One of my favorite people from Artemis, Joe Newling.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s not in the same category as someone like Davie. She and I are as close as anyone else in my ohana; we got pretty well welded together towards the end of the Artemis War, and haven’t separated.
No, the reason Joe and I got along from the start was his attitude towards most of his superior officers. Like me, he resented the hell out of people who couldn’t find their ass with both hands, a map, and a flashlight, and was willing to do anything to protect ‘his’ people.
I’m glad he had the opportunity to – whoops, I almost gave it away! Sorry, no spoilers!
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“Captain, we’ve received clearance from System Command,” the junior officer on communications, Ensign Leo Bonagua, reported.
“Very good. Engineering, are we ready?”
“Ready as we’re going to be.”
“You don’t sound confident, Lieutenant Worth.”
She shrugged. “Captain Newling, nobody in the ANS has ever flown with a warp drive. We’ve barely had enough time to finish all the power runs and control leads. PO Bowden got a crash course in warp mechanics, and PO Lavelle is his backup. Frankly, sir, I’d rather lift in an old-fashioned chemical burner, but that’s not my call.”
On another ship, with another captain, that would have been a shocking statement. Some captains would have grounded the speaker; others might have gotten the speaker an appointment with MinSec.
Averroes, so far, wasn’t that kind of ship.
The captain was Joseph Newling, but though he was part of the ruling family he’d earned his way up the ranks of command honestly. Part was his inherent decency, but a larger part was his pursuit and enjoyment of challenges, whether physical, intellectual, or professional. In his climb he’d gathered to himself a cadre of senior officers who had similar attitudes and had used his family influence to keep them together when the wise move would have been to separate them. When he was tagged to leap from commanding a frigate to the newest, largest, most powerful dreadnaught the AN had ever known, he’d been sure to drag them along.
“Taz, if he’s not safe to lift, we’re not going to lift.”
The engineer didn’t automatically shake her head; she gave the idea due consideration for a long moment.
“No, sir. He’s safe enough. I just don’t know what’s going to happen when we light off the warp drive for the first time.”
“Then let’s get into space. Once we’re there we’ll worry about whether we make a hole in the sky, eh?”
“Yes, Captain. I’ll be in Engineering, keeping the children from pushing the wrong buttons.”
The Averroes was finally ready for his recommissioning and launch, and Newling felt a thrill of excitement. In addition to the game-leveling addition of a warp drive, he mounted as much offensive firepower as the rest of the Artemis Navy combined. Once his brother ships were refitted, they would out-gun the entire Solarian Union fleet of Copernicus-class battleships.
And, if the warp drive worked as promised, they’d be able to out-fly anything not belonging to the Federation.
He addressed his second-in-command. “Commander Cantillo.”
“Take us up.”
“Yes, sir. Ensign Glover, raise ship.”
“Yes, Commander.” The ensign at the helm sent commands through his console and the ship subtly came to life. Unlike the ships of the Federation, all the Artemis ships could land on an airless planetary body, at least of Luna’s size. The Averroes was no exception, and he had been grounded at the main Artemis Navy dockyard for the extensive modifications the warp drive required. Now, for the first time in lunars, the main engines fired and the enormous ship lifted from the cradle.
“Steady as she goes,” said Cantillo.
Slowly, slowly, the Averroes rose. When there were two hundred meters between him and the surface, Glover began to increase the forward speed while still climbing.
“Message for you, Captain,” said Ensign Bonagua.
“It’s a private signal, sir.”
“I’ve nothing to hide. Read it.”
“Sir. ‘Congratulations on this milestone. Do Artemis proud.’ It’s from the Minister.”
“Which one?” He wasn’t being facetious; this was an historic event, so any of the various ministers could want to attach their name to it.
“In that case, send a polite reply. Something appropriate.”
He didn’t dislike Taylor; he certainly seemed competent enough. But he was loyal, still, to Minister Crozier. She’d been the one to give him the opportunity to command Averroes, despite what he was sure was significant pressure from other Families and more politically-connected commanders. She’d actually interviewed every candidate, and it wasn’t a superficial ‘I want to say I talked to you’ interview either. She’d known details about his career, asked relevant and penetrating questions, and he felt that she’d honestly searched for the most capable candidate. Then, when his ship had been pulled out of service for the experimental refit, she’d convinced him not to resign in protest. She’d actually listened to him, and he’d seen some of his suggestions implemented.
He wished she hadn’t been purged, or whatever the current politically polite term for eliminating obstacles was.
Still, Taylor hadn’t changed anything much in the weeks he’d been leading the Ministry, which boded well for the future.
“Captain, another message for you.”
“Didn’t we reply fast enough?”
“No, Captain, not from Minister Taylor. This is a classified message, sealed to your codes only.”
“Oh, crap. Cantillo, you have the conn.” He walked off the bridge and down the corridor to the space that was reserved for his ‘office’ aboard ship. It was just large enough for a single chair and a tabletop that folded down from the wall, allowing a terminal to extend. He sat now, waiting for the system to power up and recognize his identity before retrieving the message.
Then he started cursing and didn’t stop for nearly ten minutes.