The Road to the Stars – Chapter Thirteen

When I brought Alley up to the Enterprise for the first time, her reaction was exactly what I hoped it would be. My ‘ideal’ candidate would look at the ship and see the possibilities, the grace in her lines, the power, the potential, and fall in love.

Alley did.

By the time we were ready to go aboard for the first time, I think she would have given her left arm to have the job. After we finished our little chat – the main focus of this chapter – she was committed, even if she hadn’t admitted it to herself yet.

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Chapter Thirteen

“Mia, how long to docking?”

“We’re cleared to approach now.”

“Give us exterior view.”

The conversation stopped as the real-time view of the ship took command. They were approaching an opening to a large bay attached to Spacedock, seeming to hang from the spine, but they were inverted. The spine appeared above them, and the ship below, which Kendra always found mildly disorienting.

“Spacedock doesn’t have grav plates, so all the work can be done in microgravity. Once we dock, Mia’ll shut down our system. I’m afraid until will get aboard Enterprise, you’re going to have to deal.”

“No problem. Spatial orientation isn’t an issue with me. But why can’t we dock with the ship?”

“Good question. Eventually we will; like I said, she’s designed to carry Galileo and five others in a shuttlebay. That’s located midship, on the lower hull.” Kendra pointed just behind the support pylon between the two hulls. “Unfortunately, we haven’t pressurized the lower hull, which we’re going to call the engineering hull. Mia and I both have suits on board, but each one is custom-fitted, and I don’t think you want to try to breathe vacuum your first day on the job. There’s a one-size-fits-all, but they’re really not designed for anything but emergencies.” The craft entered the bay, and the doors began to close behind them.

“You’re really not joking, are you?”

“No, I’m really not joking. But I should make it official.” Kendra pitched her voice to carry. “Diana, this is Kendra.”

A melodic voice filled the MOV. “Hello, Kendra. How may I help you?”

“Official log. Add Commander Jennifer Allison Martinez to roster of Enterprise. Position, Captain. I tell you three times.”

“I hear you three times. Congratulations, Captain Martinez.”

“Who am I talking to?”

“I am Diana. You can also say that I am Diana.” There was a subtle difference in how the two names were said, though Alley couldn’t quite pin it down. “I am the AI responsible for all of the Harriman projects beyond the atmosphere of Earth.”

Martinez looked to Kendra, who simply nodded.

“Thank you Diana. Out.” Kendra’s tone become more conversational. “We have so much going on that we needed to install an advanced AI in our L5 habitat.”

Martinez ran her hands back through her hair and cupped her neck. “This is a bit much, you know?”

“Let’s get aboard the dock. We can find a spare office and talk. Fair enough?” They were briefly in darkness, then the screens reverted to neutral. Kendra unfastened her straps and stood; Martinez did the same.

Martinez took a deep breath. “I guess it will have to do. Lead on.”

“Ready to lose some weight?” Without waiting for an answer, Kendra said, “Kill the grav.”

“Grav plates off, aye.”

Suddenly all sensation of weight vanished. Martinez had spent enough time in suits underwater to be somewhat adjusted to the floating sensation, but this was more extreme.

“Gentle movements. There are grab bars all around the lock, and through the airlock. You can’t get too far away from anything.”

Martinez nodded her acknowledgement.

Kendra waited for Mia to undog the hatch, explaining, “For all the time I’ve been up here, I’m not officially rated on the operations of things like doors and flight controls. Even though I have two hundred hours piloting and co-piloting Wolves, plus had a hand in their design, plus –”

“And you won’t sit for an official test, is what I heard,” Mia said back to her.

“See the problem? All I wanted to do was build a tiddly little exploration ship, and suddenly I have rules and regulations and all sorts of crap to deal with.”

“Rules exist to keep people safe.”

“Oh, no. Not you too!”

“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”

“No, we are NOT doing this. Commander, I am not all about formality. You might have noticed.” A bare hint of a smile creased Martinez’s face. “I know when it’s needed, and I’ll always refer to you in public, officially, as either Captain, when we’re aboard Enterprise, or Commander, when we aren’t, and I’ll expect you to call me Ms. Cassidy under the same circumstances. When it’s just us chickens, though, you are not going to call me ‘ma’am’. Not until I’m a whole bucketload older than I am now. You are going to wrap your mind around calling me either Kendra, or Ken. Are we clear?”

