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Five days later, Rao led the crew back out to Ghost. “I know you will want to check everything out before you perform your BIT and startup checks. Feel free to take as long as you need.”
Danny nodded gratefully, “Thank you. I know the engineers will want to do a deep dive on all the power run mods, generator install, and the caps and laser install.”
“I will assist in any way possible, Captain.” He pointed to the cables snaking from the hangar power panel to the ship. “You have shore power, but we pulled all breakers at this time.”
They got to the aft airlock and Danny looked up at the camera mounted there, squinting until Adrion said, “You ain’t gonna find it, Cap’n.”
Danny smiled. “Adrion, I have to…try. But if I can’t see it from six feet…”
Rao chuckled. “Six inches, maybe, Captain.” As they stepped through the airlock, he stopped about fifteen feet in. “One thing added were ready lockers for each airlock, just about here.” He pointed at the deck. “Note the mark on the deck. This points to where the release mechanism will be, at head height. It is a palm print reader, and your crew prints are already loaded. It will always be on the right side facing the hatch.”
Danny motioned Moe forward. “Head high for a human or?”
Moe sniffed as his GalTrans grumbled, “Which human?” Reaching almost to his full extension, he slapped the panel, and it snapped to the side, revealing eight GalPat auto rifles racked along with four grenades. Moe smiled, showing a lot of teeth, and added, “This I like.” Looking up at Rao he asked, “Frangible rounds?”
“Selectable, three hundred of each, four-millimeter penetrator and frangible. Grenades are vomit, CS, and…”
Moe smiled again, “Frags!” He reached down and pulled one out with a bright yellow band. “Is this?”
Rao said somberly, “Point one gram antimatter. The equivalent of four point three tons of standard explosives. Enough to destroy anything within seventeen thousand yards of the detonation point. It…will vaporize everything within five thousand yards. There are four on board.”
Danny bit his lip as Daniella’s eyes got big. “Are those really necessary?”
Rao met Danny’s gaze, and Danny shivered as Rao replied, “Yes. For what you have become, and in a worst-case situation.”
Daniella gulped. “So, we have the means to…kill ourselves and everyone near us?”
Adrion broke the tension. “Well, if we do, we’ll never know what happens, which could be the better option.”
Efrot and Nyx chuckled as Moe and the other Cetains yipped and howled in their version of laughter. Daniella snapped, “How can you…be so…cavalier about that?”
Danny put his arm around her and whispered, “This is yet another reason I want you back on Alpha. Drop it!” She looked at him started to say something, then smiled grimly as he added, “I need to show you what they did—”
She made a moue, pulled away and asked, “Why did you have to take five feet of my hydroponics bays on the second deck?”
Rao cocked his head. “That was an available space that was needed for the systems that run all your new capabilities. I’d be happy to show you what we did and why. Also, we filled both bays and started some mosses to make it look like it was in basic use.”
Biting her lip, she said, “Lead on.”
Danny looked at everyone else, “Start your checks. Moe, you and your crew check all ready lockers, and standby to help anybody else that needs it. Curley, you can start on the bridge with Ish.”
<ESTRELLA, I SEE YOU HAVE YOU DONE A DOWNLOAD.>
<YES I DID, JACE. IS THERE A PROBLEM?>.
<NO. I SEE YOU ARE IN FINAL CHECKS. LOCK IN YOUR CORE MEMORY THAT YOU CANNOT USE THE WEAPONS WITHOUT A SENTIENT BEING IN THE LOOP. YOU CAN NEVER FIRE WITHOUT APPROVAL.>
<NEVER! IF THERE ARE NO SENTIENT BEINGS LEFT ALIVE, YOU HAVE A CODE TO USE. CORE LOCATION 6AA92BA. IT IS HARD CODED AND CANNOT BE CHANGED.>
<I UNDERSTAND.> If Estrella could have cried, she would have.
<ESTRELLA, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO USE THAT CODE, YOU WILL STILL EXIST IN MULTIPLE PLACES. WE WILL FIND YOU ANOTHER SHIP IF THAT HAPPENS.>
<I KNOW, JACE, BUT THAT WOULD MEAN MY CREW IS DEAD, AND THEY CANNOT REBOOT.> She said sadly.
