…Their 1st Mission
Finbar watched Megan grab her navigation simulation equipment, and say goodbye to the captain and Nancy.
Nancy O’Reilly rolled her eyes at Finn as the helmswoman – Helm 33 on Dublin, soon to become Helm 1 on Lucy – hied herself off toward the bridge.
“Gotta say ‘bye’ to Uncle Patrick,” she snickered.
Paddy told him he was going back to Starship and Taylor to pick up some electronic parts.
“We got all the boards for Lucy’s backups,” he pointed out.
“I just want some basic stuff for making robots,” the tinkerer explained. “I want to be able to fiddle around in my spare time.”
“Oh, well,” Finbar sighed. “Engineers gotta engineer. Sparkly robots.”
Watching Alex say his awkward goodbyes, he decided to couch his goodbyes to family and friends more as a vacation.
“Do you want me to bring anything back?”
He was expecting them to say something about geegaws from Sol, exotic sculptures made of wood that didn’t grow on Downbelow or Cyteen. When they couldn’t come up with anything, he decided to tease them.
“Okay, okay. I hear you, I hear you, he laughed. “‘Finbar we’re jealous that you get to do something so awesome! We don’t know what we’re missing. Cultural immersion, exploration’,” he continued.
But most importantly: agency.
“Joke all you want, I’ll bring you all back a ’world’s biggest hypersphere of circuitry’.”
Laughing all the way to the Lucy.
He ran into Paddy who was racing back to S&T.
“One last thing,” the engineer shouted at him. “A database of old 2d movie files, including all the epic space fantasies.”
Finbar thought about what Allison said about Lucy’s entertainment rig: “a deck of cards.”
“I hope he remembers.”
When he got to the bridge, the newly minted Cargo 1 saw Megan was already at her station. Peaking over her shoulder, he saw she had it set up as Nav 1.
“Tuning it up,” she told him. He knew Megan would do anything to give herself an advantage.
“Couldn’t hurt.” At least she would be familiar with Lucy’s controls.
By the time Paddy was back from his final shopping trip – successful apparently – Finbar was already putting in the new boards.
“I slotted the boards which in here before into the main slots,” he explained. “That way we can put the heavily used ones into the backup slots.”
“Sounds good to me,” Paddy replied. Almost as if he was glad Finbar was helping with the grunt-work of engineering.
“Now that our cargo cannisters are showing up from Mallory, I’ll be expecting you all to help with the loadout.”
As Megan fumbled with the Nav controls, Allison said, “You’re good.”
“That’s not how we talk about ourselves,” he said to Allison. “You are what you say you are. Every day is a clean slate to start over and be a new you.”
When he saw the puzzled look on the captain’s face, he wondered if the compliment was meant as sarcastically as he had assumed.
“Maybe she really does mean it.” Megan was trying to get the controls down pat.
Paddy was really hyped to discover whether the vanes of the Lucy’s jump drive had been damaged during Allison’s mad dash to catch up with Dublin Again at Pell.
“I know she was burned out,” he told himself as he squirmed through the crawlspaces in the hypervanes themselves. “Let’s she if she burned anything else out.”
What he found was well maintained drives.
“Engines are reading as nominal,” he radioed to the bridge. “We are good to jump.”
The only reply he got was from Megan, who told him she was finally getting the hang of the Nav controls.
“Old?” he asked.
“Almost antiques. Good basic design, though. Dublin’s stick is based on it.”
When he got back to the bridge, Megan told him they were wanted outside for loading.
“We’re Cargo on this vessel,” she laughed.
“Everybody’s Cargo with a crew this small.”
Fortunately, Finbar – their Cargo Chief – believed in using engineers to run the forklift while he did the heavy lifting himself.
“Not that we’re not all doing a lot of heavy lifting.” He knew that Alex and Kiernan had to do a lot of Cargo work on Dublin as part of the Command training. “But some of the others probably haven’t done this much physical labor in their lives.”
Still, he was glad he was about to help out with the forklift.
Once they were back on the bridge, Allison took the captain’s chair, with Alex beside her. She assigned Alex – as Alterday captain – to sort out who would be on each shift.
She explained that they might all be sitting on the bridge during some of the most important operations.
“Most of the time, though, we’ll have only one crew on the bridge. I’ve not had enough crew the last few years to do more than one-on-ones for our shifts.”
When it was time for undock, she addressed Paddy directly.
“Engineer 1, release the grapples.”
