Much to the opposite of Commander Bryan Weirs assumption, Captain Weston McArthur woke up very much like someone had turned on a switch. He had never needed caffeine or stims to wake up. It was nearly an hour before the start of first shift. Weston grabbed a fresh uniform and snapped on his insignia while looking out his window. His quarters were the foremost starboard officer quarters, and as such there wasn’t much interesting to look at.
He tapped his computer on. There were too many unread messages. He didn’t like that. They hadn’t even left Sol and apparently the crew was having problems. Only one of the messages was from Weir. “Do I really have to talk to these people?” Weston grumbled.
He needed breakfast. The whiney crew could wait. Weston moved briskly to the mess hall, grabbed a tray, and stood in line.
“Mister Weston!” head cook Sergeant Tony ‘Cookie’ Jefferson said warmly with a big smile. “Sure you don’t want anything special?”
“No no, feed me the same slop you feed everyone else,” Weston said. “Been on starbase eating this brewed up fake stuff so long I don’t think I can handle real food anymore.”
Tony let out a rolling laugh. “Ain’t that the truth.” He plopped out a portion of fake scrambled eggs, fake sausage patties, fake grits, and fake toast. It was close enough to real but it was all just nutrient supplements arranged by a machine to resemble food.
“Thanks, Cookie,” Weston said.
“Sure thing, boss.” Tony made a sloppy salute, and Weston gave one back before leaving with the tray for his room.
Weston sat and opened Wier’s email first. He nodded at it as he scooped up a mouthful of eggs. He tapped his comm unit with his mouth half full. “Wes, Bry?”
“My quarters, please,” he said.
“Be right there.”
Weston tapped his comms again. “McArthur, Bridge?”
“Put us in orbit over Saturn’s ring with the flight bay drop door facing the ring.”
Weston read a medical report, and an observed altercation report from an officer, the only two reports submitted after Weir’s.
The door chime rang. Weston stood up and let Weir in. “What’s going on?” Weston asked as he sat and resumed eating.
Weir took a seat on the edge of Weston’s bed. “We’re ready to test the modification of the fighter computers. I wanted to set it up with you.”
“I already told the bridge to put us over Saturn’s ring. That fine?”
“That’s… that’s excellent actually. I can test it in orbit and debris, and then… do a run to Neptune?”
“Whatever you need to do to break that thing in,” Weston said before chowing down on his sausage.
“Okay. I’ll tell Whitmore to…”
Weston waved his hand and shook his head. “Not Whitmore. You. You’re going to take one of the two remaining XS-101s. Whitmore and her pilots have zero test pilot experience. Pick one of them to spot you using one of the S-91s, load your bird out with what you want, and do what you know.”
“Are you sure? I’m the XO I really shouldn’t be doing it all myself, should I?”
“It’s your damn toy, go play with it until it breaks.”
Weir made a big smile. “Awesome.”
“That’s what I thought. Now what’s going on in the rec room and medical?”
“Nothing,” Weir said.
“I have an altercation report from a witness and an injury report from medical. I also have way too many messages from everyone.” Weston looked at Bryan and waved his finger at his computer screen. “Are you getting any of this?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Well that’s a fucking problem isn’t it? People are jumping the chain of command like you don’t exist. The only thing I should have in here is the dailies and criticals. Almost all these people are combat veterans so they know better. So what’s going on?”
“Nothing, I’ll deal with it. Some people are having problems with me because of my past.”
“I need to know if I need to start kicking people off my ship. What’s going on?”
“You know about my accident.” Weir’s smile started to fade. “You have to.”
“Of course I know, I read your full declassified file. I hand picked your application. Everyone else was assigned to me by a personnel committee.”
“Yes I did, you’re my personal god-damned Jesus Christ, died on the tarmac for our sins and rose again on the third week.”
Weir couldn’t help but laugh. “Thank you, that means a lot.”
“Well it’s not like you were hard to get, thanks to the media coverage your ass was blackballed,” Weston said in a cutting, quiet voice. “Fuck them, though.”
