The Road to the Stars – Chapter Twelve

One of my smartest moves, ever. Absolutely. Top ten? Definitely. Top five? Probably.

Number one is marrying Aiyana, of course. That’s sort of the gold standard for me for decision-making.

But this was fun. I’d been looking for the right person to captain the Enterprise for months. I knew it had to be someone with a background in command, because I sure as hell wasn’t qualified.

Command meant they were probably coming from the military, which wasn’t an issue for me. I know there’s this bias out there against the military in some circles, and that’s fine; they can think and do what they want. I don’t share those biases. Life has taught me too often to judge a person on their actions before anything else.

Where was I? Military.

Still, it had to be someone who wasn’t involved in the service any longer, but not because they’d been retired out. I wanted a person who was good at the job but had to leave for other reasons.

It took me some time, but I finally found her.

And now, Adam’s usual spiel: click on any image to buy the book, click the button below this paragraph to enter the contest to win autographed books, and the audio chapter is all the way at the end.

Chapter Twelve

Kendra was being piloted from the HLC campus to the soon-to-be-moved and still-expanding Spacedock. She was accompanied by the prime candidate for the captaincy of the Enterprise, Commander Jennifer Martinez, currently on very inactive duty with the Northern Imperium Navy. She had been contacted initially by Sanzari when that notable had been serving undercover in the NIN. OutLook had kept tabs on her career after Sanzari had left, carefully feeling her out for plans after NIN. When Martinez had been relieved of command for the sin of dressing down a junior officer who happened to be connected to the ruling Daley family, OutLook’s agents struck quickly.

Her loyalty to the Imperium was unshaken, but she was willing to consider the possibility of moving on from the Navy at an opportune moment. After that contact, she had spent the next fourteen months on the beach, shuffling from one make-work position to another, before Kendra’s search for experienced naval officers was passed off to Montana. Martinez was persuaded to take some of her accumulated leave to meet with a VIP at HLC, only to be hustled off to a waiting ship, strapped down, and launched into orbit with Kendra and a pilot.

“Hi,” said Kendra brightly from the seat across from her. “Bet you’re wondering what’s going on.”

“You might say that. Yes.”

Martinez was taller than Kendra, whipcord thin with a shock of short black hair resting above a strong face. Deep-set eyes stared intently at Kendra. She had traveled in civilian clothes, but it was obvious to anyone that she’d spent her whole life in uniform and was far more comfortable presenting that face to the world.

“Let’s start with introductions. You’re Commander Jennifer Allison Martinez, friends call you Jen or Alley. You were born in Mukwanago, in the Imperium, in 2082, third of five children and the oldest daughter. You were on the military track in secondary school, chose the navy for your service, and attended the NIN Academy, graduating tenth in a class of two hundred and eight, in 2103. You were sent to sub school in Chicago before being assigned to the NIS Waukeegan, an attack sub, as a navigator. You were promoted from Ensign JG to Ensign while on the Waukeegan, did a tour ashore at command school, and returned to sea in the NIS Aurora. There you received a promotion to Lieutenant and served as division head. You had another stint ashore, completing XO school, before rejoining the Aurora in that role. You served a year under Captain Andrews, during which time you were promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and two years under Captain Holmes. During Captain Holmes” tenure, you were promoted again, this time to Commander. When Holmes was reassigned, you were given command and held it for three years and a bit.”

“Three years, two months, eight days.” Martinez’s voice was cold at the memory.

Kendra nodded. “You ran afoul of the Daley family. How?”

“You seem to know everything about me. You tell me.”

“I’d like to hear it from you,” insisted Kendra.

Martinez grumbled, but answered. “Ensign (JG) Sprague was Engineer of the Watch. During that watch, there was a class three coolant leak, causing injury to two crew members. As the responsible officer, Ensign Sprague should have acknowledged the accident, noted the repairs taken and those still needed, and informed his superior by change of watch. Instead, he concealed the evidence, threatened both sailors and the corpsman to ensure their silence, and falsified his log. Unfortunately for him, he did not remember to wipe the recordings and was caught by the Chief Engineer next day. The Chief apprised me of the situation, and I determined it was serious enough to call a Captain’s Mast.”

“A what?”

“Captain’s Mast. A step below a formal court martial.”

“Big trouble. Go on.”

“Ensign Sprague’s defense was that it had never happened and even if it had it wasn’t his fault and he was being framed by persons unknown, but enemies of one sort or another. When confronted with the video evidence, he refused to change his story or admit fault. I had no choice but to report him to my superiors for dereliction of duty and recommend him for court martial.”

