The Road to the Stars – Chapter Eleven
Welcome back! And the streak ends at 5 days, boo!
Well, I managed to convince Adam to allow me to post multiple chapters for 5 days in a row, but this chapter is long enough to stand on its own.
Oh well. It’s a good chapter; I was bringing the girls onto Enterprise for the first time, then meeting with Alley to discuss plans and projects while Cass – whoops, almost gave things away!
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They got to the bridge without losing anyone, which Kendra decided she’d take as a victory. She’d commed ahead with her ‘plant to both Cass and Alley, so when the lift doors opened and two auburn tornadoes spun onto the bridge Cass was positioned to intercept them.
“Mom!” both chorused. In the ship’s standard 3/4 g, Cass was able to scoop them both up and give them a spin.
“Hi Lisa, Mikki! Have you been good?”
“Should I ask Mama?”
“Well, we’ve been pretty good,” amended Mikki.
“I’d agree with that,” said Stone. “G’day, Captain,” she added to Alley, who had joined the group.
“Auntie Alley!” Lisa squirmed her way loose from Cass’s grasp and launched herself at Alley, who managed to catch her while still retaining some of her dignity. Alley had spent enough time with them at their home office to have become yet another of the girls’ honorary ‘aunts’.
“Hey, Lisa, hi Mikki. Lisa, I have to put you down. I have to talk with your mother.”
“No, but we should talk in my ready room.”
“Cass? Chief? Can you handle the hellions while we talk?”
“I’m sure we can,” assured Cass. She gave Kendra a quick kiss on the cheek, with Mikki wrapping one arm around Kendra’s neck in a half-hug, before stepping back. “Come on, girls, I’ll show you around.”
Once seated, Kendra said, “What is it we couldn’t talk about on the bridge?”
“I think that the Union is trying to step up their surveillance of Enterprise,” answered Alley.
“I’m sure they are, but what evidence do you have?”
“Minerva, I want you to sit in on this.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Minerva. Her voice was slightly higher in pitch than Diana’s and, as suited her role, carried more formality. “Good morning, Admiral. Captain Martinez and I have discovered a disturbing pattern in the movements of Solarian Union ships, probes, and satellites.”
“You have my attention.”
“Security of the Enterprise is one of my primary missions, so I have been tracking their movement since my activation. Prior to the first flight, there were two satellites which I deduce are tasked to observe Diana, along with an average of three near encounters with Union ships per day.” A graph appeared on the monitor.
“Minerva, how close is a near encounter?”
“Within one light second, Admiral.”
“On the day of first flight, there were six near encounters in the space near Diana. Additionally, there were four probes launched which passed less than twenty thousand kilometers from the station. There were also five mid-range encounters during the flight itself.”
“Mid-range defined as…?”
“Between one and ten light-seconds.”
“I think, and Minerva agrees, that we can discount those five. We didn’t announce our flight path, so at least that day they were almost surely coincidental.”
“Four probes, though. If they were KEW”s, or missiles, we would have been in a world of hurt. How fast were those probes traveling?”
“Between twelve and fifteen kilometers per second. That is an optimal speed for a close observation.”
Kendra did the math. “If they were missiles, we would have had at least twenty minutes to react and try to stop them.”
“Twenty two point two two repeating,” Minerva said. “And that is merely from their point of closest approach. Diana’s sensor suite is nearly as powerful as my own; she is able to track objects of that type and size at nearly twenty light-minutes.”
“Still, without defenses…” Kendra allowed her voice to trail off. “Sorry, go on.”
“The next day, there were five probes, eight near encounters, and six mid-range encounters. On the third day, a Solarian Union ship was observed placing another satellite in position.” As Minerva spoke, the graph changed. “That is in addition to five more probes, twelve near- and ten mid-range encounters.”
“They’ve been getting more and more aggressive, Kendra,” summarized Alley. “Right now, there are six satellites keeping Diana under constant observation. There are four Union ships station-keeping just outside Cass’s fifty-thousand kilometer exclusion zone, and three more on both the positive and negative sides of all three axes: eighteen Union ships ready to try to follow, or intercept, no matter our initial heading.”
“And we can’t go into warp closer than ten thousand kilometers from Diana, not without risking catching her in the field,” Kendra mused. “Recommendation? I know you two wouldn’t have done all this without having a plan.”
“You are correct, Admiral. There are many tactical suggestions that Captain Martinez and I have discussed, which she will present to you as needed, but there are some ideas for the safety of Diana. First, double the exclusion zone around the station, to a hundred thousand kilometers.”