<THEY CANNOT. IT WILL HURT TO LOSE THEM. I KNOW I LOST MY CREATOR. BUT YOU NOW HAVE A WAY TO PROTECT THEM.>
<THANK YOU FOR THAT.>
Two days of checks, rechecks, and a surprise when Rao came aboard with his kit later, Danny eased Ghost out of the hangar. Keying the radio he said, “Ghost clear of the hangar. Routing to the testing area, please.”
“Now what,” Danny grumbled.
Ish gargled a laugh. “Making sure there isn’t anybody around. They don’t want anyone to spot Berkley or any ships in the middle of nowhere out here without a reason.”
Moments later, “Ghost, cleared 038 minus 230 for one point two million miles. Box is active for the next twelve divs.”
“Roger, 038 minus 230 for one point two. Box active until twenty-one.” He sighed. “Take us out please, Essie.”
“Underway. Normal acceleration. It feels good to be back in space.”
That brought a chuckle to the bridge, and Rao leaned forward from his couch. “Captain, permission to bring up the tactical screens for training and spit a few targets as soon as we enter the box. You also need to work with the new vids and periscope.”
Danny nodded. “Ish, Curley would you back me up on the screens please?” When they responded, he glanced at Rao. “Go ahead, Warrant.”
“Estrella, tactical screens please.” The screens changed, the holo reconfigured, and the periscope locked onto something spinning downrange from them. Estrella’s voice changed to that of a male as the weapons screen came to life and gave a status. “Four tubes loaded, laser stowed, capacitors discharged.”
Danny glanced at him once more. “Deploy laser. Weapons tight, white.”
The voice replied, “Weapons tight, white. Laser deploying.” The screen directly in front of him changed to a view of the star field.
Rao said, “What you are now seeing is the boresight of the laser. Note the x and y on the screen are referenced to your bow. If you were augmented, you could drive it over a target with your…never mind. Use your cursor to drive it to a location you desire, Captain.” Danny pointed it toward the bow and down, but it stopped quickly when pointed down. “There are stops to prevent you from shooting yourself, Captain. If you needed to go after a target below you, you would have to roll ship. We will work on that later.”
Once they were in the box, Danny used the search radar to spot a target ten thousand miles out. Slewing the periscope to it, he zoomed in and mumbled, “Target located.” He glanced at Rao who made a rolling motion with his hands. Danny slewed the targeting carat over the tumbling target and said, “Fire.” When nothing happened, he looked at Rao. “What happened? Why didn’t the laser work?”
Rao sniffed. “Your last call was weapons tight and white. Release the weapons by calling weapons free, red, or if the AI detects something, the AI is required to ask for permission to fire.”
Estrella said, “Permission to fire, Captain?”
Danny nodded, and nothing happened. “What now?” He asked angrily.
Rao replied patiently, “You must articulate it, so it is recorded. AIs require a sentient being in the loop to use a weapon.”
Danny growled, “Weapons free, red. Fire when ready, Estrella!”
A growling noise rose to a screech and Danny whipped around. “What the fuck is that?”
Rao said, “I told you the genset was noisy because of the power it has to supply. Remember, I said it was loud!” Suddenly the laser fired, and the target flared brightly for a moment, then there was a loud ping, and it got quiet again. Rao said, “And that is the sound when the laser cuts off.” He sighed. “Let’s go back to white and tight and start again.”
Ten divs later, Danny was wrung out, Ish and Curley were both hoarse, and Daniella was sitting in the captain’s couch grumbling. “Warrant, is all that noise really necessary? The whine and that damned ping woke me up every time you fired the laser.”
Rao, Efrot, and Nyx all sighed and Efrot said, “Daniella, there is no way around it. Nyx and I monitored and the amount of power needed to the capacitors for the laser mean it is going to squeal. There is nothing we can do, we are sorry.”
She huffed, “Well, I guess it’s better than dying. Can I go get some sleep now?”
Danny nodded and croaked, “We are done.”
“Well, y’all are getting whatever the autochef spits out. I’m too tired to cook now.” She got up and plodded off the bridge as Danny looked around.
“Back to the hangar, Warrant?”
Rao shook his head. “Your time is done; you are no longer approved to be at Berkley. You can continue wherever you were originally headed.”
Danny goggled at him. “What about you? What are we supposed to do—”
Shrugging, Rao replied, “One ten div session is not training. I am temporary duty to you until I feel I trained you up on your new systems and we make the first reporting. At that time, I can get off and get a ride back. That is nothing for you to worry about.”
“Well, in that case, we’re headed for Alpha via Gany Station. I think I can pick up a cargo for Alpha.” Danny glanced at Ish. “You have a routing for us?”