“So when are we going to get to the mission?”
“We could just jump to the farthest outpost and start now but I want to linger and get all the kinks worked out. I figure six months in human space.”
“After I test the changes and we modify the fighters to fit in our storage, then what?”
“Mine materials to build the next version of XS-101s, use the S-91s for target practice to clear up the space, then I really don’t know. I’m open to ideas.”
Weir looked out the window for awhile in thought. “We could take some side-work doing SAR and location work. Our top of the line sensor suite and jump drive would make us better at it than any other ship in the fleet.”
“That’s good, I like that.”
“We could probably also do relief work, since we can build anything. Maybe medical with our science team.”
“Good.” Weston nodded. “How are we going to find these things?”
“A guy I served with in the war is a captain in the Interstellar Communication Relay maintenance team. He offered me a slot if I couldn’t get anything else. I’m sure he could set us up.”
“Well there you go, we have our plan.”
“Sweet,” Weir said with an excited bob.
“Oh hey, before you take your test flight, get your backup started.”
“Yeah, like the androids,” Weston said. “So if your ass blows up from that piece of shit fighter we can load you into a blank.”
“I can do that?” Weir’s eyes widened with a sudden realization. “I can do that. How do I do that?”
“Fuck if I know, ask an android to help you maybe.” Weston dragged his finger over all the unread messages, forwarded them to Weir, and then deleted them. “This ship is fully automated and there’s a lot of starbases, space ports, and outposts on the way outbound. Anyone that won’t work with you can get off my ship.”
“Trust me, I’ll deal with it,” Weir said.
“I do trust you. See you at Neptune.”
Shannon finished loading Weir’s information into the computer and all it took was just a few minutes on the table and some time to analyze his data with some sort of wireless signal that Weir knew little about. He expected the whole situation to feel like some sort of doctors checkup but Shannon motioned him to just stand around and do nothing; it was easily the most boring job he had, and the most easiest job he had since boarding the ship.
“So when I…”
“If –,” Shannon corrected.
“Then I’ll just remember walking into this room?”
“No,” Shannon said. She hopped on a table and pointed toward the tablet with her hand while explaining. “You gave this computer access to your encrypted files. Nobody can read them except for the computer, and it will never be on a display by the way. It’s for your eyes only, so to speak… But that data gets transferred to the onboard systems, and for as long as your fighter is intact, that data is transferred back to the Yutomaky. It doesn’t matter how far you are, it’s spooky action at a distance.” Shannon raised an eyebrow as Weir obviously didn’t understand.
“Quantum entangled computing,” Shannon added. The ships transmitters are not via transmitter. These boards and drives are cloned and entangled. The atomic molicules on the drive of the fighter are entangled with the Yutomaky’s drives. All the ship has to do is access those drives. The only bottleneck is the drive speed from the Yutomaky’s drive, to the computer that’s going to load your mind in if you crash again.”
Weir shrugged his shoulders, “This is just weird.”
“How do you think we get instant communications? Magic?” Shannon asked. She smiled at him and nodded toward the door. “Come on, I’ll show you how it works.”
“Do I need to know how it works?” Weir asked.
“It’s amazing technology, Commander! When you transmit near your ship, that data goes to our ships drives automatically and it’s tagged for immediate review on the bridge as whatever file you sent it as, and the only lag time is from your wristcom to the ship and that’s the only transmission data that’s in the open air! When the atoms on the hard drive in your fighter arrange themselves, they arrange themselves in the same way on the —-,”
“OKAY…” Weir rubbed his temples. “I’m getting a headache.”
“You’re an android, sir… You don’t get headaches.”
“Well, find me an excuse.” Weir winked at her and smiled as he walked backwards out the door.
“Have a good time!” Shannon said as the door closed between them.
Weir stepped into the SX-101 Fighter and began working away at the systems. He looked over to see Jaime Whitmore climb onto the wing of the fighter to join him. Weir smiled at her as she stepped across the patches of wing that were designated “OK” to step on. Once by the flightdeck, she leaned in to watch Weir load the systems.