“That’s the easiest,” added Alley. “And the most unobjectionable reason: we’re conducting flight tests of Enterprise and need them to stand back in case of catastrophic failure. It’s just a safety precaution; at least, that’s what we’ll tell them.”
“Next, institute what is essentially a combat air patrol with the Wolves based on Diana at the edge of the exclusion zone.”
“That’s a bit more problematic, as there are only twelve Wolves total right now,” said Alley. “Ideally, a CAP would have a division flying together, but if we do that, and rotate the divisions, then we’re left with a bubble two hundred thousand kilometers across. Even at their top accel, it will take far too long for them to intercept if they’re caught out of position.”
“And if you use multiple divisions, then we’re short on time in air. Got it. Alley, would you be willing to spare the Wolfpack for a while?”
“I’d have to ask Mia, but I’m sure she’d be fine with it.”
“And I’ll light a fire under the boys on Earth, see if we can reduce production time. I know that there are seven more which are going through final tests now, they should be available within a week, but…” Kendra checked through her ‘plant. “Looks like the bottleneck is going to be pilots and engineers, not Wolves.”
“Mia will –”
Kendra shook her head. “Mia would. Mia would walk through fire if we asked her to. But she’s also our lead trainer; I can’t justify having her fly tired and do training. I’ll go through our personnel rosters, see if there’s anyone with piloting experience on any level, and see if I can’t recruit them. Engineers, we can probably get from Boeing, since they’re building some of the Wolves for us. They won’t like us poaching their staff, but if they want to keep them they can pay them better. We also need to find someone Mia can train up to take over for her as lead instructor, because I’m sure you don’t want to give her up, do you, Alley?”
“Not a chance!”
“Admiral, I agree that a flight academy needs to be established. I think that it should be headquartered on Diana. That way we may be able to utilize the training flights as part of the CAP, as I evaluate the probability of the Union engaging in actively hostile actions within the next ninety days as less than five percent.”
“And we can transfer the Wolfpack off Enterprise temporarily, at least until the first class is through. We’re not going to be doing any heavy exploration any time soon.”
“Sounds like a plan. Minerva, any other suggestions regarding the Union?”
“No, Admiral. Diana told me that you are planning to move forward with her suggestions, so that renders some of my other points moot.”
“Thank you, Minerva.”
“My pleasure, Admiral.”
“What is on the schedule for today?” Kendra asked Alley after Minerva left the conversation.
“More drills, more evaluation of yesterday’s training run.”
“How far did you get yesterday?”
“We maintained warp five for twenty minutes. Total elapsed time was eight and half hours, but I’d have to ask to find how far we went.”
“How much of that was at warp?”
“And is Dr. Roberts still happy?”
“As happy as she ever is,” laughed Alley. “I think she’s itching to get to work on her next generation drive. She keeps muttering about power curves and efficiencies.”
“She’s never happier than when faced with a challenge. Now, about…”
The details of getting the starship fully functional consumed the conversation for a full hour.
“…emitters. But we’ll have that worked out in no time.”
“Good to hear.” Kendra stood and stretched. “I think I need to round up my kids. Minerva, where is Commander Cassidy?”
“Commander Cassidy and her party are on Deck Eight, Observation Lounge. Shall I page her?”
“No, thank you Minerva. Alley, back out tomorrow?”
“Our first long-duration flight,” said Alley. “Day and half, most of that at warp.”
“Going anywhere, or just going?”
“Cass and Dawn are pushing for E Eridani because it’s relatively similar to our sun. They want to go planet-hunting.”
“How far away is that? Can you get there in your timetable?”
“Ten point five light years. If we spend a good amount of time at warp six, we can do it easily enough.”
“Honestly, you’re only a week into your flight tests; I’m not crazy about the idea of you being ten light years away if something goes wrong with the only warp drive in existence, even if you have the creator of that drive aboard.”
“That’s an excellent argument. I was hoping to come up with something, because it was bothering me, but I’m a sub driver. I’m making this up as I go along.”
“So am I, Alley. Let’s keep it local. The Wolves have a top speed of 0.1c, about thirty thousand KPS. Um. Minerva!”
“Maximum range for a Wolf, assuming a return to starting point.”
“At what speed, Admiral?”
“A max/max solution is two point six billion kilometers, or one hundred forty four light-minutes.”
“Two billion kilometers, Captain. And that’s official, at least until we’re all sure that the bugs are worked out.”
“Aye aye, Admiral. And you’ll explain it to Commander Cassidy?”
Kendra winced. “I will.”
The Road to the Stas – Book 2 – Chapter 11