Hours had passed since Dockland’s first reading that Shiner had crossed the twenty-five hour radius. On the bridge, Captain’s expression was grim as she ordered Lissa to send the acknowledgement reply which dan Broque had purposely misdirected to suspected Isolated Radical sympathizers.
Shiner’s Captain and crew likely already knew Dockland had set their approach time, Shaverrim would have communicated with them after the previous InterStel Officer’s betrayal, but Captain doubted anyone on Shiner realized Dockland could track them in real time. She assumed including the accurate timing of Shiner’s new arrival after its minor course alteration would definitely make that Captain more uncomfortable than he would enjoy feeling. After all, Shiner was registered for scanning so was equipped with current generation InMon for approaching completely unknown worlds undetected by all technology in use by and in Coalition.
Verification of tracking Shiner’s approach had the potential to make a lot of people very uncomfortable, especially if Shavverim was contacted by Shiner about Dockland’s updated acknowledgement. Current generation InMons didn’t account for pre-InterStel monitoring technologies.
“Modified acknowledgement of Shiner’s twenty-five hour radius notification sent,” Lissa said. His voice was as steady as his hands, the holoscreen under his calloused fingertips monitoring the automatic confirmation of the message being received and setting the system to record the lengthening delay in what should have been the regulation, automated response.
In the below decks control room, Leo scrolled through news pages during a lull in activity as everyone waited for Shiner’s response. There was only an hour left in this shift and Leo wasn’t scheduled to work again until after the next shift, but hanging out in the below decks control room was better than sitting alone in his and Trevor’s room. The nearby short range weapon display showed scrolling numbers similar to the initial point progress bar over on NavCom. This screen provided distance ranges and energy readings in real time, continuously adjusting for Dockland’s orbital position, the assembly yard activity, and the surrounding star and planetary rotations.
“Hey, Leo? Come check this out,” Mollin said. Leo glanced up from the sports head article he’d been staring at without reading to where Mollin was standing with the antique handheld. Both of them were off shift and not required to be here, but Mollin liked nosing around in the antique handheld and Captain liked how familiar he was getting with the old systems. Leo swiped out of his smart and stood, stretching his stiff hands and fingers as he walked over to Mollin.
“What is it?”
“I noticed that wall panel earlier today and just found the page for it,” Mollin said, first pointing at a palm-sized, faded, orange triangle on the wall by NavCom and then angling the handheld so Leo could read at the same time.
“Wow. People were paranoid pre-InterStel,” Leo said, scoffing a quiet laugh as they scrolled the page.
“Yeah. And look at this,” Mollin pointed. “I never saw NavCom written as ‘Navigational Comp’ outside of museums until six cycles ago.” They grinned at each other. Mollin’s grin slipped at the edges and then fell when he looked back down at the handheld to continue scrolling. “Do you think…? I mean… this is really some kind of unbolted situation we’re in right now, you know?”
“Which one?” Leo asked, scrolling up when Mollin stopped reading to look at him. “We’ve got the situation where Daions have re-established their Central World and a hundred standard year old treaty has gone live. Then there’s the situation where the outdated, refitted, upgraded scanner ship we’re assigned on is actually an illegal, fully armed, pre-InterStel gunship. Then there’s the situation where Captain is some kind of Public Face secret general and a Yard 17 Occupation orphan and soldier, hand-chosen to command this illegal, fully armed, pre-InterStel gunship in the event of military conflicts occurring decades after Coalition demilitarization.”
“I’d, uh, kind of lumped all of those together,” Mollin said after a moment.
“I see,” Leo said. He reached the bottom of the page and tilted the handheld back so it was angled for only Mollin to read. “Breaking them apart makes the whole cluster easier to think about,” he said, adding an encouraging smile.
“You learn that trick from the one to one time Captain gave you on this old NavCom?” Mollin asked, trying to smile back.
“No, from another student back when I first started at Academy. He saw me struggling and offered the advice to break everything up into component parts so the big, overwhelming everything of being there was in small enough pieces to handle in the moment each component needed to be dealt with.”
“What about pieces that don’t break down small enough to handle?” Mollin’s question was almost too quiet to hear, but amplified easily into Leo’s understanding through the fear in Mollin’s gaze.
“Those are the pieces friends help you with,” Leo said, settling a hand on Mollin’s shoulder. “And it helps me to remember that most of those big pieces are the ones Captain handles.”
“And we help her,” Mollin replied, holding up the handheld.
“Absolutely,” the crew member at NavCom stated, not looking away from her screens.
“To Captain,” another crew member said, halfway across the room at Satellites and holding up her poly cup in a toast.
“To Captain,” the rest of the crew members on shift in the below decks control room replied, each raising their hands or whatever drinks they had in poly cups. Those with cups drank from them; those without – like Leo – touched their fingers to their foreheads in respect.
“To Captain.” Mollin was the last to say it, and his reply was the softest. It was the first time he’d realized his fear was shared, and that his belief in Captain was held just as strongly by everyone on Dockland.
Leo scrolled back to where he knew Mollin had stopped reading. “Finish the page and then see what else you can find in there that might become useful. Pre-InterStel people were paranoid, so maybe your corruption-causing mind can find more things they had as normal and we would never look for because we’ve never had to worry about them.”
“Do you think we’ll actually need more stuff like this?” Mollin asked.
“I doubt it,” Leo answered. “But it’s better to be prepared than it is to be surprised,” he added, the advice from his fellow classmate about exams suddenly very applicable to real life.
“My evil genius skills are needed,” Mollin said, mockingly serious as he turned back to the handheld. “I must answer this calling,” he added, posing dramatically with the handheld.
“I can’t think of anyone worse to do it,” Leo teased, patting a hand on Mollin’s shoulder supportively.
“Thanks, Leo,” Mollin said, his smile this time a natural gesture instead of being born from nervous bravado. Leo grinned wide as he backed across the control room to the empty seat he’d taken at P.D.E.W.
“Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week!” he announced, attempting a bow but encountering the seat with the backs of his knees before he expected to and mostly falling. The laugh was needed in the control room, so he didn’t bother correcting anyone who thought he’d pulled the antics on purpose. He settled in and started watching the rotating display again.
“Captain, this is Teal. Shiner is undergoing course adjustments,” Teal, the below decks crew member monitoring L.R.P.W. targeting readouts at the station beside where Leo was sitting, stated into her smart. Leo’s gaze snapped up to lock onto her. He relaxed after a moment, relieved that Teal didn’t appear nervous about the other ship’s course change she was seeing on the long range weapon screens.
“Begin an off-schedule, all-direction P.O.R.A. sweep now and confirm the courses for Buccaneer and Oscareous. Report back with updated routing information for all three ships once you have it.”
“Yes, Captain,” Teal acknowledged.
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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!