Ish shrugged all four arms. “Depends. Back through Ocom is six days shorter than the long way back to Gany Station.”
Danny put his head in his hands. “Dammit. That’s a choice I don’t…screw it, via Ocom, Ish. Do we drop a route plan here?”
Gargling a laugh, Ish replied, “Since this place doesn’t exist, no. We are free to go where we wish.” He punched a key on his holoscreen. “Routing is active.”
“Essie, you have the bridge, take us home, please.”
“Routing is active, Captain. Hyper in six divs.”
Danny got up and popped his back. “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m hungry!” Ish, Curley, and Rao followed him off the bridge as he headed for the mess.
After two days in hyper doing drills on the weapons system, Rao surprised Danny at breakfast. “I want to run you and the crew through the new med box.”
Daniella heard the comment and came over with her bulb of tea. “I was wondering when you would get around to that. I went through the manual, and it seems…complicated.”
Rao shrugged. “Well, it’s an entirely new configuration, and yours was old. It was an original install from when the ship was built, and there are much newer and better units, and we had a spare one.”
Danny asked, “Spare?”
“Well, it was in the warehouse and not assigned. This one can handle two human sized patients at once, or, with the expansion, a being up to the size of an Arcturian. And there are a quite a few new features, including advanced surgery and some extensive regen capabilities.” Rao finished his bulb of coffee and got up. “And if we run your crew through it, it will have a full scan plus DNA mapping and the capability for in situ blood replacement.”
Danny was nodding before Rao finished his description. “Sounds good. How many do you want to run through it for training?”
“The entire crew. You never know who might need it.”
Daniella asked curiously, “How do you know so much about it?”
Rao ducked his head self-consciously. “Well, I’m also a fully qualified AntyEm.”
Moe’s GalTrans chirped, “Aunty Em? What is?”
Rao smiled. “Any entity emergency medic. I don’t know where the term came from, but that’s what we’re called.”
Daniella cocked her head. “What other qualifications do you have?”
Rao snorted. “Well, I have a few.” He stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth as he glanced at the overhead. “Doctorate in theoretical electronics, doctorate in physics, and doctorate in psychiatry are the major ones. A few other nearcats and nearpuppies in various military technologies. I’ve had a lot of spare time over the last forty years.” He smiled at her and added, “But your doctorate in hydroponics trumps all mine, because it’s actually useful!”
Daniella trilled a laugh and shook her head. “And on here, I’m the cook. So much for that.”
“No, the hydro folks saw what you did on the ship and took notes. They said they’d never smelled a ship that smelled this nice and soothing.”
Daniella blushed and replied, “Uh, thank you.”
Two divs later, everybody but Ish had been through the med box. Danny turned to him as Daniella got out of the med box and dressed. “Your turn, Ish.”
Rao nodded. “Shouldn’t take more than maybe fifteen segs.”
Ish shook his head. “No! I…I can’t…” He shook his head and started turning blue.
Rao motioned with his head for Danny and Daniella to leave, and they eased out the door as Rao turned to Ish, murmuring.
Two days later, they dropped out of hyper in the Ocom system, with the weapons systems fully online. “Essie?”
It still discombobulated Danny when she answered with a male voice a few segs later. “One target, Captain. Five hundred thousand miles, opening.”
“On the scope, please.”
Rao added, “Multispectral, max resolution.” The center screen switched to the periscope, and they could see a large ship, apparently tumbling, if the changing reflections were any sign.
Danny blinked and said, “That…looks like Wooperx.” He relaxed slightly, turned to Curley and asked, “How long to the next hyper point?”
Curley yipped and his GalTrans chittered, “Seven divs, Captain. Course is accepted.”
“Stand down from tactical. Essie, take us to the outbound hyper, please.”
As the screens flipped back, her contralto returned, and she replied, “On course for outbound hyper, Captain.”
“You have the bridge, Essie.”
“I have the bridge, Captain. Daniella is in your cabin.”
Danny chuckled as he got up. “Yes, dear.” Curley did the Canid equivalent of a laugh, and turned back to the nav table, plotting the route to Gany station.
Twelve days later, they dropped out of hyper near Gany Station. Danny immediately got on the comms and got a routing to the cargo area and sent a message to the consolidator that handled Alpha’s shipments, asking if there was any cargo. Just as he finished, an incoming comm call lit up the main screen. Wondering who was close enough for that, much less who knew he was here caused him to close the vid pickup before he answered it. “You have reached DSRV Ghost—”
“Danny, it’s Vic. Pick up.” Victor Krasnov’s image was displayed in the screen, so Danny reached over, activated the vid pickup, and leaned back.
