The Measure of Humanity - Chapter Sixteen

Adam has commented a few times that I tended to pontificate at the oddest times.

What can I say? When I have something profound to say, I don't want to wait for "the right audience;" I'm going to tell whoever I'm with at the time. And if they decide it's worth remembering and spreading, then it'll go. And if they don't? Then it wasn't terribly profound, was it?

Besides, I had to say something to keep Susana distracted and out of Alley's hair. I knew reporters; if I didn't give her a story, she'd dig until she found one.

That might have been good, it might have been terrible.

I didn't want to find out.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

TFS Enterprise

“Good morning, Commander,” said Petra Orloff, rising. She was a small woman, with heavy waves of long brown hair pulled back into a neat ponytail, and a face that could flash suddenly from somber to stunning.

“Lieutenant.” Cass greeted the officer in the command chair pleasantly despite the early hour and waved her back down. Taking a sip of her cacao, she settled into her usual seat. “Anything to report?”

“No, ma’am, nothing unusual,” she replied. Petra was the ship’s Third Officer, one of two positions that Alley had recently instituted to bring clarity to the command structure. She, along with the Second Officer, Senior Lieutenant Lisa-Ann Datu, were added to the duty roster as the designated watchstanders overnights.

“That’s good,” Cass answered, running through the reports on her ‘plant and cross-checking them on a padd. “Big day. Did the miners get aboard?”

“Not yet, ma’am. They’re teleporting up at oh six thirty.”

Cass checked the time, saw that she still had a few minutes. “Quarters prepared?”

“Yes, ma’am. And Minerva’s going to adjust the gravity for them on a local basis.”

“Otherwise they’ll be bouncing around like we would on Luna. Good catch, Petra.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’ve got the watch if you want to knock off early.”

Petra smiled and seemed to illuminate the bridge. “That would be wonderful, ma’am. My husband won’t be expecting me yet.”

“Go ahead. I’ll see you at eighteen.” The younger woman was off practically before Cass finished speaking.

A few minutes later, Cass heard, “Commander? I said seven, not before.”

“I thought I’d make some final checks, Captain,” Cass answered as Alley sat.

“And?”

“We’re looking good. Our passengers are just teleporting aboard, quarters are prepared, supplies are laid in, and the last of the equipment was loaded overnight.”

“You’re right on top of things today, XO.”

Cass shook her head. “Not my doing. Lt. Orloff’s. She and Datu have been godsends, Captain. I don’t know how we managed without them so long.”

“We’ve been running under the gun since day one,” Alley answered. “Things get overlooked.”

Nothing more was said as the rest of first shift trickled in and were briefed by the overnight watchstanders. The lights on the bridge came to full illumination at seven and Alley tapped at her command console.

“Did you happen to see the requests the reporter put in?” she asked Cass.

“I only skimmed them, Captain.”

“She only wants to see the entire Goddess-blessed ship!”

“Is there a problem with that?” said Kendra from behind, making them both jump.

“Mother of – Admiral, what are you trying to do, kill me off so your wife can take command?”

Kendra laughed as she circled around, Cass rising to give up her chair. “Not at all. Sorry. But what’s the problem with Susana seeing the ship?”

“Like you said last night, we’re at war. I think we’ve managed to keep key details out of the hands of agents from Artemis, but if we let her broadcast…!”

“Hmm. I see your point, though I’m not quite as concerned. That could just be my background. What do you suggest?”

“Restrict her access?”

Kendra’s head tilted as she considered it. “No, I don’t think we can do that. We need to get her on our side, and cutting her off from parts of the ship won’t help that.”

“At the very least, then, we need to be able to review her recordings before she transmits them.”

“That, I think we can get her to agree to.”

“And keep her away from the science section. They have big mouths.”

“Hey!” protested Cass.

“Sorry, XO, but they do. You’ve gotten better about it since your promotion, but the rest of the team?” Alley shook her head. “I tried to talk to them about it, and I got a bunch of variations on, ‘Information should be free.’”

“It should!”

“Not when it can be used against us, Commander.”

The use of her rank reminded Cass, again, of her position and their situation.

