“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 It took another few decades for disarmed ships to become outdated, being replaced with new construction that didn’t include the weapons panels per the natural order of things.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.”
This was a weekly blog updating on Fridays, but life got busy so now I pop in now and then to let you know I'm still chipping away at my stories. If you look back through the archive you'll find weekly 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! Check out my Short Stories section for free downloads of most of my writing, too!