The Measure of Humanity - Chapter Fourteen

I've always had a mixed relationship with the press.

On the one hand I know they're utterly necessary to the function of a free society. They need to be able to probe and examine and check into things, ask the uncomfortable questions, and dig for the truth.

On the other hand, they're a pain in the ass when you're trying to keep something quiet, at least for now, or trying to explain things in the way you see it.

On the gripping hand, many of them are genuinely caring and decent human beings.

So I did my damnedest to keep on the good side when we were establishing the Terran Federation. Period.

No matter whether their questions made me want to scream.


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

TFS Enterprise

“This is a magnificent ship, Admiral.”

“Thank you, Ms. Hall. She’s the realization of a dream, for many people.”

“Yes. Your Federation has certainly captured the imagination of the planet.”

Kendra, Alley, Cass, LJ, and a very uncomfortable-looking Justina Garcia were walking through the corridors with Susana and her camera operator, Deone. Susana made no secret that she was interviewing Kendra from the moment she’d been greeted at the Alexander, and Deone was having to do an interesting dance to keep walking backward to film the conversation. The other three were doing their best not to look amused, lest the reporter turn her attention to them.

“The idea of the Federation certainly captured my imagination from a very young age, so I’m not surprised that others have felt a similar impact.” She stopped at a door, forcing a quick adjustment from Deone. “There’s one more sight I’d like you to see, then Lieutenant Garcia will show you to your quarters. Deone, I don’t want to tell you your job, but you probably ought to go first.”

She ordered the door to open and dramatically waved the others in. Deone took her advice and led the way, walking backwards a few steps ahead and capturing reactions.

“It’s…amazing,” said Susana, professionalism momentarily lost. “Is that a screen? Like on the Alexander?”

“No, that’s an actual window,” said Alley from behind her. “This one is thirty centimeters of optical aluminum, which means it’s thicker than any other single layer of the hull, with durasteel shutters on both sides which can deploy in under twenty milliseconds.”

“I sense a little disapproval, Captain,” Susana prompted.

“I started my career in submarines, ma’am. I’m still getting used to the idea that windows on a starship isn’t inherently a bad idea.”

“And they aren’t?”

Alley shrugged. “Over a year’s worth of missions and we haven’t had a problem. I’m warming to the concept.”

The necessary question out of the way, the reporter turned back to the window. It was impressive, running deck-to-ceiling and from one bulkhead to the other. Currently it overlooked the bustle of the Njord’s bay, but even that was enough to pull her across the room. She could see the other starship, Endeavour, occupying the dock just forward, while small vessels flitted through the interior. On the far side she could see construction activity.

“What is this for?” she asked.

“This is our observation lounge,” Kendra answered, coming to stand beside her. “Crew can come here off-shift and relax. I’ve been told that it’s fairly spectacular at warp speed; I’m looking forward to seeing that for myself.”

“That’s right,” Susana said, her reporter’s instincts kicking in. “You haven’t been aboard for any of the out-system missions, have you?”

“No,” answered Kendra. “I was aboard for her maiden flight, but I’ve been…otherwise occupied since.”

“Yet you live aboard her.” It wasn’t quite a question.

Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation, so I have quarters aboard,” Kendra explained. “I also have quarters aboard Njord where I spend a fair amount of time, as well as other locations. It all depends on where I’m needed, and the Federation has needed me here.”

She allowed a broad smile to spread across her face.

“That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to this mission!”

“Yes, the establishment of the first extra-solar human colony.”

“I wouldn’t call it a colony, quite,” said Kendra. “Not in the sense that someday a billion humans will call this world ‘home’. It’s a mining colony, with short-term, well-paid volunteers, going to do a job and then return home. While there’s going to be a permanent human presence on Lemnos, there won’t be any individual permanent residents, if you follow me.”

“Completely,” assured Susana.

“Actually,” Cass interrupted. “One of the ideas we have is to build an orbital habitat, similar to Njord, around Lemnos. That habitat would have permanent residents and utilize raw materials brought up from the planet.”

Cass caught Kendra’s look and hastily added, “But I’d be happy to talk about that more later.”

Susana let the obvious redirection go. “Admiral, can you tell me what I am seeing? I think I know that’s the Endeavour, but what else is out there?”

