systems all live and confirming updated auto-calibration to the time and cycle you entered into each NavBank?” Captain asked. Trevor’s glance at Leo before she turned to the required displays was questioning, unsure why Captain was asking about NavBank updates auto-calibrating the weapon panels, but unwilling to say so out loud. She checked what the screens were displaying.
“Yes, Captain,” Trevor answered.
Captain’s fingers jumped back into motion, tapping commands on the related pressure pads and screens. She barely glanced to check she was on the right pad. Leo watched the NavCom screens, mesmerized, and leaned closer over Captain’s shoulder in disbelief of what his eyes were seeing: initial readings populating the display of the progressive readouts.
“You have got to be joking me,” he whispered.
Captain chuckled and kept manipulating the controls. The crowd of crew members clumped in the hall outside the below decks control room buzzed with quiet mutterings. In total, Lastin, Trevor, Leo, and four more of the crew knew enough to help Captain with operating the antique systems. The eight of them could barely cover the demands of all the panels, and some of the console seats were left empty. Those empty controls were monitored by whoever was close enough to glance at them on the way past while ensuring correct operations of more important systems.
“I can’t believe this old system calculated a course that quick,” Leo said, chuckling through the words, speaking loud enough for the nearest crew members in the hallway to hear because he was so distracted by the readouts he’d forgotten people were there.
“This generation of NavCom has pre-planned routing hard programmed in,” Captain started to explain. “The supporting systems only calculate for getting Dockland to the nearest route and then, now you can see it’s calculating for any projected anomalies along the route,” she continued, pointing to a progress bar filling with green across the bottom of the screen.
“Projected anomalies?” Leo asked.
“These systems were current likely two or three decades before real-time long range monitoring became reliable. Pre-planned routes were programmed using known conditions and cycles.” The words came out of Captain’s mouth calmly, but Leo’s heart sped up at the implications of what she’d just said.
“You mean…,” Leo’s voice faded, but he swallowed hard and tried again. “You mean the route safety is a guess based on conditions programmed over seventy standard years ago?” he asked, going a bit pale as he cringed away from the console he’d just been looming over.
“It’s a best guess based on hard observations from the time the program was written,” Captain said, grinning over her shoulder first at him and then including everyone else. She chuckled when all of her crew members she could see wore the same frightened expression as Leo. “Don’t worry,” she assured everyone as the green bar finished filling and a few of the progress readouts flashed to show slightly different numbers for minor course corrections. “There were barely any problems with using hard programmed routes for hundreds of standard years,” she added.
“Ha-ha!” Dods, Chief Navigator, spit out the terrified laugh and then quickly covered his mouth with his hand. His normally white skin had paled to almost ghost-like and his blue eyes were wide open.
“If hard programmed routes were actually safe, then the current live, long range NavScans never would have been developed.” Trevor said the sentence everyone else was thinking.
“That’s true,” Captain agreed. Leo watched Captain tap out a final approval and then sit back and fold her hands over her stomach. She smiled at the screen in front of her. “But this is quicker.”
Another week of unexpected online learning complete! Hopefully next week is the final online week, and then back to in-person to close out the year. That all depends on if the general population can get this current spike under control... and so far people in our province haven't shown that overall level of social consciousness. (Most people here really are trying to mind the needed restrictions. Unfortunately, "most" isn't enough lately.)
Springtime is super hard to stay focused on school under the best conditions, and at home with a backyard beckoning and the sun pouring through the windows is definitely not best conditions lol. It'll likely be harder next week once the kids are free of quarantine restrictions from being close contacts and we're able to go for walks and bike rides again. Friends, I am not strong enough to resist skipping an afternoon class session in favor of taking a bag of spinach over to the duck pond to bribe fuzzy ducklings closer. I remember Springtime in elementary school and, if I'd had the choice, the duck pond would have been my choice, too.
No writing this week for me, but I did get to edit a little bit of the writing my kids are doing. It's very cool to see voice so strongly developed in my 9-year-old's writing, especially because her style is very consistent across her research projects and creative writing. She knows what she wants to say and the presentation is lovely to read. (Yes, of course there's parental bias, but her teachers praise her as well so I'm going to mom-brag a little.)
“Oh, hey, look at this,” Trevor called, grinning at Leo and pointing at the panel she’d just turned on. He came over for a quick glance on his way back to the handheld and stopped to stare.
“Oh wow! That’s got to be first or second generation InterStel!” he said.
“Right?” she asked, as excited as he was. “I bet this even still has signal distance delay!”
“It does! Look, right there” –he pointed at the corner of the display screen– “the option to have messages time stamped. So this is first generation InterStel. Wow.”
They grinned at each other before Leo turned away to get back to the handheld.
“I knew Dockland was old, but I didn’t know Dockland was this old,” Trevor said. “I bet this control room was latest tech when this ship was built,” she added. She’d already moved to the next bank of panels, her angle of sight giving her a partial view of the backs of ones she’d just powered on. She flicked the needed switches and then squinted at the first panels. “Stars align…” she muttered, walking closer so she could look down the InterStel panels’ backs to the flooring.
“What’s wrong?” Leo asked as he walked to the third, completely unfamiliar panel along the bank he was turning on. The antique handheld said this one was called the P.O.R.A.
“These lines have conversion couplings,” Trevor said, tracing fingers along one of the connections on the back of one panel. Her eyes followed the cables to the floor and she saw the dark, half-crescent of an unfilled securement bolt hole at the bottom of the panel backing.
“Makes sense with how many times Dockland has been upgraded,” Leo said, shrugging as he flicked the switches and pressed a button to start power coming into the panel he was turning on. The screens of the first two were still scrolling through their start-ups.