“I take it that didn’t happen.”

“No.” The monosyllable carried volumes, and it was evident to Kendra that she wouldn’t get any more out of Martinez on the subject, so she picked up the story.

“They took away your command and stuck you on the beach, counting mess kits.”

“More or less.”

“And that’s where we found you.”

“We – you’re with HLC?”

“You might say that. Sorry, my turn I guess.” Kendra turned on the smile that had wooed and wowed fans throughout her sensie career. “My name is Kendra Cassidy. My wife used to work for HLC, now she and I own it.”

“That’s it? You give me my life story, and all I get is eighteen words?”

Kendra’s mouth twitched in a not-quite-smile. “You counted the words? Never mind, not important. Okay, more details. Fair enough. I used to be in sensies under my birth name, Foster-Briggs. Well, not really my birth name, I had a host mother, but you know what I mean. I was a courier and sometime assassin for OutLook; don’t ask me about how you go from sensies to working undercover unless you really want the whole ugly story. I knew my wife when we were kids, then we drifted apart, and I ran into her more or less by accident and we got back together. Our wedding was, well, memorable doesn’t begin to describe it. I could probably write a book, though nobody would believe it. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived through it. But that’s when she and I inherited HLC and I stopped being an active agent.”

“So this is a family business?”

“Long story, Commander. It is, now, but it wasn’t then.”

“And why am I in some sort of aircraft?”

“Ah, now we come to the reason you’re here. What do you know – no, let’s not start there. This is the Galileo, the first of the Wolf-class Multifunction Orbital Vehicles. Does that sound good?”

Martinez allowed a hint of confusion to show. “I’ve never heard of, what did you call them? Multifunction Orbital Vehicles?”

“Think of it as a cross between an orbital craft, cargo transport, and tug. With teeth. This is the first of the six we’ve built; the others, well, their names aren’t important right now. We’re building more, too. The MOVs are capable of taking off from Earth, or another planet, entering interplanetary space, doing their job, and returning. The teeth are to prevent anyone from stopping them from doing their job. What do you think of the name?”

Galileo?

“Well, yes, but I was thinking more of Wolf.”

“Sounds vaguely ominous.”

“Good! That’s what I was hoping for.”

Martinez fixed her with a hard look. “You’ve avoided answering my question. Why am I here?”

“I want to recruit you.”

“In case you didn’t notice, I’m a Commander in the Imperium Navy. I have a position and responsibilities –”

“Counting mess kits while the worthless son of a tenuously-connected branch of a corrupt family gets away with endangering the lives of his crewmates? Sounds terribly rewarding.”

“I –”

“I get it. Honor, duty, country. Commander, you’ve given them fifteen years of service, and they stripped away everything that made your time rewarding. If you’re very lucky, you might end up teaching midshipmen. If not, you’re going to be retired, and then where will you be? Don’t you at least want to hear what your options are?”

Martinez said nothing.

“Hey, Mia!” The pilot half-turned. “Have we crossed LEO yet?”

“About five minutes ago.”

“Can you give me full optics back here?”

“Three-sixty?”

“Yes.” Turning her attention back to Martinez, Kendra said, “I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”

“How high are we – oh, wow.”

The interior walls of the craft had seemingly gone transparent, exposing the occupants to the panoply of stars.

“Welcome to Earth orbit, Commander. We’re on our way to geosync, with an ETA of, how long, Mia?”

“We’ve cleared the junk belt, so we’re moving better. Eighteen minutes to approach, and then the usual folderol for docking.”

“Twenty-five, -six minutes then. You might want to look over your right shoulder,” added Kendra casually.

Martinez pivoted and sucked in her breath. Behind her, or maybe below her, was the Earth. She could see Texas, most of the New Confederacy, into Sonora, but what drew her was the sunlight on the Gulf. Fragile-looking wisps of clouds drifted over the cobalt-blue water, though Martinez knew they were weather systems that stretched hundreds of kilometers. No trace of the hand of man could be seen in the brightness of day. Minutes passed, with Martinez craning her neck to take in the views, Kendra watching her reactions.

When Martinez finally turned around, she saw Kendra smiling at her.

“We’re in space.”

“Passing a thousand kliks and gaining speed. We’re headed for geosync, at about thirty-six thousand kliks, and if we’re on our flight plan we’re pulling 10 gravities acceleration.”

“We’re in space.”

Kendra’s smile grew broader. “I felt the same way my first trip in a Wolf.”

“Why are we in space?”

“I’m answering your question. I told you, I want to recruit you.”