“I understand, Captain, but it’s a challenge. They’re not wrong.”

“No, they’re not, and that’s why we keep her away from them. Any questions about the science, she goes to you.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Where are they now? Minerva?”

“Ms. Hall and Mx. Lex are interviewing crewmembers in the dining hall. I have been listening in, and there haven’t been any secrets divulged so far. Well, except that Ensign Cornell is expecting.”

“I should probably make myself available,” said Kendra. “What time do you want them on the bridge?”

“When do we get back?” quipped Alley.

“Very funny.”

“Eight thirty, then.”

Kendra stood. “I’ll keep them out of your hair until then.”

The next two hours flew by, as time always did as they prepared for departure. No matter how well-prepared they thought they were, there were always last-minute glitches, but after a year together their crew knew their jobs and could handle most anything with only minor interventions.

At exactly eight thirty, Kendra returned, Hall and Lex in tow.

“Welcome to the bridge.”

Lex panned their camera around the bridge without lingering on any single station, while Hall continued the questions.

“Admiral Cassidy, would you like to show us around?”

“I would, Susana, but I’m going to ask you to wait. Pre-launch activities don’t mix well with sightseeing; I learned that on her maiden voyage. After we’re underway, though, I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Certainly, Admiral. We don’t want to interfere.” She gestured for Lex to stop recording. “Where can we set up?”

Kendra looked to Alley. “Captain? Preference?”

“They can set up at the science station. Seabolt can use a secondary station during departure; it’s not like we’re getting any new science done leaving the bay.”

Kendra guided them to the aft station, behind tactical, and started giving Hall a quick rundown of the positions as Lex discretely plotted good locations for recording. Around them the final preparations continued.

With five minutes to go, Cass said, “Captain, all stations report ready for departure. At your command.” Lex hefted their camera and started it.

“Good job, XO. Njord, Enterprise.”

“Go ahead, Enterprise,” answered Knott.

“Requesting departure clearance.”

“Granted. Godspeed, Enterprise.”

“See you in a few days,” replied Alley. “Out. XO.”

“Captain?”

“Let’s go.”

“Aye. Helm.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ensign Chastain.

“Standard departure sequence at your discretion.”

Chastain had done this dozens of times, and her confidence showed as her hands flew over her board while answering. “Standard departure, aye. Engineering, prepare for maneuvering.”

Next to her Engineer Sebesta checked his readings one last time and said, “Maneuvering and sublight at your disposal.”

Njord, Enterprise. Release docking clamps.”

Enterprise, docking clamps released. Bye!” Hecate’s bubbly voice filled the bridge, and Kendra smiled at the surprise on Hall’s face.

“She sounds young,” Hall whispered.

“She’s another AI,” Kendra whispered back. “Different AI’s have different personalities.”

“I’m learning that.”

The starship seemed to drift away from the bay walls, though Kendra knew it was a finely controlled maneuver, then pivoted to face the opening bay doors.

“Are you getting that?” Hall asked Lex, who nodded with satisfaction.

“Admiral, how big are those doors?”

“Big enough so that we can have two-way traffic,” Kendra said with obvious pride. “Each one is over four hundred meters wide and three hundred tall.”

“You lose track of the scale of your projects from the inside,” Hall commented. “Until you see something like that.”

They were moving towards the open starfield now, but still only a few MPS.

Alley overrode their conversation. “Enterprise to Endeavour.”

Kiri’s voice came over the comms. “Endeavour.

“We’re on the way out.”

“We’ll watch over things until you return. Next extra-solar mission’s ours, though.”

“I think that’s Niflheim; you’re welcome to it. The planet’s a freakin’ iceball. Out.”

The opening approached and then they were past, into space.

“Where’s Luna?” said Hall.

“Behind us,” Kendra answered. “The bay is oriented to open away from Luna.”

“Pity. A shot of Luna as we passed would be worthwhile.”

Kendra raised her voice a bit. “Captain? Can we accommodate Ms. Hall?”

Alley had been listening as unobtrusively as possible and said, “I think so. In-system maneuvering doesn’t impact interstellar courses much. Chastain?”