Kendra stepped to the window and pointed while explaining. “Well, Ms. Hall, I can’t tell you everything we’re doing, but we are constantly working to improve Njord’s operational and construction abilities. The Terran Federation’s naval arm is called Starfleet; that implies more than two ships. We have two more under construction on the far side of the bay, and just today I authorized the next two starships, an Enterprise-class and an Endeavour-class. Construction on them will begin soon.”

“Have you decided on names for the new starships? Your current ships have very aspirational names, it must be said.”

“Thank you. Yes, the two under construction now are Defiant and Defender. We haven’t chosen names for the other two yet.”

“Those are rather…pointed names, aren’t they?”

Kendra turned from the bay to face the reporter. “They are. Ms. Hall, we’re at war. It may be a quiet war right now, and it really hasn’t impacted your viewers on Earth, with the exception of those unfortunate enough to be our friends and neighbors in Los Alamos. But we are at war, with a foe who wants nothing more than to eradicate the dream of a Terran Federation. That’s been clear since Enterprise was launched, and that’s why Defiant and Defender have the names they do. The only place the Federation is going is out there,” she finished, and waved her hand at the unseen stars.

“And after?”

“And after, I can get down to my dreams of exploration. Step on a few new planets. See what’s out there. Boldly go, Ms. Hall. Boldly go.”

“Quite the goal.”

“It is. But I think it’s time to show you your quarters. It’s going to be a busy evening if you want to get in background shots before launch tomorrow, and I need to meet with my officers.” She nodded to Justina. “Lieutenant Garcia. I’m having a small dinner at nineteen, in my quarters, if you’d like to join us. Off the record, I’m afraid.”

“Certainly, Admiral. We’d be pleased to join you. Not everything has to be on the record; if it were, nobody would ever talk to us.” Susana flashed a well-practiced smile. “How will we find your quarters?”

“Lt. Garcia will explain, but you can always ask Minerva.”

“Anything you need,” agreed the AI.

“See you at nineteen then,” said Kendra, and, after gathering the others, left the lounge.

“I hate dealing with the press,” said Alley as the door closed behind them. “Always looking for a story.”

“That they are,” agreed Kendra. “The trick is to give them the story you want them to tell and not the one you hope they don’t find. Zarquon, it’s almost depressing how easily it all comes back to me, and I haven’t had to actively engage with them since I retired from sensies!”

They separated at the Cassidy’s cabin. Alley said, “Dress uniform?”

“No, casual. If you want to wear civvies, go ahead. I want them relaxed and friendly, and I think appearing in uniforms will have the opposite effect.”

LJ nodded, tugging at her collar to loosen it. “Thank you! I know I agreed to sign up, but the uniform takes getting used to.”

“You should have seen what Kendra’s first ideas looked like,” Alley laughed as she took LJ’s arm. “Let me tell you…”

“They weren’t that bad!” Kendra called after them.

“Yes, they were,” said Cass, opening to door to their quarters.

“Mama!”

“Mom!”

“Hey, you!” Cass scooped up Mikki, while Lisa launched herself at Kendra. Both girls had grown to love the slightly lower gravity aboard ship and habitat, as it let them jump higher and farther than they’d ever managed on Earth.

“Been good today?” Kendra asked Lisa.

“Yup! You can ask Audrey!”

Vanek, who had been waiting, nodded. “They’ve done well,” she said. “A few tussles, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Mama, are we going with you tomorrow? Are we? We’ve been good, we have!” Lisa asked Kendra.

They’d discussed this, late at night when they were reasonably sure no little ears were listening. The girls hadn’t been aboard ship for any missions, nor any patrols, but neither Cass nor Ken were willing to leave them behind while they themselves went into the black. They had managed to extract solemn promises to behave from the girls when the subject had come up, though, and it seemed they’d lived up to their end of the bargain.

“Yes, you’re coming along.” Anything else she might have said was completely eradicated by the explosion of noise and bouncing redheads.

Eventually calm was restored and food prepared for the girls. Cass and Ken stayed with them, eating very lightly but refusing to forgo the family dinner. Once finished, Audrey herded the girls out, promising them a visit to Njord’s swimming facility, while the Cassidy’s worked to return their quarters to a more respectable state.

Alley and LJ arrived just before nineteen, wearing stylish and coordinated outfits.

“We didn’t manage that level of sophistication until we’d been married a year,” Kendra said admiringly.

LJ colored slightly, but Alley took the compliment in stride. “Thanks. We’ve been discovering all sorts since she moved aboard.”

