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Last Day Aboard Ship - chapter 4
By
rolandlytle

Last Day Aboard Ship - chapter 4

Decisions, plans and preparations are made.

Then it hit me and I said, “This isn’t a tadar ghost. It’s a ship or probe and it’s getting closer. Is it an EA vessel?”

“This is nothing like I’ve ever seen and I thought I had seen everything built, until now. Maybe it’s a prototype or built from scratch. This type of equipment isn’t sold to civilian ships.”

I gasped, “You mean pirates?”

She said, “I don’t know and remember they’re called bandits now, but they are very rare.”

“I’ve got to talk to the captain. Page the old man to the bridge.” I called as I trotted out the door.

I hurried onto the bridge just as the old man was taking her seat in the captain’s chair in the center of the bridge. The bridge had a pair chairs and consoles to the front for the navigator and operations. Aft of the captain’s chair were two positions for engineering and propulsion. The compartment was cramped and not well lite. The bulkheads were a depressing greenish grey color.

I moved to stand adjacent to the captain and said, “Captain Leopard, Carmen and I have come to the conclusion that the tadar ghost may be caused by an unknown type of long-range tadar. We were thinking perhaps bandits sir and if so their range has been decreasing.”

“Carmen?” The captain queried.

“Sorry sir, Ensign Richards.”

The captain lower her voice and said, “Don’t let yourself get carried away Thornton. Relax. Well thought out and measured decisions are what saves lives and accomplishes the mission effectively. Don’t allow excitement or emotions to affect your choices.”

The old man liked to lecture us even during busy or dire situations and her lessons made perfect sense. She knew what she was doing. She was a consummate professional and I couldn’t help but admire her.

I asked the captain, “Should we disengage the PNP drive and drop out of FTL to contact the EA forces in the area or make a run for it sir?”

The Captain activated a control that would summon the XO to the bridge, and then said, “What are your thoughts, ensign?”

“Well sir, I have to assume that, if it’s a ship, it is traveling faster than we, maybe considerably faster. The bandit would be vectoring to intercept us. If we left FTL, we would essentially come to a stop. The bandit would close on our position quickly. We have no reliable means of estimating their distance, so we don’t know how long it will take them to arrive.”

The XO, Lieutenant Denton Harvey, arrived on the bridge and joined us, and then the Captain signaled for me to continue, “With our older model tadar, the detection range is limited. To be conservative, I believe we should have at least two-and-a-half minutes before they could arrive, but it could be hours too, though unlikely. I can’t imagine more than thirty minutes.”

The Captain interrupted me and asked, “How quickly could we establish a micro-wormhole and contact sector command at Ross 248.”

“I would guesstimate about two minutes Captain.” I replied.

The Captain spoke, “What are your thoughts about tucking tail and running, ensign?”

“Sir without any idea of the bandit’s speed, that alternative is an iffy proposition. We are still twenty days from our destination, but at maximum speed, we are only thirteen days out. I’m not sure if the old girl can handle the excess stress over that long a period. Remember Captain, this is all speculative. I’m not completely convinced this is a bandit. It could be a crinkle in the system.”

The Captain thought for a moment and then said, “If we’re wrong and take unnecessary actions, we’ll all have a good laugh about it later. Well, you won’t be laughing because I’ll serve your ass up to the commission with onions and a fine brandied sauce, but you’ll live and I assure you there would be no permanent entry in your records. If we don’t take action and it isn’t a crinkle in the system, well… pirates don’t take prisoners.”

Without thinking I said, “You mean bandits, sir.”

It got quiet suddenly and the old man gave me the ‘this boy just ain’t right’ look before commenting, “Son if they catch us, it won’t matter if we call them ass monkeys. We’ll still be dead.”

The XO slapped me on the back of the head and spoke up, “Captain, Station 214 is only nine days away at maximum speed, but I agreed with Thornton; the BharatBenz is overdue for a stint in the space-docks. The pressure on the ship’s equipment will push them well beyond recommended levels. Anything beyond five or six days and we’re looking at a probable serious or critical malfunction.

I interjected, “If we headed to Station 214 at our present speed, I estimate we would be overtaken in about a week or sooner. I recommend we disengage the FTL and contact the EA sir.”

Denton added, “I agree Captain, but after our transmission we should head on a vector towards our rescuer and go to maximum speed.”

