Opsfleet Chapter Five

It was the next morning when Weir read the bullcrap that Jane Finn had sent him and he thanked his lucky stars that she didn’t CC it to anybody. Weir knew that he needed to have a one-on-one with her before she found herself in an Airlock for being stupid. He didn’t know the captain very well, but he knew the military well enough to know that she must have gotten her Lieutenants rank from the bottom of a cereal box. Weir activated his long range communications which ran through the SAAD transmitter array to pull up Earth Communications; the place was a shithole but if that’s where her father was, that’s where he wanted to connect.

It took a few minutes but finally, the image of a man in a business suit that must have cost more than a thousand credits, appeared to be standing in his quarters. Weir stood up and straightened his flight suit.

“Weir, isn’t it?” The man asked. He looked to be in his twenties, which was obviously DNA regression therapy at work, with slicked back black hair, and strong facial features which consisted of that signature cleft chin that looked as if he was wearing his own ass on his face. That was probably the result of some sort of physical facial change done with modern medicine as well; many politicians did that to themselves. Everything about him screamed money. Weir felt sick just looking at him but he tried to hide it as he ignored his high class style.

“That is correct sir…” Weir said.
“Must be important if you’re calling me from so far away. If something happened to my daughter, just catalogue her things and send any pictures she may have sent. It’s a dangerous voyage, and I understand.”
“Sir, nothing happ—,”

“Send me the details. I could use this if she did something heroic. Lord knows, it runs in the family. How’s the Captain?”

Weir raised an eyebrow at the man. If Weir were still Human, he’d be holding his breath already. Instead he responded swiftly.

“Your daughter is fine, dude…” He skipped the ‘sir’ this time. Weir was having hard enough time keeping the left corner of his lip from raising too high as well as keeping his eyes from squinting or rolling. Still, his body language gave his feelings away and the senator was visibly taken aback by the brazenness of the Commander’s negativity toward his presence. Weir continued. “I was simply trying to ask you for information on your daughter. She’s well educated but she is a bit forward with her opinions. Which military academy did she go to?”

“I don’t keep track of such things. You’d have to ask my secretary about it. So it was Jane that was onboard? I have three daughters, Commander. The men are being groomed for better things but to have family in the military is a special thing when it comes to status and grandeur. I trust you understand. The only reason I’m telling you is because, in a way, you work for me. Hell, I’ll be your commander in chief one day but from what I hear, the Yutomaky is going so far away, you won’t have to hear about that before you go missing like all the rest, but let’s get down to the point, Commander. What the fuck is the problem?”

The hologram leaned forward on something invisible to Weir but he could tell it was his desk.

“I thought I could gain insight into her behavior. I guess I understand now.” Weir shut the communications off and sighed. “Earth… What a shithole.” Weir sat down on the sofa in his quarters again and sighed a heavy breath of relief. The troubles were only just now brewing but at least he was able to just turn Reginald off with a gesture of his hand. Jane was going to be a bit more of a war.

Weir found himself going to other places on the ship instead of the bridge. There was always so much more to do below deck one, that getting to deck one was a bit of a challenge. The comfortable part of being the first officer was that he was indeed doing his job and it didn’t matter where he was as long as he was making a proper difference in the day. This time, it was Sean who grabbed his attention.

“Hey!” Sean started running but it clearly meant that he wished Weir to follow him. With the amount of haste at which Sean Reece was running, Weir wondered if something was wrong. It wasn’t until he ran close enough to him to see that he was smiling to know for sure that nothing was really wrong. Sean ran into the bay with Weir behind him. Weir saw Sean pointing frantically at something Weir wasn’t aware of. In the middle of the room was a craft about the size of a small desk, with wings, angular nose, and packed with all the sensors from one of the S-91 fighters.

“What is that?” Weir couldn’t help but smile as he walked around it.
“I fed one of the 91’s into the atomic buffer so that I could redesign something I’ve always wanted to do,” Sean explained. “Say hello to the E.O.1, The Experimental Observer designed over ten years ago and modified overnight to actually be taken off the drawing board after all these years.” Sean walked around the craft. “It’s got all the sensors of a fighter, built into a small package. I also pulled the SAAT Array off of it. We’re talking Real Time sensors, video footage, and telemetry for both Autopilot and Manual Control!”

Weir smiled, “So it’s a drone? Why didn’t we get any of these?”

“It wasn’t transferred. Plus, mine’s better… No lag time!” Sean patted the drone.

“Did you get permission to do this?”
“No…”
“Sure you did,” Weir said with a wink. “I gave it to you last night.”

“Oh yes, yes sir…” Sean said.
“You’ve been promoted to Drone Pilot,” Weir said. “Did you load the specs into the computer so that we can make more of them if we need to?”