“Commander Whitmore,” Weir said while watching the computer do a system check.
“Commander Weir,” Jaime returned the response. “So, these things are automatically locating the new hardware?”
“That’s right,” Weir said as he kept an eye on it. “Auto-calibration. It checks everything, unlike that piece of crap software that came on the new boards.”
“I thought the startup was a little fast.”
“Yeah… Fast…” Weir laughed. “The programmers aren’t fighter pilots,” Weir said. “So they didn’t understand that we want accurate and safe more than fast and sloppy.”
“Did they know that we always keep a ready-wing loaded up?”
“They didn’t have a fucking clue,” Weir laughed. “They think that we shut these computers off until it’s time to fly them and had no idea we just keep five fighters up and ready at all times.”
“So that’s why I went in the drink?” Jaime asked.
“The reports are in,” Weir turned his head and smiled at her. “… that’s what happened. The capacitor alternation didn’t kick in on yours and the electrical grid on your fighter didn’t go through it’s calibration series like it should have. So there was no safety protocol to tell maintenance to check for a short that on the X-91’s, would have been found on preflight.”
“Those sons of bitches…” Jaime growled through her teeth.
“There, there…” Weir patted her arm playfully and then laughed. “On mine, it was a failure to extend the onboard heat sink. I could have done that manually and bypassed the automation if I had an alarm to warn me…”
“Your computer fried itself?” Jamie started laughing at him.
“Like an egg on a Texas sidewalk.” Weir confirmed. “It’s okay now… Sometimes, the old tools are the best. I can have Shannon rebuild the new boards and make them safe, but for now, let’s call these the S-101/A now that we know they’ll work like a real fighter.”
“So when we put it in the new one?” Jaime asked.
Weir smiled as the systems loaded up and his screens turned green. He looked up at her and shrugged his shoulders as best he could due to being strapped in. Jaime reached down and handed Weir his helmet.
“My plan is to load the new boards into a twin seat version of the 101. We’ll call that the B while we work out the kinks in two’s… From there, when or if we start losing the 101-A’s to either maintenance issues, or crashes, we’ll start pumping out the S-101/C with single seats.”
Jaime sighed and shook her head, “Well, since that sounds bad, let’s just hope that we don’t have to graduate to flying the C-Model any time soon.
“Nah…” Weir said sarcastically as he pulled his helmet on. Jaime gave him the evil eye before jumping off the wing of his fighter.
Weir was the first one out of the bay. He watched as the Yutomaky got smaller behind him and eventually, he couldn’t even see it. He twisted around and sat back straight in his seat to look ahead. For a while, all he could use for a sensation of acceleration was the pressure against his seat. He felt a difference in the amount of time it took to stop accelerating to maximum speed. The green screen readout by his knees showed him the reason why when he saw that the speed of these fighters was tremendously higher than the old machines. Weir hadn’t even gotten to top speed yet. He needed a few thousand miles per hour gap in order for Jaime to catch up. Weir activated his communications as he watched Saturn ahead. The rings below were lit up brilliantly by the sun and he knew from experience that they weren’t even near them yet. Weir decided to activate the holographic display now. Brackets on either side of the cockpit flew past his vision at a rapid pace to simulate a speed reference. The readout gave him general references to the nearest objects, objects of interest, nearest large structures, and nearest ships. He would have felt alone out there if it were not for the generous amount of blips here and there; people had colonized parts of the rings and claimed them as their own and there was no laws against that. “Space-Land” was plentiful. There was so much space that the odds of running into any other contact was sparse even in a populated system. Weir was, however, waiting on Jaime to catch up.
The rings were just beginning to take up a more fine definition in the near-distance by the time his proximity alert flashed. Weir looked to his right and saw another X-101A.
He made sure that it was an X-101/A. He took a deep breath and cursed under his breath.
“Come again, Commander?” Jaime’s voice replied to the vox communication.
