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Encounter in the Deep Black - part three

Part three - The beginnings of a plan are formuted.

Capt. April knew, with this disturbing news, he needed to rethink his original plan. There was no chance of outrunning the enemy and he had to consider them hostile. The consequences of doing otherwise and being caught off-guard could be catastrophic for both the EAS Stalwart and the Alliance.

The Captain would do anything necessary to ensure the safety of his crew and ship, but he recognized that he had a responsibility that overrode their safety. It was essential that Fleet Command be advised of this potential threat with as much specific information on the capabilities and strength of this possible menace.

Capt. April scanned the bridge, noting the personnel he considered as some of the finest souls he had ever served with, and then said, “Commander Ozawa, I want all department heads in the officer’s mess in twenty minutes. Schedule training reviews of Stopgap procedures, including all classified material. I don’t want this to go turd deep because a crew member wasn’t up to speed with all relevant information. Rosie, give level eight security access to all personnel.”

“Captain April that is against protocol and I disagree that level eight material should be disseminated ship-wide.” The androgynous voice of Rosie announced.

The Captain took a moment to take a deep breath and let it out before saying, “I understand your reticence Rosie, but get it done.”

“Captain, regulations are very specific in this instance. Regulation five-two-zero, section twenty-three of security...”

“HAL override, Captain Robert April two-five-seven-one. Comply. I assume full responsibility Rosie.”

“Captain all personnel have level eight clearance, on Stopgap procedures only.”

You could almost hear resentment in the AI’s reply. It sounded slightly more clipped than normal. Perhaps it was just that the crew was expecting the AI to be emotionally affected, because most of them had animophizied Rosie.

The CO noticed that the AI had actually changed his order, but it did meet his intent and minimized the effects of the rules violation.

The Captain continued, “Lieutenant Morgan, I’m giving you the bridge. Hold off on sending the full message to Sector Command so we can update the information and our intentions. Communicate that we have a verified Stopgap incident with three contacts and that we are moving towards their area as we collect data. Bring us to Alert-Two condition so the crew can make preparations for this extended action. I want everyone as rested as possible when the bell rings. Keep the contacts to aft and maintain maximum speed, but don’t over-stress the engines. This will be a marathon before it becomes a sprint. Contact the XO and me of any important change in status. Petty Officer Goddard, you will get six hours of sleep and then I want you analyzing these contacts.”

The lieutenant and PO Goddard acknowledged the Captain’s orders.

The Captain began quietly talking to the XO as PO Goddard reluctantly left for his rack, “Fracking computer systems. Ever since the mark eleven upgrades, Rosie has been more difficult to deal with. I’d love to know how many instructions are buried in its programming that I don’t have clearance for. I bet it has its own set of HAL overrides for us. Maria, I want Long Distance at the meeting. He may be the strangest bird I have ever commanded, but he is fraking brilliant. I have a special task for him.”

The Captain called out as he headed off the bridge, “Lieutenant Morgan has the deck and the conn.”

Lt. Morgan was the senior non-departmental officer. That is why they left her in charge. She wasn’t privy to Capt. April’s plans, but she had some ideas as to what he would need done before any contact with their pursuers.

“I have the deck and the conn.” Lt. Morgan announced. “Chief Menidi, get someone from the weapons department to do a hands-on diagnostic of all missiles and rockets, I do mean mark-one eyeball. Make sure they understand that. I know this is not standard procedures, but we cannot afford any malfunctions. Also assign two crew members of your department to ready both of our spare shuttles.”

The chief said, “Aye ma’am. I’ll ensure the knuckle-draggers exceed SOP. My snipes will take care of the shuttles, but I recommend three personnel. Some of the procedures are best handled with three.”

Lt. Morgan continued, “At your discretion chief. Chief Torrey, contact nanotronics and have them run a complete diagnostic on the fire control systems. My first choice is Petty Officer Hülsmeyer, if she’s available.”

Torrey said, “Aye ma’am, Christina is the best tweaker we have. It’s as though she has trons in her blood.”

Meanwhile in the officer’s mess, Capt. April was formulating a plan as he poured himself a cup of phachie. First, he needed to even the odds; three-on-one was not to his liking and then, depending upon the situation, make the decision to run or fight.

Fighting an unknown enemy is a gamble, one he didn’t have the luxury for. If it were an equal match, Capt. April had to weigh the safety of the Alliance first. He would flee towards help if possible. If combat were inevitable, he needed an insurance policy that could still warn sector command.

The Captain had an idea to divide the following ships. That is where spacehand Monty was going to be the captain’s surreptitious surprise for their pursuers.

Scot ‘Long Distance’ Monty was one of a kind. He was nothing short of brilliant, but he was also unbelievably oblivious to the world in general. Long Distance was not in our world, drifty barely begins to describe him. The crew took care of him because they needed to. He would forget to eat, sleep, or shower if he was busy on a project.

The captain had removed him from the normal chain-of-command and military hierarchy because following a work schedule and standing watches were beyond his capabilities. Instead, when needed, Capt. April would assign him to high priority maintenance or repairs as the captain’s special assistant. Monty could literally disassemble anything onboard the ship and reassemble it better and faster than anyone else. He was an enigma, but despite his unorthodox methods, the captain would trade any other three crew members for another just like him.