“Yes, but you’re not flying so I doubt we’d need to make another anyway.”
“Oh give me a break,” Weir sighed with a hint of laughter.

Sean chuckled at the ExO’s reaction, “Come here… There’s more…”
“Christmas came early!”
Weir stepped around the drone and followed Sean to the store rooms.

The doors opened and Weir nearly gasped at it all.
“I took everything salvageable that’s hard to print and placed it on the racks by function. Including the extra SAAD array — we could really use that later.” Sean whispered at the end. Those arrays were the only ones they had that have entangled matter for both the Yutomaky’s memory core, as well as Earth and Mars receivers. The further they got away from Earth, the more valuable an array would be that had such entangled matter. The ship had plenty stored away but they were locked up tight. To have one available for the crew to put anywhere was a jewel.

“Future projects?” Weir asked.

“Future projects…” Sean confirmed.

Everything was neatly squared away and Weir was obviously impressed.

“Um… Commander, one other thing.” Sean rubbed his chin.
“Matt Lumis has access to this store room.”

“He’s part of the crew,” Weir said apologetically. “Worried about him stealing your parts?”

“Yeah,” Sean said simply.
“Work with him… Talk it over. You’ll work even better as a team.”

“Yes, sir.” Sean said with a slight hint of a sigh.

‘Good job, Sean…” Weir smiled and left.

 

 

 

 

It took three days travelling at low FTL cruise to reach LHS 288. That was the nearest system with mineral rich asteroid fields marked as reserved for military use only. Using LHS 288 would eliminate the political haggling for mining rights from their operation. That’s what Weston hoped for, at any rate.

So far plans were not working out.

“It would have been a shame if I had to write your next of kin, Whitmore,” Captain McArthur said coldly during the flight debriefing at Neptune. “I would’ve sent it to command with the report of the first successful backup copy of the first transhuman.” Jaime and Bryan both understood loud and clear what the captain was saying.

In the time they travelled from Sol to LHG 288 the crew was finalizing the XS-101A-3, or “Flight Three.” For flight two the ship’s engineers helped modify it so it could be quickly folded and unfolded from storage using its own power, taking just a tiny bit more space than an S-91 in folded storage. The XS-101A-2 fit snuggly into the Yutomaky’s bays. The Flight Three was almost entirely the work of Sean. He stripped down and gutted the fighters. Super high performance parts and systems were replaced with simpler ones that were more robust, easier to manufacture, and most importantly of all easier to maintain. Some of the 101’s new extras were removed outright. The result was the transformation of an over-tuned testbed prototype with a mass-production template model that traded some performance for ruggedness.

The original design company was both impressed at the XS-101A-3 specs, and pissed off that a bunch of space monkeys beat them to completing a mass-production model. Command finalized the XS-101A-3 as the S-101 and agreed to credit the Yutomaky and crew with its final development. However, there was no talking the military or the company into giving royalties to Bryan, Sean, and Shannon’s entire engineering team.

But back to the subject of LHS 288. Going to FTL cruise shut up Jane for a while. When they finally exited and navigated deep into a cloud of risky looking asteroids, she completely lost it. They didn’t even finish a full hour of carving apart an asteroid with their mining laser before she got up and stood in front of the captain.

“Captain McArthur. You are placing the ship in grave danger,” she started.

“Oh fuck,” David said as he turned to look over his shoulder with wide eyes.

“It is dangerous to place this ship inside the asteroid field when we could have mined safely from the perimeter. Not only that but you’ve taken us to a star system high in reported piracy and rogue miners. We could be ambushed at any moment, and then this ship and crew will fall into enemy hands.”

Everyone on the bridge was staring at Jane and Weston, expecting to see pink mist. Weston leaned to the left, resting his chin on his thumb with his index finger going up his cheek and his fingers curled in front of his mouth. He sat like this for a while glaring at Jane. It was a blank expression, one the crew was getting used to seeing from McArthur and no one had yet to make out what was going on in his mind when he was doing it.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” Jane asked. “Or should I call command to have you relieved?”

There was a very slight curl of his lips and a tension in his jaw. He pulled his console from its stored position over his legs and began scrolling rapidly through a list. “You’re right, Lieutenant,” he said absently. He tapped on something on the list.

There was a loud boom and a hard jerk of lateral G-force. The ship was drifting and starting to roll.

“Oh fuck!” David shouted as he quickly grabbed the controls and tried to stabilize the ship. “Half the thrusters are gone. Fuck! Were we hit by an asteroid?” He tried to look back over the ship to see the damage.

Jane was back at her post, now pale and visibly having a panic attack. “Mayday mayday!” she screamed.

“That won’t be necessary,” Weston said as he disabled her console from his controls. Weston tapped a button and the battle stations alarm sounded through the whole ship. All of the consoles had flashing red warnings. Nearly two dozen simulated failures and a hull breech from a simulated asteroid collision were playing out through the ship. “I agree with you completely,” he said as he glared at Jane again. “We need combat drills. Lots of drills. We need to be ready for anything.”