Minerva said, “Admiral, Ms. Hall and Mx. Lex are arriving.”

“Let them in,” Kendra answered, and the corridor door opened. “Come on in!”

“Thank you,” said Hall, leading the way. She and Lex were both dressed comfortably, with their issue skinsuits showing beneath the civilian clothing.

“Glad to see your suits fit,” said Alley. “I’d hate to ask Minerva to run them through modification again.”

“Thank you,” Hall said again. “They fit perfectly. Admiral –“

“Uh-uh. This is off the record, so it’s informal. As Alley has told me, there’s no rank in the mess, so I’m Kendra.”

“Aye, Kendra,” Hall said jokingly. “Susana and Lee, then.”

With a reporter’s curiosity, she looked around the cabin. “I would have expected more,” she said finally.

“More?”

“Not to be too blunt, but you two are the wealthiest, most powerful women on the planet and have created the beginnings of an interstellar polity from nothing. I’d have thought your living space would be more opulent.”

“Not our style,” answered Cass.

“Speak for yourself!” rejoined Kendra with a laugh. “Remember who had the ranch in Los Alamos, and who was living in an apartment in town.”

“And how quickly did I move out to the ranch after we started dating?”

Kendra waved off the comment. “Irrelevant. No, seriously, Susana, the quarters aboard Enterprise are all fairly similar. There’s enough flexibility to accommodate families of different sizes, but we don’t have any more cubic than a similarly-sized family.”

“Oh, yes, I remember. You have daughters.” She glanced around as if expecting them to appear.

“Yes, two, and they’re elsewhere. Their bedroom has its own entrance, so I’m hoping you won’t be subjected to their enthusiasm tonight.”

“What’s it like having your family with you in space?”

“If I’m going to answer that,” Kendra said. “I need to be comfortable.” In a few moments they were all seated, LJ, Susana, and Lee all holding drinks, while the rest stuck to water.

“I think what you’re asking is, what’s it like having them on a mission, and the answer is we don’t know yet. But having the girls with us aboard, and on Njord when Cass is away, has been a great relief and source of strength. It’s been amazing, seeing them take to the different routines that space brings, watching them adapt so smoothly to thing we adults have to work on.”

“Like what?”

“Like suit protocols, for example. Both girls can wake, find their suits, and be sealed in themselves in under thirty seconds. That’s half of what the standard is for crew, and they don’t think anything of it.”

“And you think that’s a good environment to raise children?”

Kendra twitched. “I do.”

“We do,” corrected Cass. “It’s no different in scope than raising a child in Los Angeles, with their air condition alerts and facemasks, or in the New Confederacy during hurricane season. Every place has its hazards, and what Mikki and Lisa have to deal with is simply part and parcel of living in space.”

By the time Cass finished Hall was nodding agreement.

“I see.”

The conversation turned to more trivial subjects then, continuing in that vein through dinner and afterwards. Finally, about twenty-one, Alley stood.

“I’d love to stay longer, but tomorrow’s a big day, and Mama always told me to get a good night’s sleep.”

“We should go too,” said Hall. “Captain, we’d like to do some shooting tomorrow morning before departure.”

“Tell Minerva what you’d like to do. I’ll review it first thing, but if she doesn’t object then there won’t be a problem.”

“Minerva. That’s the AI, right?”

“Right.”

“Doesn’t it worry you, having an AI so integral to the operations of your starship?”

“I couldn’t imagine trying to fly Enterprise without her. Anyways. Goodnight. XO, I expect you on the bridge by oh seven hundred.”

“Aye, Captain.” With that, Alley and LJ left.

“That’s right,” said Susana, focused again. “You’re not just the woman who wrote the checks, you’re a command officer. How does that work, with your wife being the Admiral?”

“Very well,” Cass said.

“She earned her position,” Kendra said stiffly. “Twice over.”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” Hall said quickly. “But it’s quite unusual to have relationships aboard a military vessel.”

Kendra took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s clarify a few things. First, this isn’t primarily a military vessel. Yes, she’s armed, but that was added after we became aware of the potential threat we faced. Second, we’re not Navy, we’re Starfleet. We’re making this up as we go along, and I happen to believe that having couples and families working and living aboard will make our organization stronger, not weaker. Third, relationships aren’t unusual; we just don’t make our people hide them. And finally,” she said, allowing a smile onto her face. “I was separated from Cass once; I don’t intend to let it happen again.”



0 views0 comments