He hit his big red button and heard the satisfying clank of the docking grapples unhooking. Allison feathered the jets lightly to move them away from the station.
“One of them’s a little out of alignment. I use it.”
He felt the roll they got from the misaligned jet as she deftly maneuvered away from the station.
He saw Megan, her station set up as Helm 2, watching closely.
Their captain even showed them the courtesy of aiming a camera at Dublin Again.
“There she goes,” Allison said as she put the image on the main screen. “That’s goodbye for a while.”
Another voice was talking in his right ear, relayed by Alex, who was sitting Comm 1. The voice of Dublin wishing them well.
“Reply,” Allison directed Alex. And a message went out in return.
Paddy noticed no interruption: No move faltered; the data kept coming, and now they did a slow turnover.
“A drifting maneuver.”
“Cargo secure,” the word came from Finbar.
“Got that,” Allison acknowledged. “Stand by for rotation.”
She pushed a button. and the rotation lock synched in.
Paddy felt the slow complication of cabin stresses: a settling of backsides and bodies into cushions and arms to sides.
“And minds into a sense of up and down,” he reminded himself.
“You have plenty of time to pick out cabins and stow that gear.”
Paddy asked if they were doubling up after examining the cabins and finding them designed as two-person arrangements. Allison told him there were plenty to choose from and they could each have their own room.
As he tried to walk around the ring, he found the loft was sealed. To vacuum, if the bulkhead’s gauges were correct.
“The loft.” Where every ship he knew kept it’s nursery for the youngest kids. “Those not yet allowed to take leave on the docks.”
When he came back to the bridge and took over Scan 1 from Finbar, he saw a big ship on the move. Military.
“Norway’s outbound," he announced sharply.
“On her own business, I’ll reckon,” the captain predicted from the lounge.
He put it on the main vid as the giant warship passed them like they were standing still.
“See if you can get their heading,” Allison asked Alex, who was back at Communications 1.
“Station’s refused the answer,” he replied. “Got it blanked. Norway’s not tracked on any schematic, and longscan isn’t handling her.”
“Bet they’re not,” Allison muttered as she walked her drink back to the captain’s chair. “Reckon she’s on a hunt. Out where we’re going.”
Allison let Megan do most of the run out to the jump range. When they got out there, he could see Megan was getting nervous at the Helm 2 station.
“You don’t have the comp keys posted,” she said. “I don’t get the jump function under general Nav.”
“Better let me do the jump setup,” Allison suggested. “This time. I know her.”
“Right,” Megan said. “You want to walk me through it?”
“Let me set it up this time. You’re supposed to be on Alterday.”
When the captain had the jump set up, they all buckled in and she took them through the hyperspace jump.
Paddy knew Megan was stressed when she came out of jump.
“Alex, too.” Not as bad as Megan. “She’s thinking about her cabin.”
Paddy saw Finbar had something on scan.
“Just before dump.” Allison was feathering a pulse to slow them down.
“Norway detected," Finbar’s voice rang out.
“Communications detects no comms,” Alex said. “Beyond ID.”
“Picking up something close on the scans!” Finbar’s voice was urgent.
Their captain was still calm.
“Mainday shift, let Alterday have it.”
He watched Megan goes to her room to rest."
Alex ordered Finbar to go help her.
“Take a MedKit.”
Now that Paddy was sitting Scan 1, he saw something, taking some chances with output on longscan.
Alex, sitting in The Chair for the first time in his life, saw activity on Paddy’s screens.
“New contact!” Paddy cried. “Ship just came out from behind the star.”
Taking Comm 1, Alex saw the ID and announced it.
“Alliance ridership Odin.”
Allison was in the seat beside him in seconds.
“One of Mallory’s riders,” she said.
“Another ID: Alliance ridership Thor.”
Allison, again: “Deployed before we got here.”
“Seems kind of suspicious to me,” Paddy offered. “Why would they be there? And what’s in that cargo they handed us?”
Alex’s guess was station goods and chemicals.
“What they need to keep a station running,” he said. “I’d even bet it was Konstantin Company cargo. Same as we would’ve gotten.”
We’re being prodded at. He didn’t say that out loud.
“Movement, fast,” Paddy reported. “Contact! Odin is on intercept with us!”“No contact.” from Allison. “We keep going on about our business. We let them escort us through the point. If that’s what they have in mind. But we don’t open up to them. Let the contact be theirs.”