“I uh, forgot to tell you something… I was so focused on getting this bird up in the air that I forgot to tell you to grab one of the older fighters. Shit… McArthur is going to be pissed.”
“Want me to go get it?” Jaime asked.
“Nah… Come on. Link up on me and sync…” Weir ordered.
“Nothing!” Weir rolled his eyes and laughed painfully at himself.
Weir could see the young pilot lit up by the green light of her displays and he could see she was having a great time. He gave her a thumbs up and activated his short range communication transmitter. The Yutomaky was too far away to recieve anything unless they had their sensors at maximum. Even then, it would take a full second for them to be heard when using non conventional communications.
“What do you think?”
“Same kick as last time. The only difference is that I don’t feel like I’m going to be stranded.” She joked happily.
Weir nodded and activated the link option on their fighters. It would give both pilots the ability to stay in perfect synchronized speed unless the secondary pilot chose to take over manually. She fell in right beside Weir and worked the stick as giant chunks of ice and some rocks started to fly by their canopies. Whatever did hit the ship was deflected off their EM Shields. Weir found it to be quite pretty as the shields emitted a soft glow wherever a particle hit him.
“So what’s the plan?” Jaime asked while flipping the ship over. Their shields merged as she got close enough to be flightdeck to flightdeck. The craft synchronized to Weir’s as a preset function so that two pilots could almost be face-to-face during long journies, albeit, they’d have neck cramps if they actually spent the time to look straight over their heads. Weir tapped in the word “Dione” into his waypoint processor and their fighters moved simultaneously and in sync. Weir looked up and gave Jaime a thumbs up.
“So what do you think of the crew so far?” Weir looked straight up through the visor of his helmet. It was hard to really meet eyes with a pilot when there were four layers of vacuum proof glass between them; both their visors, and both their transparent armor canopies. He was still able to see some of her eyes through the glare but it was her body language he could really see. He watched as Jaime shifted her weight and loosened her shoulder straps a little.
“I don’t know,” Jaime said. “They all seem like your normal, run of the mill crew with all the baggage.”
“Run of the mill but with a wish to get away from Earth and everything they know. What do you think of the testing program idea?”
Jaime reached out and hit the canopy with the base of her hand as if testing out the structural integrity of her new spacecraft. It was just a gesture more than anything scientific and even somewhat amusing.
“Finally get to get some test piloting experience in.” He heard her sigh over the radio. “… although, so far my test piloting experience hasn’t been very good.”
“That’s how it always is with testing out new things.”
Weir looked ahead to see that the icy moon, Dione was getting larger.
“Time to play around on some terrain…” Weir said.
Weir brought the fighter down toward the ice and it was immediately apparent how fast they were traveling. He reached forward and tapped the computer screen in the center console until a set of clocks and timers appeared.
“Alright we have roughly six minutes to play around in here and we’ll be heading out of the rings and playing catch-up with the Yutomaky.” Weir explained. “We don’t want to be too late.”
“Are we ever going to have time to not worry about being left behind?”
“You thought nobody was coming last time?” Weir chuckled as Jaime’s fighter peeled away from him and joined a normal formation. Weir took his fighter in a low valley of thick ice and slowed down to a manageable speed. The computers on each fighter worked in sync and allowed for Jaime to slow down at the same speed and rate as Weir; she of course had the option to override at any time by placing her hands on the throttle lever.
“I was in a raft, Weir…”
“So you thought nobody was coming?” He asked again.
“I was in a Raft… “ She said again. “For a few hours.”
“Everyone was having some trouble deciding whose responsibility it was to come get you.”
“In a raft…”
“You were eating food and enjoying yourself in that raft. I was there! I saw it!”
“Well it didn’t do me any good to freak out!” Jaime said. “When life gives you MRE’s and RHIS…” She referred to Meals Ready to Eat, and Rigid Hull Inflatable Shelters and it made Weir laugh some more. He was sure by now that she probably thought laughing and smiling at everything was all her commanding officer did.
“Let’s just not make a thing of it,” Jaime said.