“Fly-by of Luna? Aye, ma’am. Usual distance?”

“Usual distance,” agreed Alley, who then explained. “We don’t pass closer than 100,000 klicks, in accordance with the borders established and recognized by the UE, Solarian Union, and others.”

“What about the Union’s claim of sovereignty over all trans-Lunar space?”

“We ignore it. It’s illegal and unwarranted, and so we give it exactly the attention it deserves.”

Cass, who had her share of press exposure while running HLC, jumped in. “We don’t make a habit of it, naturally. But if our course takes us through their claimed territory, we simply raise the shields and stay alert.”

“Course laid in, Captain. One half sublight.”

“Tactical?”

“Shields to full.”

“Execute.”

The stars ahead veered and the moon quickly came into view, growing rapidly as the ship accelerated to 0.4c. In only a few seconds they were past and headed into deep space.

“Flyby complete.”

“Any action?” asked Cass.

From the Tactical station, Lt. Kay reported, “No, ma’am. I’m sure they saw us, but we didn’t give them enough time to do more than that.”

“Good. Helm, set course for Lemnos. Warp six.”

“Set course, aye. Warp six, aye.”

“Why does she repeat everything?” asked Hall.

“Alley brought that over from her time in service. It’s called a read-back, and it ensures the order has been understood correctly,” Kendra supplied.

“Course laid in.”

“Admiral?” Alley craned around in her seat. “Would you care to give the word?”

“Thank you, Captain. Ensign, engage.”

The stars ahead suddenly seemed to leap towards them as the warp drive engaged. Then they were changing course, with stars appearing to slide beneath them as they adjusted to their heading on Galactic North before settling into their new course.

“On course for Lemnos, Captain.”

“Holding steady at warp six,” reported Sebesta.

“And now we wait,” said Kendra as the bridge crew started to attend to their in-flight duties. “Even at these speeds, it’s going to be early tomorrow morning before we arrive.”

“How fast are we going?”

“Warp six is nearly 7800 times the speed of light, but Tau Ceti e – Lemnos – is almost twelve light-years away.”

Hall shook her head in disbelief. “You speak so casually about it, like it’s just a trip to the corner store. But it’s so much more than that, Admiral! No other humans have done what you’ve done.”

“I get what you’re saying, Susana, but part of what I want to do is demystify space travel. Even with the Union colonies all through the inner system, this sort of voyage is still the stuff of fantasies for most people. But – tell me, Susana, do you have any children?”

“Uh, no. I’m an aunt, though, to two boys. Does that count?”

“How old are they?”

“Three and six.”

“Good ages. Your nephews, and our girls, they’re going to grow up with starships plying the skies, going farther and farther into space. To them, this is going to be completely normal. Something that they’ve always known. That’s what I mean. What you and I see when we see a cargo lift to LEO, I want them to see when Enterprise returns from, oh, I don’t know. Seabolt!”

“Admiral?” Seabolt took a couple steps towards them from her appropriated station.

“What’s the most remote Earth-like planet in our plans?”

“That’s the Manticore system, Admiral. Manticore A has, we think, two habitable planets, and Manticore B has one. They’re located about five hundred light years away.”

“And when are they on our exploration list?”

“Not soon, Admiral. Five years, perhaps.”

“One more question, and I know that Minerva or my ‘plant could tell me, so don’t say it.” Phaedra smiled a bit at that; she was serious about her new position as Chief Science Officer aboard Enterprise and, like her mentor, Cass, didn’t suffer fools. “How long would it take us to get there?”

“At full warp, Enterprise will take three-and-a-half weeks.”

“And Endeavour?”

“At her maximum cruising speed, a little less than six days.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Kendra turned back to Hall. “And the next generation of warp drives should allow us to improve on that, but that’s one reason Manticore’s so far down on the list.”

“Again, Admiral, and with respect. You’re talking about huge distances as if it’s just a run to the corner store.”

“No, I am fully aware of just what’s involved; that’s one reason we’re pushing so hard to get Defiant and Defender completed. Then we can start to return to the true purpose of the Federation: exploration. Now. Let’s see about some interviews, yes?”



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