It took almost thirty minutes for the crew to complete the simulated exercise, restoring systems and hull pressure. Weston keyed the ship-wide intercom. “Good morning, everyone. This is your captain speaking. Lieutenant Jane Finn brought to my attention that this crew is not ready for the tasks ahead and is in desperate need of drills. Per Lieutenant Finn’s suggestion, we will be on combat alert for the next 72 hours. All department heads are to maintain a constant regimen of PT and drills during this time. Thirty minutes to restore the ship to minimum functionality after a hull breech is completely unacceptable. This is a fleet ship, not some fresh-meat merchant marines. I expect military time on the next simulation.”

Jane looked back at Weston with both anger and shock. “Lieutenant I want you to report to Lieutenant Matt Lumis and lend him your engineering skills in damage control.”

“What? Who will run comms?” she asked.

“I have Lieutenant Kenya and Ensign Mills,” Weston said.

“But I…”

“That’s an order, Cap’n Finn.”

Jane Finn hurried off the bridge in a brewing, indignant rage.

Lieutenant Matt Lumis was in the ventral cargo airlock with the entire damage control team. It was a large bay under the flight deck and behind the main cargo bay that also acted as a freight lift and a drop exit for the ship’s spacecraft. They were suiting up for EVA and assembling large boxes of tools and spare parts. Jane spotted Matt by his polished gold bar on his collar.

“Lieutenant Lumis, the captain has sent me here to oversee your drills,” she said.

Matt stopped what he was doing and looked at Jane. He looked her up and down more than once before smiling. “Captain already told me.” He pointed off at a wall. “We preped an extra suit just for you.”

Jane looked over at the EVA suit. “I’m not going out.”

“Did I ask you for a date?” Matt said with a bigger grin.

Others, especially the enlisted crew, laughed at her.

“Captain sends me you kids as a disciplinary action. It’s your choice whether you’re wearing a suit when we pop the door, but we have work to do.”

Jane reluctantly went over to the empty suit, and looked around at everyone. “Is there a changing room for privacy?”

A few of the enlisted crew chuckled quietly.

“Hon,” said a hard bodied latino woman. “Whatever you got we already seen and we don’t care so you best get your lilly white ass stripped down, oiled up and in that suit because I hate drills and I had better shit to do than this.”

“I fucking love it!” Matt boomed as he finished powering on his suit. “Reminds me of the OFS Davidovich. God we did some serious things to that ship in the war. Those were the golden years!”

“Here.” An asian woman was holding out a large, thick rubber band. “You’ll want to put your hair up or it’ll float into your visor and blind you.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Jane said as she stuffed her uniform in a locker and squeezed into thermal tights.

“Of course. But if you need any help just ask.”

Jane paused and stared at the woman. She quickly grabbed the rubber band out of the woman’s hand and put her hair up in a bun. The woman held out her hand for a shake. “Crewman Aiko Lee.”

Jane ignored Aiko and put on her EVA suit alone.

A lone EVA suit walked up the ventral portion of the wrap-around canopy until it was standing on the nose of the ship. It squatted and bent over so its helmet was looking into the bridge. It tapped its wrist computer.

“Hey, captain, it’s Lumis.”

“How’s the kid?” Weston asked.

“I wish someone told me she had no EVA training,” he said.

Weston smirked. “Her file says she cleared all training programs including EVA.”

“Well, she didn’t. She forgot to turn on her boots and floated right off. Started to panic and hyperventilate. Chundered until her helmet was full, started to choke on her own puke. Sergeant Nakamura got her with a grapple but… she panicked again, managed to fire her RCS pack and…” Lumis couldn’t help but laugh now. “She bounced off the hull really good.”

“Another successful bounce test,” Weston said with a smile.

David sprayed his coffee over the top of his console.

“Yes it was.” Lumis closed the comms and continued walking back along the top of the ship.

“I expect that cleaned up,” Weston said.

“Yes, sir.” David had brought a heavy towel today and was already wiping down the console and deck. “Totally worth it, sir.”

“Ship approaching us,” the sensors operator called out. “Civilian transponder, looks like a mining barge.”

“They’re requesting a link,” Lieutenant Kenya said.

“Sure,” Weston said.

“We heard a mayday from this direction, do you need assistance?” It was an older, phlegmy voice of a man that spent a lifetime smoking and drinking.

“Who are they and why are they in this MOA?” Weston asked.

“This is the OFS Yutomaky conducting military operations,” Leitenant Kenya rapidly fired off over comms. “You are in a military operations area. Identify yourself immediately or you will be fired upon.”

“What? Military operations?” The captain sounded confused.

