Day eight – Chapter eight!
I hope you’ve been enjoying the sneak peek – and don’t forget to pre-order your copy for delivery on Release Day, 12/20! You can do that by clicking on the title above.
Also – paperback files are at Amazon for approval! YAY!
In any case, have fun with today’s chapter and I’ll see you tomorrow!
“Do we need to do introductions?” asked Kendra.
There was a general shaking of heads, both real and virtual, around Kendra’s conference room.
“Richard, thank you for being here. I know your time is limited, so why don’t you report first?”
“Thank you, Ms., ah, I mean Admiral.” Dogfish stopped, looked around. “I know my office isn’t big enough to hold all of you. This hologram thing is too much, y’know?”
There were eight attendees, five in person aboard the Njord, three virtually. Kendra sat at the head of the table, naturally, with old-fashioned pads of paper scattered around. Cass sat to her right, with a padd. To Cass’s right were the holograms of Dogfish and the now-official CEO of HLC, Kim Culbertson. To Kendra’s right was Captain Martinez; Mac and Ted sat to the left of her, Mac with a padd, Ted with a full-on portable terminal. On Ted’s left sat, well, a goddess.
Literally a goddess. In moving to Njord, Diana had increased her cycles by more than tripling the number of processors she accessed. The extra cycles allowed her to add a virtual presence to herself when she thought it appropriate. She’d examined the historical records for images of Diana, goddess of the moon and the hunt, then rejected them all in favor of a more Kendra-centric interpretation. She knew of Kendra’s fascination with the television and movies of the late 20th/early 21stcenturies, and had decided that she would take the appearance of the actress, Gal Godot, who had played a character adapted from Diana. As a result, her avatar had long, dark hair, wore an armored brass bustier, matching brass armor over her wrists, a leather skirt, knee-high boots which consisted mostly of open leather straps, and a bow and quiver across her back.
“It can be,” agreed Ted.
Richard shook his head, then started. “Our teams have done preliminary surveys of all four sites. Um. The reports should have been uploaded to everyone, so you can read all the details, I guess, when you want.”
“How about a summary?” asked Cass.
“Okay, so, they’ve spent more than a century as museums, and they’re almost two centuries old, so you can see that maintenance was a concern. That eliminated the one in New Jersey. There simply hasn’t been any maintenance, and the structure is rotten almost to the point of falling apart.”
“Definitely unsuitable,” agreed Kendra.
“The others have been maintained well enough. There’s no major structural issues that we discovered due to lack of maintenance, though closer inspection would be needed for certainty. Two of the three, though, had severe damage repaired at some point in the past. One had the entire bow replaced, the other had suffered an explosive event. While the repairs were done well, I don’t think I’d trust them quite as much.”
“That just leaves one.”
“The one in Hawa’ii,” agreed Percoco. “It’s been best maintained of the four, in the most temperate climate, and never suffered any major damage.”
“That’s your recommendation?”
“If you’re looking to acquire one, yes.”
“My teams strongly recommended that they be given a longer time to survey. This is purely preliminary. They might find all sorts of problems with a more time and a more in-depth inspection.”
“Assume we’re going to move forward. Get all four of your teams ready to do just that,” said Cass. “Unless there’s something more?”
“No, that’s it. I’ll have the billing updated.”
“Thanks, Dogfish. You did great,” added Cass. There were nods all around, which he returned with a smile before flickering out.
“Are you serious?” asked Ted. “You want to buy a battleship?”
“Not just buy it, Ted. Remember what inspired your whole plan?” answered Kendra.
“Yeah, that old show.” He looked at her with incredulity. “You must be joking.”
“We can do it,” insisted Kendra. “We’ve spent the last few days crunching the numbers, us and Val Roberts,” she added, gesturing to Cass and Diana. “Warp drive is impossible, at least impractical, and we don’t have the kind of weaponry which would require a bloody great hole in the bow, but the turrets can actually be used to deliver a serious punch.”
Ted simply gawped at her.