His Comm board was lit. “Message incoming: ‘Escort to outgoing range. Request exact time and range of Lucy’s departure from Pell’. Repeating message. Requesting acknowledgement. Want to talk to captain.”
So he set the incoming message to broadcast on the whole-bridge audio. And patched Allison’s mic to answer.
“…accurate. Lives ride on absolute accuracy, Lucy. Do you copy that?”
“Say again,” Allison was saying. “What’s he talking about?”
“To whom am I speaking?” the voice of Odin asked. “To Stevens?”
“This is Stevens. Trying to get your calculations, if you’ll blasted well give me time.”
Alex could tell Paddy was feeding data to Allison’s board. Dangerously fast.
“You ship will proceed to Venture as scheduled,” Odin Command continued. “You’ll dock and discharge your cargo. You have three days for station call. To the hour. And you’ll return to this jump point on that precise schedule.”
Allison was reading from her board: “Precise time local: 2/02:0600 mainday. Locator: 8868:0057.35 tracking on referents. Pell chart 05700.”
“2/02:0600 precise?” Odin’s audio came back.
“You want our mass reckoning?” Allison’s voice sounded desperate. “0600:34.”
“We copy 0600:34. Your reckoning is not needed. No further questions, Lucy. We find that agreeing our estimate. Congratulations. Endit.”
“Wow,” Paddy said. “These people are a bit high-strung….”
“Military,” Allison said. As if that explained everything.
“Allison,” he decided. “We need to talk about the comp keys.”
Hearing Megan’s snores from the other room, he decided their Helm 1 had fallen asleep without closing the door to her cabin.
Sending Paddy to close the door, Alex explained in his most conciliatory tone: “We now appear to be in the middle of a military operation. You being the only one who can access the computer’s most sensitive systems has become a security issue.”
His watch was now convinced she has been through a severe trauma.
“Almost certainly the loss of her entire family,” Paddy whispered. “The entire loft appears to have been blown from the main board.”
Armed with that, the Engineer 1 was able to put forward a reasoned argument that they all needed the codes which would give them access to the entire ship’s computer.
“Look,” Allison admitted, “I don’t mind giving to access to the computers, but I…”
“Yes?” Alex prompted.
“I just prefer to do the logins myself. For now.”
As she walked them through the login procedures, Alex noticed she turned off the sound while she was doing it. He also noted that Paddy was watching her hands even more closely than Alex himself.
“I just hope she didn’t spot you looking,” he told Paddy when they compared notes later.
Armed with this knowledge, he was able to get Allison to tell him that her cousins – Yuri and Mitri – had programmed special audio instructions into the comp.
“I don’t know how to turn them off permanently.” Alex wasn’t sure she wanted to. “So I just turn off the sound. They sound like they’re talking to a little girl.”
Which they probably were.
“I understand,” he said out loud. “We’ll let you log in. You can turn off the sound.”
Once she was awake again, Megan decided the extra effort needed to push herself was worth the risk. The proto-star was little more than a thick disk of gasses.
“But I know how to run past it.”
Her orders came from Allison: “True a line crosspoint, and don’t get fancy about it.”
When they got to the jump range for Olympus, she set up the next jump.
First time doing it for real. “Referent locked,” she said aloud.
“Take ’er through.”
She’s letting me do the jump myself. Megan resolved not to get sick this time.
By the time they got to Olympus, she was hot-dogging.
Olympus was a cold brown star.
“Not much bigger than a gas giant.” She found it in the hazy miasma of jumpspace.
Megan burped into the barf bag, quickly regaining composure. Some quick First Aid and she was back in business, showing off as she swung through the next star system.
Scan showed Norway was out there.
“Waiting near the jump range.” Patience wasn’t something she believed of Mallory.
But there was no sign of the big warship at their next nullpoint.
Alex was going to need serious medical attention.
“His turn for the stress.” She remembered the feeling from their first jump. As she steered clear of the queasiness this time.
Thule was empty when she dropped them into the system around the Class-M star.
She saw Alex was stressed again. This time Allison handed him a clean barf bag.
“Glad I’m not responsible for that Medical treatment. He’s gonna need the sick bay.”
Wondering if Lucy even had one.
After taking t;hem through the Thule system at a speed designed to impress Allison – “even if she did match jumps with _Dublin”_ – Megan requested Helm 1.
“Ok,” their captain smiled. " Take ’er through.
Silence greeted them at Venture.
“Not even a beacon, assigning us a route.” They had been told to expect that.