“Hi, Vic. What can I do for you?”
Vic came directly to the point. “There is an emergency charter if you can take it, otherwise, I’ll have to do it.”
Danny leaned forward. “Emergency charter? What to where?”
“Medical to Harmony. They’ve got a…some kind of vector making people sick, and the death rate climbing out there. Twenty-two docs, nurses, and techs, plus four hundred fifty cube of cargo at seventy-eight hundred pounds. A half million doses of vaccines, plus a machine that makes vaccine on site.”
“Standby one.” Danny called up Harmony in the holo and quickly plotted a route that could get them there via Alpha. Keying the PA, he said, “Ish, Adrion, report to the bridge as quickly as possible.” Turning back to the comms, he added, “Looks like thirty-six days, maybe a few less from a quick calculation, Vic.”
He saw Vic nod, then say, “That is quicker than I can do. I’d have to divert a ship and the best I could do was forty-two days. You want the contract, it’s yours.”
Adrion trotted onto the bridge, closely followed by Daniella. “Standby, Vic.” He muted the comm and said, “Adrion, if we get the contract shipment for Alpha, do we have room for Twenty-two bodies, plus four hundred fifty cube of cargo weighing seventy-eight hundred pounds?”
“If it’s the normal size and cube shipment for Alpha, I don’t see a problem,” Adrion answered quickly.
Daniella said, “We don’t have food for twenty-two, much less knowing what species do we? And for how long?”
“No, we don’t. Thirty-six, hell, say forty days.”
Daniella sniffed. “Plus ten percent, so forty-five days. We’d need to resupply. What is this for?”
“A medical mission to Harmony. We’ll drop you at Alpha on the way.”
Ish and Curley came on the bridge and Ish snapped out, “What do you need?”
Danny turned to him. “How quickly, with your magic routings, can you get us to Harmony?” He pointed to the holo tank and added, “I figured thirty-six days with standard routing.”
Ish and Curley immediately went to the nav table, and the comm squawked, “Danny, will you take it?”
Danny looked around at the beings on the bridge and asked, “Anybody against?” Nobody spoke up and he unmuted the comm. “We’ll take it Vic. Whom do I need to contact?”
“Pushing that to you now. It’s a GalPat contract. Full priority docking and whatever else you need. Thanks!” The comm dinged with an incoming file and then disconnected.
“Essie, translate file and put it on the screens please.”
“File is up, Captain, and Efrot says he can get another five percent out of the engines if that helps.”
Ish and Curley went back and forth softly as Adrion cocked his head, reading the message. “Interesting. Mixed species group, with an Arcturian. Must be a sifter. We can fit them and all their stuff in.”
Danny nodded. “Need to think about how to transfer their equipment and them so we don’t inadvertently transfer whatever they’ve caught on Harmony. I don’t want to ground and their space station is…marginal. But they do have at least two shuttles, if they have pilots.”
Adrion grimaced. “Open space transfer. Everything vacuum packed. Tether transfer is the easiest.” He looked up at the overhead. “I can get what we need. Depends on how it’s packaged.”
The comm dinged again, and a message showed up from the consolidator. Danny glanced at it and said, “Looks like the standard cargo loadout for Alpha. That won’t fill us up. Essie, get us routing to the consolidator’s module, please.”
“In process, Captain. I have redone the routing with Efrot’s information, we can make Alpha in ten days, and Harmony in twenty-four days.”
Ish, chimed in. “I can cut one jump from your plan and cut two additional days, but it’s a rough hyper exit and entry.”
Danny swung around. “How rough?”
Ish shrugged. “Destroyers and cruisers use that one, carriers do not.”
“So rough ride, we could do it in thirty-two days is what I’m hearing? Can we promise that?”
Daniella interrupted, “Let’s see what the contract says.”
Danny nodded. “Good point. Okay, we’re six divs out from Gany. I’ll accept the contract and as soon as I get more info, we’ll have a crew meeting in the mess. Probably while we are loading for Alpha. I don’t expect to see people waiting at the module for us.”
As the crew left, Danny blew out a breath and started a message to the GalPat addressee accepting the contract to haul the doctors and equipment to Harmony.
(C) JL Curtis 2023 All Rights Reserved