Tearing her eyes away from the planet, visibly receding, Martinez said, “Even if I’m willing to leave the Navy, and I’ll admit you make good points, I’m a sub driver. As you noted, I’ve spent thirteen years underwater. What can I bring to space?”

“You just hit on it; you’re a sub driver, and you’ve spent thirteen years underwater. To me, that says you know how to think in three dimensions, not just two.”

“You have to,” replied Martinez. “That’s the beauty and curse about subs.”

“You’re good in confined quarters.”

“Again, submarines.”

“What do you know about faster-than-light drives?”

This threw off Martinez. “What? That’s science fiction, isn’t it?”

“That’s what most people think. Let me show you something.” She sent a command to her ‘plant, and the interior screens changed to focus on Spacedock and Enterprise. She was gratified at Martinez’s gasp, and she swiveled to share the view.

Spacedock was immense, the spine stretching nearly a kilometer. Every fifty meters or so a pair of ribs descended to the left and right of the spine.  Scattered across the spine were cylindrical hab modules, globular fuel and oxy tanks, and a few small pods with grasping arms. It was clear that this was a working installation, from the utilitarian appearance and reinforced by the occasional sparks and flashes from the interior.

Kendra switched the view to cameras inside Spacedock and the Enterprise hove into view.

“That’s the Enterprise. She’s going to be humanity’s first FTL ship once we finish building her.”

“She’s gorgeous.”

“We’re not finished with her yet. Just you wait…” Kendra explained what Martinez was seeing.

Her frame was complete, and the Durasteel that comprised her hull reflected a dull grey back to the observers. Carbon nanotube fibers were being woven into place as a second skin, covering most of the grey with an intense black. Only in the places where the final thin layer of CeeSea had been applied did she gleam in the sunlight. Production of CeeSea was hugely energy-intensive; as a result, there were still huge swathes of the hull which were uncovered.

And now Martinez was looking at her with a sudden lust in her eyes.

“She’s gorgeous,” repeated Martinez.

“That she is. And if you want her, she’s yours.”

That snapped Martinez’s head back to Kendra.

“You’re joking.”

“Not in the least.”

“I’m not qualified –”

“Nobody is qualified to command her. She’s unique, for now.” Kendra gestured to the far end of Spacedock. “Now that we have the basics down, I’ve already started work on an improved version. Enterprise has taken eight years to reach this point, and won’t be ready for commissioning for another six months, maybe more. We hope to get Endeavour completed in two.”

“Who – what – “

Kendra returned the screens to a neutral appearance.

“That help?”

“Yes, thank you. Who the hell are you? And no smart answers, I want to know how you’re able to talk casually about building starships.”

“Cards on the table time. My wife, Aiyana, and I inherited a sizeable amount of money a few years ago. I think I mentioned that.” She waited until Martinez nodded before continuing. “With the money came a pretty hefty network of control in a whole slew of companies around the globe, which I’ve shamelessly taken advantage of to push this particular project forward. The Wolf-class MOV is a byproduct of Enterprise.”

“How much money are you talking about?”

“That’s kind of hard to say.” Kendra held up a hand. “I’m not avoiding your question, it’s just really, really tough to say, because it is literally scattered all over the planet. If you’re talking cash, I’d still need to check, but it’s about thirteen trillion credits.”

“Thirteen trillion…?”

“Sonoran credits. The conversion rate is, hold on. Four point two Imperium credits to one Sonoran credit. Call it fifty three trillion.”

The silence stretched out.

“You want to talk about Enterprise instead of me? She’s four hundred and five meters long, requires a crew of seventy though can carry up to five times that, carry six Wolves, and, most importantly, be able to travel FTL.”

“How does the richest woman in the world build a starship?”

“By hiring the right people and letting them do their jobs. Well, usually. And I’m not the richest, because Aiyana and I share it equally.”

Martinez breathed out a few times before starting again.

“You’ve built a starship.”

“Yes.”

“Which will be capable of FTL speeds.”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to command it.”

“Yes. See? You’ve got the gist of it.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Kendra hesitated before replying. “You’re right. And I wish I could tell you now, but I can’t. This is truly need-to-know, burn-before-reading kind of stuff. Unless you’re willing to sign on, I simply can’t, unless you want to spend the next few years on Diana.”

“Who’s – no, I don’t need to know that right now, do I? Tell me this, at least. Beyond just the exploration and the science and the doing something nobody else has done, is this important? Not just to you, but to others? To the country? The world?”

“More important that I can possibly explain right now.”

Martinez only hesitated the briefest moment. “Then I’m in.”

The Road to the Stars Chapter TWELVE

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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