It’s me again!
I convinced Adam he ought to let me do these introductions; he might be writing the stories I tell him, but I’m the one who lived them. Makes sense, right? Right!
Anyways, I think this is fun! It’s interesting to look back on things that happened – okay, minor diversion here. Who among the readers is an expert in time travel and speech? Specifically, the use of past/future tenses?
Here’s what I want to say. This book is written about events that happened – to me – many years ago. For you, it happens in about a century. So do I say, ‘things that happened’ or ‘things that will have happened’ or ‘things that have will be done’ or maybe something totally other?
Back on track now. The events chronicled in this book take place six months after the last events chronicled in The Road to the Stars. To say it was challenging would be an understatement; basically, it turned into a race between us and Artemis to see who could rebuild and re-arm first.
The problem, from where I stood, was escalation. From the day the Enterprise launched, we could have utterly destroyed Artemis City and all the other warrens in about an hour. Wiping out the rest of the Solarian Union would have taken longer, but there’s nothing they had which would have stopped us.
Except. I really didn’t want to go down in history as the biggest murderer since Mao, and that’s what I would have been, had I given the order. That’s how we ended up in this interplanetary game of chicken, seeing who was going to blink first.
I’ve been told the audiobook is progressing well. Here’s a poll question for you all: Do you want a separate weekly post with an audio chapter? Or are you happy to wait for it on Audible?
Okay. So now that you’ve voted, it’s time for your chapter. Don’t forget you can enter to win autographed paperbacks – sorry, I’m not signing, you have to settle for Adam – or you can just go ahead and buy the book now!
“Admiral, you wanted us to stay. Why?” Alley was always direct with Kendra.
“How are we coming on Endeavour?” answered Kendra.
“May I bring Hecate in on this discussion?” asked Diana. Hecate was the Beta-class AI who supervised the construction bay, as well as the hangars and bays that comprised the internal spacedock.
“If that will help,” agreed Kendra.
“Hello Admiral, Captain, Commander, Director McAllister,” said a much younger-sounding voice. AI’s tended to choose voices, and appearances, which fit the name or job they did. Hecate was the junior AI aboard the Njord, and had fallen into the role of ‘younger sister’ readily enough. The image that came to mind when she spoke – she lacked the processing cycles necessary to project a hologram of herself – was of a girl, lanky and gawky, just on the edge of teenage rebellion, probably with skinned knees and pigtails. The fact that she managed the coming and going of massive quantities of ships and supplies, controlled traffic in the bay, and directed all the construction bots didn’t enter into that. That was the ‘look’ her voice projected.
“Hello, Hecate. I was asking how construction of Endeavour was proceeding.”
“It’s going very well, Admiral. My bots have completed the exterior and are assisting with the final interior work. Even allowing for slippage, construction will be complete in two weeks.”
“Two weeks? That’s quicker than I expected. Well done, Hecate.”
They could almost hear the AI blush. “Thank you, Admiral,” she said with a hint of electronically simulated shyness.
“That means we’ll be able to start systems testing soon,” said Alley.
“The hull is pressurized,” interrupted Hecate. “Systems tests can begin any time. Most of the remaining work is being done on furnishings and details of that sort, so the major systems can be tested whenever the personnel are available. My bots won’t have problems working around any humans aboard.”
“Like I said,” continued Alley. “We can start systems testing soon. That brings up another issue, though.”
“What’s that?” said Kendra.
“Crew. We’ve been concentrating on training new Wolf coxswains and engineers, and Direwolf pilots at the flight academy here on Njord. We have people running through the Academy for starship duty, but honestly we didn’t expect there to be a need so soon.” Alley shrugged. “They’re doing well, but they’re not ready to crew.”
This was something Kendra hadn’t considered. She’d always planned to have a Federation Naval Academy, equivalent to the various nations’ military academies, with a four-year term. The problem in establishing the FNA lay in the fact that there was only a single starship in Starfleet. The officers who would be teaching at the Academy were needed to run the starship; they couldn’t be spared from their duties yet. The flight academy on Njord was much more intense and considerably shorter in duration, as the training was for the small boats of the Federation.
She’d compromised by starting the FNA with basic coursework, physics, astronomy, optics, even warp theory, and others. She could find instructors for that, hiring from elite universities and from within the various Harriman companies. But practical instruction in astrogation, warp drives, the day-to-day operation of a starship, those required people with experience. Catch-22 with a vengeance.
“I think we’re going to have to pull the best of the cadets,” Kendra finally said. “If we spread them evenly between the two starships, and divide the current Enterprise crew as well, we should be able to get them the practical training they need. There aren’t enough of them, but it’s a start.”
“That’s a bigger problem,” admitted Kendra. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“I can talk with Dawn, see if she’s willing to transfer over,” said Cass. “I’d hate to lose her, but she’s more than capable of running a Science Division.”
“Small Boats should be set; the flight academy is going great guns. Lieutenant Fowler has really taken to her new role as instructor, as has her Engineer, Lieutenant Tresca. I didn’t think they’d get a whole flight ready as quickly as they did, but they have, and they’re just about to the point that they’ll be able to pull a couple more CM’s and EM’s from the ranks to act as instructors as well.” Alley thought some more.