The captain had to smile at that thought. If he could get a female version of Long Distance, could he breed them and fill a ship with super-geeks. It would be the strangest place in the universe if he could. Maybe they could discover a method of ridding his phachie of its slight bitterness. He knew it no longer contained caffeine, so why duplicate the bitterness too.

The captain would assign Long Distance to modify Stalwart’s five long-range science probes, to emulate the EAS Stalwart to their pursuers. Capt. April would then launch all the drones simultaneously in different directions. If whomever, or whatever, it was that followed them could not tell the difference, then the ships would have to split-up and each choose a target. That would give the Stalwart a fifty percent chance of evading them and putting some distance from the contacts before they could identify the ruse. The Stalwart would navigate at maximum speed of the probes towards a rendezvous with the other Alliance forces.

Even if picked as one of the targeted choices, they would follow the same plan until the pursuer got too close. Then they would turn and fight destroying the hostile vessel. He had some ideas for the Stalwart if combat became necessary, but the captain wanted to speak to his department heads before finalizing their strategy.

The department heads entered the mess as the Captain sipped his hot beverage. He explained his plan and issued the necessary orders. Capt. April wanted to launch the decoy probes in four hours. Spacehand Monty guaranteed he would have the modifications completed by then. Capt. April assigned CPO Torrey to assist Monty and ensure Long Distance did not stray from the task at hand.

His junior officers exited to begin their tasks. The Captain reviewed the necessary information before contacting the bridge, “Lieutenant Morgan, status report.”

Lt. Morgan replied, “Status unchanged ma’am. The contacts are still closing at their previous speed. Their ETA is approximately 15 hours. Preparations for your plan are underway. I also took the liberty to begin preparations for combat, including breaking out the spare shuttles.”

Capt. April said, “Good job Elizabeth. I will be in my quarters for four hours unless there is an important status change.”

He then called the XO, “Maria, I’m going to turn in for four hours. Once I am done, you will get four hours yourself. Run herd on things. Elizabeth has a handle on the bridge; you make sure everything is ready on time.”

After the XO acknowledged the Captain, he rinsed out his phachie cup, returned it to its place, and left for his quarters. The captain entered his stateroom, slid out of his uniform and lay on his rack.

He thought about all the years of training he and his crew had undergone for situations like this. Fear and doubt began to overtake his thoughts. Would he make the right choices? Could he save the crew and his ship, or would he sacrifice everything? Then his discipline and courage alleviated such doubts. He knew both he and his crew would do what was necessary and would prevail.

Capt. April said, “Rosie, I want you to activate my cerebral processor and put me to sleep for four hours. If I am needed, bring me out at full alert. Night Rosie and keep an eye on my baby.”

“Have a good rest Captain. Do not worry Bob, I will remain most vigilant.” The AI responded as the Captain’s eyes closed and his body suddenly went slack.

The restraint system emerged from the bulkhead and secured Captain Robert April for his slumber.

* *

PO Goddard had intended to head to his quarters, but first he had some ideas that he needed to examine. The Captain had sent him off the bridge in the middle of an analysis that was leading him towards some interesting findings. So instead of his quarters, he headed to the nanotronics operations room.

He had expected to see Lowbrow on watch. Goddard was pleasantly surprised when he found PO Hülsmeyer running through some diagnostics on the fire control computers.

He said, “Hi Christina, how’s the Golden Girl doing?”

“Frak you Bubblehead! I’m busy, what do you want?” Hülsmeyer asked.

Goddard answered, “I just need to use your backup terminal to access the tadar and secondary AI undisturbed.”

Hülsmeyer stood and with a couple of swipes across the control boards activated the auxiliary console. She moved to Goddard as he approached and they both drew together to share a short kiss and quick hug.

Hülsmeyer said, “I haven’t seen you in a few days.”

“I know. Our schedules haven’t been very cooperative lately. I think the chief is getting a little greedy.” Goddard responded as he sat at the backup controls.

She smiled and said, “Very possible but whom is Alessandro greedy for, me or you.”

They both had a quick laugh and went to work at their respective stations.

“By the way, don’t mention I’m down here. The Captain ordered me to my rack, but I need to get this analysis completed.” Goddard said.

It took about an hour and PO Goddard got his final results.

“Unfraking believable!” Goddard exclaimed. “Golden Girl, you ain’t going to believe what I found. I need to have the AI double check it, but I found they ain’t so advanced after all; at least not in everything. We’ve got them by the hairy bits now.”

Before PO Hülsmeyer could respond, the intercom activated, “Well Goddard I see you finished your assessment. What did you find?”

PO Goddard was caught off guard. He hesitated unsure of what action to take. Lt. Morgan knew what he had been doing.

Lt. Morgan continued, “Well Goddard... do you think I’m stupid and don’t know what’s happening on my watch? Hülsmeyer was foolish enough to log you onto the terminal instead of herself.”

Goddard heard some muted laughter in the background at his expense.

He answered the lieutenant, “Ma’am, I found something very useful, but I’m having the secondary review my results. It should take about ten minutes.”

Lt. Morgan said, “Negative. Get your sorry ass up here ASAP. I’m going to have Rosie take care of this as top priority; just like you should have if you weren’t trying to hide your insubordinate activities.”

Just as he turned to the door, Goddard heard the Hammer, “When you’re through with the lieutenant, come see me boy. Obviously what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

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