“You seem to be having a problem with something, Ted,” Kendra said. “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”
“The key was the collimation techniques that Ensign Stewart developed for the Enterprise’s laser,” chimed in Alley. “With those, we can effectively split and direct the output of a six petawatt laser.”
Cass said to Diana, “Can we get the hologram?”
“Certainly, Commander,” said the AI, and the holographic image of a battleship appeared in the center of the table.
“This is the U.S.S. Missouri, BB-63, Iowa-class battleship laid down in 1941, decommissioned for the final time in 2063 after the conclusion of the Second American Civil War.”
“What we propose to do is this,” started Cass. She reached out through her implant and the holograph changed, parts of the ship now highlighted in red. “We will remove the old engines, propulsion, steering, fuel storage, ammunition magazines, and, frankly, most of the non-structural construction below the main deck. We’ll also pull the deck, the wooden surface at least, and the rear turret. That will reduce the maximum firepower by removing three barrels, but we need the space to install power plants and the laser.”
More of the ship was highlighted in yellow now, two turrets at the front and three smaller gun emplacements on each side.
“We’re going to be able to use the existing guns for directing the lasers. The ones in front are sixteen inches, over forty centimeters across; the ones on the side five inches, or not quite thirteen centimeters. That gives plenty of room for collimation and focusing.”
She keyed her implant again, highlighting more of the ship in green and blue. “Green is the laser installation. As Alley said, it’s six petawatts, with the same firing cycle as the laser on Enterprise. The turrets ought to be able to handle two petawatts each firing cycle. We’ll have to improve the rotation and elevation mechanisms; the ones installed are, if not original, certainly from the 20thCentury. There’s no point in doing this if the turrets take minutes to lock on a target.”
“My calculations indicate that, with the right installations, the turrets will be able to acquire a target in less than ten seconds.” Diana looked surprisingly smug for an AI. “The side mounts will have their own dedicated laser assembly, generating a full petawatt of power, distributed through all twelve barrels simultaneously.”
“That’s to provide some sort of coverage to the rear quadrant,” said Kendra.
“The best part is that with the size of the hull, we’ll actually be able to cram enough power in so that it won’t need an Orion to boost it into orbit.”
“Which means we won’t have to add that to the pile outside Houston,” said Culbertson with more than a hint of satisfaction. Her holographic avatar showed a woman in her mid-fifties, shoulder-length blonde hair turning to grey, wearing a conservatively-cut business suit and showing a face to the world which had seen its share of disappointments. She was a thirty-year veteran at HLC, rising steadily if unobtrusively through the company, until being tapped by Cass to jump from a Junior Vice-President’s position up to CEO. While she had managed the leap, it was clear that the strain of running a project so clandestine that only a double handful of people knew the full extent was getting to her.
“How will you adapt it, then?” asked Ted. All the other ships being converted had been hauled to the Orion site and were either being totally gutted, as part of the maskirovka, or upgraded by workers from HLC.
“First we have to convince the charity that owns it to sell to us,” said Mac. “That won’t be hard, I can get into their files and figure out the pressure points, we could probably get them to give it to us for nothing –“
Kendra cut her off. “You can look, Mac, but we want to do this above-board as much as possible.”
“Oh,” answered Mac, then rallied. “Well, we can do that too, I guess we’d be telling them that we’re going to do a total renovation, that’s the lever you want me to use to try to get it away from them?”
“Exactly. Stem to stern, restore her to glory, and all that. It won’t even be a lie, as such, just not the entire truth,” elaborated Kendra. “And we’ll need Dogfish and his merry cutthroats because the Missouri is still afloat. His people are skilled at working aboard ships, and we’re going to need that.”
“What about Artemis?” asked Alley. “They could still drop another KEW, and the whole plan goes to hell.”
“That’s why making it look totally above-board is so crucial,” said Kendra. “Mac, use one of the shell companies, one that’s buried deep. No, better, create a new company, a historical preservation society or some other kind of charity. Put yourself as the CEO, Ted as the CFO, fill the rest of the management out with people you can trust to keep their mouths shut. Diana, I’ll need you to pull some credits into the dark to fund it. I don’t really want anything connecting it to Harriman.”