“I don’t want to sound stupid,” Mac interrupted. “But why am I here? I mean, I’m not involved in ship construction or anything like that, I work on computers and systems and stuff, I appreciate that you’ve asked me to stay but I’m also going to be up to my ears in the other things you’ve asked me to do and I’m not sure exactly what I could do for this project, at least not more than anything I’m already doing, so can you maybe explain this to me?”
“Sorry, Mac,” apologized Kendra. “This isn’t the first conversation that we’ve had about personnel.” She gestured to the others who all indicated their agreement, then continued.
“Let me try to catch you up. Endeavour is nearly done, and she’s a larger ship than Enterprise: 497 meters long, 215 meters across, and 29 decks high. Supposedly, she’ll be capable of cruising at warp 8, and can push to 9.5. With me so far?”
“I get the numbers,” acknowledged Mac. “But they don’t explain why you need me here.”
“I’m getting to that. She needs a crew of seventy for minimal operations, thanks to Minna.” The Enterprise, like Njord, had an Alpha-class AI installed as the central computer core. The Alpha on Enterprise had been named Minerva, but had decided it needed to be more ‘human’ and had taken to answering to ‘Minna’ as well. “We’ve been expanding the shipboard complement on Enterprise, and currently there are…”
Kendra trailed off and Alley jumped in.
“Two hundred and three.”
“Right. That doesn’t count dependents, does it?” Alley shook her head. “I didn’t think so. Total aboard Enterprise is closing in on three hundred, I believe. Fully crewed, with all necessary redundancies, we’ll have two hundred forty.”
“Okay, I’m still with you,” said Mac.
“This is where it gets tricky, and why we needed you here. With Endeavour about to come on-line, we need to come up with personnel to man her. We’re going to draw on the Academy for some, and Enterprise for more, but we’re going to be stretched thin. Endeavour’s minimum operational crew is a hundred twenty; her optimal crew is four hundred ten.”
“That doesn’t add up, I know you said you’d pull the best cadets, but I think I remember that there’s only a couple hundred students at the Academy, and even if you’re being generous about ‘best’ then that’s at most a hundred which gives you three hundred for two ships and that just doesn’t work.”
“That’s the problem in a nutshell! You’re right, the Academy has two hundred cadets –“
“One hundred eighty nine,” corrected Diana. “A number have left for various reasons.”
Kendra waved it off. “Almost two hundred. I only planned on taking the best, the top ten percent, so that’s twenty.”
“See, that makes the problem worse, not better, that barely gives you enough for minimal operations!”
“Again, you’re exactly right, Mac. That’s where I need you.”
“Me?” she squeaked. “I’m no starship crew!”
“No, no,” laughed Kendra. “Not crew. See, Enterprise has Minna, and we planned to have another Alpha for Endeavour, but we haven’t been able to get one yet.”
Mac’s face cleared as she saw the problem, finally couched in terms she understood. “So you want to know what you can do for Endeavour, if you can’t get another Alpha, which you can’t, at least not any that I’d trust, you can always try to get one from a prior owner but they’ve already been imprinted, that’s never a great option, and you really don’t want to try to wipe one’s memory, it almost never ends well, and it wouldn’t be much trouble for someone like me to put in a locked compartment that didn’t get wiped, you could even get the AI to self-program, that might even be safer, but then you have to worry what else the AI would do because once you give permission that kinda gets locked in for everything of that type of command, but that’s not the real issue here, it’s just that you can’t get another Alpha AI.”
Kendra followed her to the conclusion and then said, “Yes.”
“And a Beta just isn’t quite up to it, no offense Hecate?”
“None taken, Director McAllister.” Hecate was the only person, AI or flesh, who routinely addressed Mac by her official title within OutLook: Director of Technology and Innovation. “I am aware that my capabilities are not equal to those of an Alpha, and I understand that when dealing with critical system functions the difference could be the balance between success and failure.”
“I think that a Beta probably could,” said Kendra. “But as Hecate said, these are critical system functions, and like you pointed out, Mac, it’s going to be a raw, thin crew. What I was thinking though, and the reason I wanted you to stick around, was trying to install two Beta cores into Endeavour. Give her two AI’s and split the load between them.”
“Ohhh…” mused Mac. After a few moments of surprising silence, she said, starting slowly but picking up speed, “That could work, it would be some tricky programming, because you wouldn’t want them to contradict each other, and you don’t want them to miss something, but you also need them capable of at least filling in for each other when needed without, oh, man, that’s a beauty of a problem, but I’ll bet something like it has been done before, it’s just a question of figuring out what they did and then adapting it to what we want to do, but I’d definitely want help on this one, at least Hecate and Minna, probably need to talk to, hey, Alley, I think I’m going to need you too, at least to pick your brains and then move on –“
“That’s sorted, then,” Kendra commented. Mac was already lost in the problem, and she knew that sooner or later it would be worked out. “Mac. Mac!”
“—shouldn’t be, huh? Yeah?”
“Do you want to be there to install the Beta cores? We have the dual slots prepared.”
“Oh, yeah, but not yet, let us work this all out first, it’ll be a couple days, but we’ll get there.”
“Okay, then. I think we’re done for today.”