“Volkov, light ‘em up,” Weston ordered.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Max Volkov, the first shift tactical and intelligence officer, was quickly operating his console. “Like a Christmas tree, sir.” In seconds the ship’s sensors were focused on the barge, scanning its every detail. A combat HUD was projected on the bridge canopy, with complete information on the barge including its name, registry number, class, and modifications from spec. There were also projected arcs of fire from the ship’s missile batteries, as the asteroids were blocking line of sight.

“Whoa! Holy hell!” the old man shouted. “We’re the uh… uh Fred’s Fortune.”

Weston keyed into the comms. “We know who you are. Why are you here?”

“We have mining rights.” The old man’s voice started to turn aggressive. “Exclusive mining rights. This field is ours. Why are you here mining our claim?”

“You are in a military operations area. This field is a military reserve and if you have mined here then you have stolen from the space force and ops fleet. If you have a mining claim then you were scammed.”

“I don’t believe this!”

Weston let out a long sigh over comms and then released the xmit key. “Scan his ship again and see if he has any ore. And send him the current system flight chart with markings for where he can and can’t go.”

“I paid good money for this mining claim and I ain’t going nowhere!”

“His mass is close to empty load, if he has ore it’s barely anything,” the sensors officer reported.

“Chart sent,” Kenya said.

Weston keyed back onto the comms. “For your convenience we have sent you the current flight chart of this system so you don’t get confused again. You will vacate this area immediately.”

“I want your name and your command!” the old man demanded.

“Captain Weston McArthur, under command of Fleet Admiral Jack Kowalski. Now you will vacate this asteroid field immediately or I will tell my tac to go weapons free and let my flight wing use what’s left for target practice. Get out of my MOA you senile old grandkid coddling mom and pop’s wildcatter and go back to the flea market where you bought that rusty, tetanus-trap of a garbage scow and your mining claim and whatever other snake oils you wasted your retirement savings on.”

“You’re an asshole!” the old man screamed back.

“And you’re flagged as a suspected pirate, enjoy customs at your next ICC spaceport.” Weston closed and jammed the comms channel. “You have the bridge, McAvoy.” Weston left for his quarters.

Lieutenant David McAvoy looked around the bridge. “Did that just happen?”

Lieutenant Commander Jessica Riley kept thumbing the injury report up and down. It looked like something she’d expect to see in a training exercise. Granted it happened during a training exercise, but it was something she’d expect to see at an academy from a first-timer. She flipped to Jane’s personnel file. She passed every class and certification there was for EVA and damage control. The injury report and the personnel files she had on her data tablet were not the same person. It wasn’t possible.

Jessica looked up at Captain McArthur as he entered her office. “Fractured left arm and left leg, three fractured left ribs that almost punctured her lung, a rather severe concussion, inhalation of and choking on vomit. All by self-inflicted incompetence. How could this be someone with this record?” Jessica waved the tablet in the air. “On this ship?”

Weston sat down across from her desk. “Daddy influenced, bribed, and blackmailed her through college, the academy, and onto this ship.”

“You have to get her off, send her home. She’s a danger to everyone else.”

“I agree,” Weston said.

“I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming.” Jessica dropped the tablet on her desk. “But her daddy won’t let you? Does he have command in his pocket?”

“Nah. He used up all his influence, money, and dug-up dirt getting his kids to places of power. She’s apparently the runt and putting her on this ship is damage control. She’s out of the picture and he gets to talk on the news about his brave daughter exploring the universe.”

“Wow, that’s cold.” There was a silent moment. “Are you getting rid of her?”

Weston put his boots on her desk. “Nah. I’ll take her off the bridge roster and put her on permanent janitorial if she doesn’t shape up. Comms is incredibly easy. I can pull someone out of another department.”

“But…” Jessica stared with great confusion. It wasn’t adding up to her. “Why? Why keep someone like that on the ship? She’s going to get someone else hurt.”

“Schadenfreude.”

Jessica blinked for a moment as it clicked together. “You’re a mean old man aren’t you?”

Weston smiled and placed a hand over his heart. “Deep down, in the cockles of my heart, I just want to watch the galaxy burn.” Weston took his boots off her desk, stood up, and straightened his uniform. “How soon until she can go back on EVA drills?”

“She can go right now,” Jessica said. “She’s driving my nurses bonkers.”

“Right. Well if she comes back in here purple or green or in five pieces, and you want a senator to owe you a big favor, bullshit the death certificate so it sounds like she died doing something heroic.”

Jessica’s face looked shocked. “Are we having this conversation?”

Weston shrugged. “Just throwing it out there. I’ll have Lumis come drag her back out.”

Jessica continued to stare in shock as Weston left her office. “Glad to see you made it, Cap’n Finn!” she heard him shout in the medical ward.