“No, not converting up. These couplings convert down to the hardline tie-ins,” she said, staring at him and holding his gaze when he finally looked her way. “These InterStel panels weren’t an addition to this ship, Leo. They were an upgrade.”
“What? No,” Leo said, shaking his head as he came over to stand beside her. “Every registered ship prior first generation InterStel communication was decommissioned and destroyed as part of New Wave Anti-Martial Items laws back – what? – almost a hundred standard years ago.”
He studied the couplings, his complexion paling as he leaned over the gap between panel backs to scrutinize the cabling Trevor had just been studying. He also saw the edges of multiple bolt holes, and that the hardline cables by the floor looked more like the still images from his Technology History classes than the majority of cables he’d seen when apprenticing during Dockland’s upgrades.
“But… every ship prior first generation InterStel was destroyed by the end of demilitarization,” he repeated quietly, straightening so he could see the look on Trevor’s face clearly. She definitely appeared as close to throwing up as he felt.
“What were those abbreviations you said were for the panels you turned on?” she asked.
“P.D.E.W. and L.R.P.W.,” he said. “The one I just powered on is P.O.R.A.,” he added.
The first panel he’d turned on beeped as ready. He and Trevor slowly turned to look at the dusty screen. Right out of one of Leo’s Technology History classes, the backlit, transglass screen shone dully with a rotating, two dimensional representation of the three dimensional space around Dockland. The nearby planet, when visible, was shown as a skewed horizon.
Readout displays back during the time before first generation InterStel hadn’t been able to maintain three dimensional viewing without time delay for converting data and creating the hologram imaging used in present day, so the rotating disk method had been developed for monitoring near space to take advantage of the instant replay of two dimensional images on two dimensional screens. It was almost hypnotizing to watch.
Leo glanced down the sides and then leaned far over the P.D.E.W. console to look at the panel back. This row of panels fit smoothly against each other and were flush with the curve of the wall behind them... as if made to fit this wall specifically. The P.D.E.W. was at the end of the row and had a snap cover on the exposed side, so he crouched down, snapped it open and looked inside. The dust was too thick to see if there were old bolt holes at the base of the panel, but how the couplings looked like they were installed in cables that were the same on each side instead of the floor side looking older, he doubted he’d find holes if he moved the dust. And he didn’t find any when he did move some.
The second panel Leo had turned on beeped as ready. He snapped the cover back into place and stood up, wiping his hands absently and spreading dust across the front of his uniform. He and Trevor both looked at the backlit transglass. This display was of a directional, three dimensional image of long-range space directly in front of Dockland. Leo didn’t need to walk the two steps and brush away the dust with his sleeve to know what the screen readout would say, but he did anyway.
“What are those?” Trevor squinted at the unfamiliar numbers below the familiar star tags.
“Targeting distances,” Leo said at a whisper. “L.R.P.W. is the abbreviation for Long Range Pulse Weapon.”
Trevor laughed and slapped his arm as if he’d said something funny. Leo didn’t laugh, his arms hanging at his sides as he stared at the screen.
“P.D.E.W. stands for Primary Direct Energy Weapon,” Leo said. The smile fell from Trevor’s face. “And P.O.R.A. is the abbreviation for Primary Optics / Radar Assembly,” Leo added.
“Are you joking me?” she asked, her voice trembling. He shook his head to the negative, swallowing hard.
“Look at the conversion couplings, Trevor. Each connection is what it should be. I’d gamble actual currency there isn’t a standardized coupling in this room, except for the connections requiring them.”
She scoffed and looked at the backs of the InterStel panels again, this time using the little pocket torch she always carried to look at them at lot closer than they had before. “Okay, so they’re all different but perfect for the cables they’re in. So?” she asked, fidgeting with her sleeve and then knocking away dust smeared on her uniform.
“Since when does Coalition do things right when they upgrade?” Leo asked, finally looking away from the L.R.P.W. screen to hold eye contact with Trevor. “We’re only now getting the worst of the hardware problems smoothed out since Dockland’s upgrades, and those were installed in the first half of this exploration. You know as well as I do Coalition does things standardized, even when standard isn’t optimal for systems.”
“These couplings being right doesn’t mean Dockland is a pre-InterStel ship,” Trevor argued.
“That’s actually exactly what it means,” Captain said.
Leo and Trevor spun to face the door. Captain was standing there with a bleary-eyed Lastin beside her; he was in the process of yawning widely and wasn’t in uniform. Red pillow grooves on his face and messy brown hair above blue and black workout clothes proved he’d obviously woken up only minutes prior to being here with Captain right now.
“Dockland is one of two registered ships rushed out of construction backlogs and commissioned into service during final assembly only months before demilitarization was formally announced, a year before first generation InterStel was available,” Captain said. “They returned to the assembly yard for complete refitting and InterStel upgrades. The conversion couplings you two are discussing are all shipyard factory grade, the same as any other assembly yard modification or in-construction revision to include InterStel.”
“Dockland’s records show it was commissioned with InterStel, though. It can’t be pre-InterStel,” Trevor argued, her knowledge of Dockland and understanding of how Coalition maintained ship registrations debunking the thought that Captain was telling the truth.
“Is that what the records say?” Captain asked. “Okay. Sure,” she continued, with no evidence of agreement in her tone, expression, or posture. “Dockland had a revised construction plan which opted to keep every panel bank supporting weapons after Coalition completely demilitarized and made every ship mounted offensive weapon system illegal for newly constructed ships. And then Dockland was commissioned without issue. That makes sense.”
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!