The Captain thought about our dilemma for no more than thirty seconds, arrived at a decision and began rattling off commands, “Harvey, draft a dispatch for the Earth Alliance sector command. Include our log entries for the last month, all tadar readings for that same period, Thornton’s observations, and our plans. Get with Richards and add her observations too. Ensure it is compressed and can be transmitted in less than thirty seconds. Make sure Richards is prepared to deactivate the PNP drive and then to return to FTL on my orders.”

“Thornton, contact the radio chief. I want her to be able to establish a wormhole and contact made ASAP. Assist her to set everything up beforehand. Have Ibanez form all non-essential personnel into security detachments, arm them and disperse them on-board at her discretion. Assign Stevens and Akihito to assist her. Also, double check that Rosie’s defense program is operational. I don’t want to discover someone has disconnected the program to make computer space for holo-porn again. Let the gunny know that he only has the forward and topside turrets available. The aft turret is still inoperative. Then I want you to contact me, I have a special assignment for you.”

Captain Leopard concluded, “In four hours, we are going to drop out of FTL, send the message and then run like hell towards the ship assigned to aid us. Any questions? For the next hour, I will be unavailable. Get it done.”

I went to see Corporal Ibanez. I apprised her of the Captain’s orders and the situation. Captain Leopard would often tell me, ‘Nothing will crinkle a plan and frak you to hell faster than not knowing what’s going on.’ I contacted Sam and asked him to bring Rolo to the MAA’s office.

I said, “Ibanez, I recommend you use Sam as your second-in-command. He’s smart on his feet and calm under pressure. When it’s time to do the dirty, he won’t frak around.”

“I know what you mean.” She replied. “Sam is a real prankmaster, but he knows when to get serious and how to get the job done. He can’t shoot worth a turd, but I don’t need any snipers.”

I said, “I do have a favor to ask concerning Stevens. I’d like you to assign him to security of the bridge. We had a discussion and he finally came to the realization of the gravity of his situation. He broke down and cried for more than half-an-hour mumbling to himself. I think he’ll be OK, but I’m concerned about his mental state. I don’t want to keep him locked up, so if Rolo is on the bridge, I can keep an eye on him. Besides, he can be a valuable man in a pinch. He has working knowledge of most of the ship’s systems.”

Denise agreed, “Stevens is a jack-of-all-trades despite being a class one frakup. OK, I’ll assign him to your tender care if I can. The ship’s needs come first.”

Calling out, I said, “Rosie, Run diagnostic of defense system programing and ensure the latest upgrades are installed.”

“Roger.” The computer replied in an androgynous, euphonious, and synthesized voice.

Continuing, I had noticed an air of doubt from Denise so I confided to her, “Denise, I know I speak for everyone aboard when I say that I wouldn’t trust anyone to protect us except you. You’ve shown your competence time and time again on anything you do. You’re an outstanding shipmate, a great friend to Carmen, and a real feisty bitch too. I trust you.”

As the doubt seemed to vanish, replaced by a glow of confidence, she said, “Thank you sir. I trust that when this all blows over you will fix your bloody foul-up with Carmen. The fraking words are ‘I love you’, stonehead. You had better fraking take care of it or we will find out how far my boot will fit up your ass. Shiny?”

“Ibanez, one of these days, we are going to find out whose foot will fit where. I think you will discover I’m not that easy.” I said with a smile.

She said, “I know Ricky. You’re a big guy. You won’t be easy, but it will be bloody fun to find out.”

Rosie interrupted us, “Ensign Thornton, the diagnostic is complete. The defense system programing is at ninety-eight percent effectiveness. Anomalies detected are being repair. ETR (estimated time of repair) is eighty-two minutes. All updates have been incorporated. The shipboard AI did notice a few inefficiencies within the programing. Estimated time to reprogram the inefficiencies is fourteen-point-two hours. Shall I have the AI begin?”

“No Rosie, do not reprogram at this time. Save information and remind me in five days of the reprogramming.” I said.

“Roger.”

Looking over at Denise, I smiled and said, “Just in case we’re still alive.”

I’d love to see that smack down. Big burly vs cute and tough, it sounds interesting. I’ll bring the Jell-O. This plus we meet the robo-bitch herself and we find out what special job the Captain has for Ricky in our next installment when it’s about time to strap on the old six-shooters.

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