All was not well aboard the SUN Copernicus...
Nepotism and crony-posting is never a good way to run a military. It tends to get you the worst of all possible worlds: incompetent senior officers, resentful junior officers, and crews that don't care one way or another as long as they get three squares a day.
Unfortunately, even though it's a lesson easily read through the history books, the Solarian Union never read them and didn't learn it until too late.
Too bad for them.
“Yes, Mr. Gibson?”
“We’re still receiving messages from Titan. They’re getting more concerned at our silence.”
“Mr. Glaub, distance and ETA?”
“Two million kilometers, five hours thirty six minutes to a zero-zero orbit.”
“We hold to our orders, Mr. Gibson. One hour from orbit, no sooner.”
“Yes, Captain Moon.”
“Commander Porter, the bridge is yours. Notify me in four hours.” The thin, silver-haired man in the solid black uniform of the Solarian Union didn’t wait for a response.
His first officer, just as thin but with a shock of black hair, saluted the figure’s back.
“As you say, Captain.” He managed to keep most of the bitterness from his voice.
This should have been his ship. He’d worked his ass off, clawing his way up through the ranks, out of the Engineering track and into Command. Nobody knew the ship better than he did, and unlike most of the officers in the SUN he had taken the time to know his crew. It had certainly helped he hadn’t gone through the SUN academy in Scipio City. As a result, the enlisted and junior officers saw him as ‘one of theirs’ and consequently did more for him than any other officer aboard. When the previous Captain had been forced into a medical retirement, it was an open secret aboard that Ken Porter would be the next commander of the SUN Kepler.
Then Richard Moon, the bastard half-brother of Tom Whitmore, needed a job. He’d failed upward his entire career, through all of the positions available to him in the Artemis Navy, and finally came to ground in the Kepler. He was utterly out of his depth, relying on martinet stiffness, rigidity to the rule of law, and a quick grasp of others credit to substitute for his missing ability. His crew, and many of his officers, referred to him quite openly as The Prick.
It was not a happy ship.
And this mission…!
Transport an oversized delegation from the Artemis Foreign Ministry, supplemented by twice as many MinSec and MinInt agents, to Titan. Remain in orbit over the main habitat, a place called Xanadu for whatever godforsaken reason, with their Huygens missiles targeted on the surface and primed for launch. Plus, and most insultingly for a SUN warship, act as a transport for a company of Artemis Marines and their quartet of assault shuttles, just in case the Titanites proved recalcitrant. As if a couple hundred over-testosteronned, heavily armed apes would do any good on a strange world against several hundred thousand inhabitants, but that was Captain Prick. He received the orders, handed them to his crew, and never once questioned their sense.
Like this. Some idiotic PsyOp geek thought it would make their arrival more ominous if they went in silent. They were already unscheduled and unannounced, but suddenly having a multi-kiloton warship appear in their orbit would be oh so much scarier if the warship weren’t saying anything.
A competent skipper would have immediately addressed that particular elephant. Radio silence might have been fine in the dark ages, when a ship over the horizon was effectively invisible and unknowable, but today? With sensors and scanners that routinely plotted courses across the Inner System and all through the orbits of the planets? All it did was give Titan more time to know something was up. Instead, a competent skipper would have suggested early and frequent radio contact, to allay any possible fears.
And since he was not only a competent officer but one who wanted the mission to succeed, he called over to the Second Officer.
“What’s up, Ken?”
“I had a thought about this clustergrope. Let’s try to give ourselves a little bit of cover.”
“One hour, Captain.”
“Thank you, Commander Porter. Mr. Gibson, is the message on the chip?”
Moon had recorded a most ominous and impressive statement upon his return to the bridge, explaining the dire nature of the situation for Titan should they fail to comply with the lawful and righteous demands of the Foreign Ministry team in all particulars.
Gibson had a different message queued.
“Yes, Captain. Message ready to transmit.”
“Send it high speed squeal. Keep repeating it until we get a reply.”
“Yes, sir.” Gibson sent it.
“I’ll be with the delegation from the Ministry,” said Moon. “You have the bridge, Commander.”
And he was gone again.
“You sent our message, right, Russ?”
“Yes. His isn’t even in the system. I didn’t save his recording. Just to be sure, you understand.”
The message that Porter and Radabaugh had crafted had blamed their lack of communication on an unexpected fault in the communications gear which had taken nearly the entire voyage to track down. It was a thin excuse but plausible. There was a reason that the Copernicus cruisers were in docks something over 20% of the time, after all, and it wasn’t because they were upgrading the systems.
And knowing Moon, he wouldn’t soil his hands with actually dealing with groundside, even if only by radio. Porter would have to do it all, which would allow him to field the questions and maybe get the colony to relax after their silence ratcheted up the tension unnecessarily.
As they were only a few light-seconds away the expected response was quick.
“SUN Kepler, this is Titan Approach Control, Senior Technician Stover. Are you reading us now?”
Porter gestured to Gibson to stop the outgoing message. “Good to hear you, Titan Control. Yes, we’re reading you five by five.”
“You had us concerned, Kepler.”
“You were concerned? I’ve had to explain to my Captain for the whole trip out why we weren’t able to broadcast!”
“You’re not the Captain?”
“Sorry; this is First Officer Kenneth Porter. Captain Moon sends his regrets, but he is busy preparing for this part of our mission.”
“Very good, Officer Porter. Please state the nature of your mission for the record.”
“Of course. We are providing transportation to Titan to emissaries from the Artemis Foreign Ministry.”
“And their mission is…?” prompted the technician.
“I’m sorry, Senior Technician. I don’t have those details to release.” An evasion if also true.
“I understand, Officer. We do require their plans before they will be cleared to land.”
“I will pass your message along.”
“Thank you. We will assign you an orbit when you are one light-second distant. Titan Approach out.”
“Think they believed you?” said Radabaugh.
“I think they’re not going to target us on achieving orbit, which I’ll take as a win for now. Mr. Glaub.”
“You heard Approach. We’re cleared to one light-second.”
“Is everything prepared?”
“Yes, Captain. We are in stationary orbit above Xanadu at three hundred kilometers. The assault shuttles are prepped, as are the landing craft for the diplomats.” Porter managed not to turn ‘diplomats’ into a curse, but it was a near-run thing.
“Very good. I expected nothing less.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“I will be accompanying the delegation to the surface.”
“Inform the colonists full honors will be expected.”
“At once, Captain.”
Moon nodded curtly. “I will inform you when we are ready to descend,” he said, then left the bridge again.
“Pompous git,” Porter muttered.