“Already working on it,” said the AI. “How many credits do you want available?”
“Pull half a trillion. Whatever’s left over can get rolled back once this is all over.”
Mac and Ted were wearing matching expressions of shock.
“Kendra, I know that you guys have, like, all the money in the world, and that this really isn’t much to you, but I’ve never actually, you know, run anything, at least nothing in the real world, I mean I’ve played games where you got to pretend you were rich, and I did okay, well maybe better than okay, but that’s not actually a replacement for experience, it sort of is but not really, and are you sure that this is something you trust me, us, to do?”
Cass answered. “Mac, how long was it from the time you met me until you decided you’d do what I asked, no matter how crazy?”
“I don’t know?”
“Three days. That’s how long it took for you to sign on, and you have been a huge part of our ohana ever since. Trust you? Absolutely. That’s not even a question. And what you don’t know, or can’t find out from Harpo, about navigating your way through the waters of a charity, I’m sure Ted can help you with. He’s used to dealing with bureaucracies, right?” She directed the question to him.
“Twelve years at the UE? I’m pretty good at picking my way through a swamp.” He patted Mac’s hand; while their relationship had surprised many, it had steadied them both. “She’s the face, I’m the numbers guy. We can do this, Cass.”
“I know you can. The only exterior addition we plan to make is on the afterdeck, where we plan to add as many modular Lightning missile pods as we can cram on there. The rest of the renovations are just to provide some living space in the superstructure. We’ll remove a bunch of extraneous junk, like the old smokestack, but where the hull is in good shape we want to use that existing structure. There’s half a meter of battle steel in places, and while that might not hold up to missile strikes it’ll certainly blunt the impact of any lasers. Well, that plus the layer of CeeSea we’ll apply over the top.”
“Will you install any other shields?” asked Alley.
“No,” answered Cass. “Frankly, this is going to be a glass cannon. We want to give it the biggest punch possible for as long as it survives. All of the conversions are like that.”
“Kinda rough on the crew, isn’t it?” asked Ted.
“We’re going to have minimal crews,” said Kendra. “The plan is to use as much automation as we can manage to run most of the systems, leave the people to do damage control and make decisions. War is waste, and people, more good people, are going to die.” She looked deeply unhappy at her pronouncement.
“War is waste,” she repeated. “If there’s any way we can avoid the fight, I want to do it. But I’m also not going to let them get away with what they’ve done so far,” she added firmly. She was still relatively new to her leadership role, but had learned in a hard school a lesson she took to heart. She knew, now, that the orders she gave, the decisions she made, would put her people in harm’s way. She knew, now, that some of them would die. And she knew, now, that her purpose was to give those deaths meaning, to make them ‘good’ deaths.
That didn’t mean she intended to have one death more than she could possibly avoid.
“Alley, it’s up to you and Enterpriseto keep these bastards honest.”
“Can do. Between our sensors and Diana’s, we’ve got all of their traffic tagged and monitored. If we’re docked, we can clear the bay two minutes from the initial alert, whether everyone’s aboard or not. Anyone who misses departure because they’re on station can be transported aboard before we get out of range, if they’re critical personnel.” Both Enterprise and Njord were equipped with quantum teleportation modules, usually called portals, which allowed for nearly instantaneous transmission of people and goods across a distance of nearly fifty thousand kilometers.
“Once the Direwolves come online, we’ll be in better shape. Kim? Do you have an update?”
“We’ve gotten the prototype flying,” she said. “It’s not an easy bird to control, though. My guys are making noises about needing AI assistance for the pilot, rather than just automation.”
“As an expert in AI’s, I’d agree.” said Diana to a rippled chuckle. “My analysis agrees with your engineers, Ms. Culbertson. I have tentatively arranged for the delivery of up to a hundred Epsilon-class AI cores.”
There were six official classes of AI’s, from Alpha, the most creative, capable, and powerful, to Zeta, which were approximately equal to an average person, albeit with vastly faster response times and recall abilities. Any individual organization was limited to possessing two Alpha AI’s; through various machinations, Cass and Kendra’s Harriman Trust had acquired three. Epsilons weren’t restricted in number, but were restricted in terms of their interconnectivity.
“That would be helpful,” said Culbertson. “How soon can you get them?”
“The order has been placed,” said Diana. “Daystrom Data Concepts will be delivering them within two days.”
“I know we’re getting far afield, but I’m thinking that we need to look at improving our position in the AI field,” said Cass. “That plus getting the restrictions lifted. We’re going to need far more AI’s than we currently have access to.”
Mac’s head bobbed up and down. “Oh I totally agree, more AI’s would make everything so much easier, I know that Cris would appreciate one, and probably Kim, and don’t forget that your new starship will need one, and I know that you’re not stopping with that one either, how many more do you have in the works, and then what about AI’s for your extra-solar projects, Cass has talked to me about her gas mine and you definitely need an Alpha to run that smoothly, I know that’s a little more long term but isn’t that what we do, think about long-term problems and try to solve them?”
Kendra looked at Mac. “You’re absolutely right. Congratulations, you just volunteered. In your capacious free time, figure out what our best option is, whether that’s buying Zorin or Daystrom, or maybe starting our own. Ted, I want you to look into the legalities and what we can do to get things changed. I don’t even know if it’s a law, or where it came from, or who enforces it.”
“The prohibition against owning –“ Diana started to speak, but Kendra held up a hand.
“Diana, no offense, I know you can tell us all that, but Ted has the familiarity with how bureaucracies work, and the people side of them. He’ll be able to figure out where it came from and how best to change it.”
“I understand, Admiral,” the AI said, and Kendra smiled. She calls me ‘Admiral’ when she’s frustrated.
“You can listen in and learn, Diana. I think it would be good for you to keep improving your skills with people, and Ted’s a proven past master.”
“Thank you,” answered Diana. “I look forward to the sessions. Will you want me to simply listen in, or participate in holographic form?”
Ted stumbled over his answer briefly before saying, “I don’t think they’d be comfortable with a goddess in the conference.”
“I can alter my appearance quite easily,” Diana said reasonably, and her form rippled and changed. She still wore the same face, but instead of the quasi-Greek armor she was now dressed in a fashionable, if severe, business suit and wore dark-framed glasses. “Is this an improvement?”
“That’s more suitable,” he agreed. “Especially if I introduce you as an assistant. You won’t even be noticed after that.”
“Then why worry about my appearance, if they won’t notice me?” asked Diana, logically.
“You two can talk socioeconomic status and related topics later,” said Kendra. “As usual, we’ve wandered far afield. The one key point we haven’t covered is timing. The other conversions are on schedule for completion in just about two years. We’re going to need Missouridone at the same time, or there’s no point.”
Kim frowned. “I don’t know if we can,” she said. “The ships we’re working on already are concentrated in one spot, fairly close to the main campus. We’re able to shuttle back and forth easily, and we’ve centralized the organization. Logistics are, frankly, pretty damn simple. That won’t be the case if we have to work in Hawa’ii.”
“Beyond the fact that we’ve got Dogfish and his merry band at CusslerNautics to do the grunt work, money’s not an issue on this,” said Cass. “I know you’re great at watching the bottom line, Kim, but that’s not a consideration here, even if we weren’t billing everything to the UE on the down low. If there’s a problem that can be fixed, or minimized, by throwing money at it, do it.”
“That’s not the problem, or at least, not all of it. The Kingdom is…picky. There’s a backlash against outsiders coming in and throwing their weight around; it dates back to the Nineteenth Century conquest. If we go in and just try to buy the problems away, we’re going to find ourselves shut out. Completely.”
“Ted?” said Kendra.
He was already making a note. “On it,” he said simply. “If we have any corporate arms in Hawa’ii, that’ll make things simpler.”
“All yours,” agreed Kendra. “I think that’s enough for one day. Alley, Cass, Mac, Diana, stick around?” The four nodded as everyone else left or, in Kim’s case, blinked out.