The smile was emerging. “You sure you never served? You sound just like a Master Chief Petty Officer on my first boat. Managed to clean the FUN shine off me without too much damage.”

“Funny thing you mention Master Chiefs. No, I never served, but one of our best friends was in the SEALs, and I think some of her has rubbed off on me. But you didn’t answer my question.”

“I like to be called Alley,” she finally admitted, smiling fully. “Jen’s what my family calls me.”

“In that case, Alley, follow me.” Mia had been waiting at the hatch through all this, and nodded as they passed.

“I’m going to stay with the bird,” she said. “Don’t let Kendra talk you into anything!”

“I heard that Mia!” came Kendra’s voice from the far side of the airlock.

“I think I’ve agreed to enough for one day, but thanks,” said Alley, before working to catch up. She found Kendra waiting at the end of the air lock, hanging on to a rung.

“Okay, basic safety. Anytime you’re passing through a lock, only one hatch can be open at a time. That prevents unexpected attempts to do a Dutchman.”

Alley nodded. “Just like the escape hatches on a sub.”

“Exactly! Four lights, two green, two red. Top green, pressure on this side; top red, vacuum this side. Bottom green, pressure on the other side, and I’ll bet you can guess what bottom red means.”

“Means you’d be ruining your day by opening the hatch.”

“Got it in one. There’s an interlock which will keep the ignorant from accidentally killing themselves, but the rule is two greens or you don’t go.”

“What if the top is red?”

“Then you’re having a really bad day. Top red will allow the hatch to open from an override on this side as long as the outer hatch is closed.”

“What’s with the orange border?”

“Good catch! Eventually we’re going to have grav plates on Spacedock, but not all of the small craft will. Shuttlepods, for example. Once we do, then the border will come into play. It’ll be lit when there’s gravity on the other side. Right now, there’s no gravity anywhere, so no lights.”

“Got it.”

“Okay, the office I usually commandeer is down the corridor, third on the right. Ready?”

“Ready.”

Kendra tapped a code into the pad beside the door, which slid apart smoothly and silently. She glided through, followed by Alley.

“Did you hear the door open?” asked Kendra.

Alley’s voice sounded puzzled. “No?”

“Exactly. That’s another check we’ve built in; if the pressure doesn’t match on both sides, there’s an audible signal. Nothing high tech; just a series of ridges on each side. Rapid clicks and the pressure is higher inside; if the clicks are more spaced out, the pressure is higher outside.”

“Couldn’t that jam the door?”

“Yes and no.” They continued moving as Kendra answered. “They’re only a millimeter tall, so a slight push suffices to get the door moving, as long as there’s any atmo present. It only locks down if one side or the other is in vacuum.” They stopped in front of a door with the legend, “Kendra Cassidy”. Below that was written ‘Executive Director’.

“Office you commandeer, eh?”

The door slid open. “Well, maybe not commandeer any more. But I didn’t have an office up here at first!”

The door closed behind them. The office was small, about three meters on a side, and was well-adapted for use in space. There was a desk, but terminals were attached to various catch points all around the space.

“No chairs; no point yet. The desk is actually part of the deck, that’s why it’s here. Hardly use it. Generally I just hook on and float.” Kendra suited actions to words, while Alley reached for a grab bar with her foot.

“I wouldn’t recommend drinking in microgravity until you’ve had plenty of practice, so I won’t tempt you with a coffee. I imagine you have a few questions.”

“A few?”

“Shoot. I’ll answer them all – but with one caveat.”

Alley cocked her head to the right. “Caveat?”

“Remember that need-to-know?”

“Ye-es.”

“You took my thirty pieces of silver; you’re in for the duration. If you can’t manage the security aspects, you might not be captain for very long.”

“You know my record; you know that I hold a Top Secret – Zebra clearance in the NIN.”

“I’m just making sure we’re on exactly the same page.”

Alley thought about this. “Fair enough. Okay, first question. When do I get fitted for a suit, and where’s my office?”

Kendra grinned. “Jumping in with both feet? Good. When we get dirtside, we’ll get you fitted. The suits are similar to wetsuits for SCUBA diving, but manufactured to higher tolerances. Multiple layers of carbon nanotube do most of the work; basically, all the tech to make the suit work is woven in. O2 supplies and CO2 scrubbers, power, water/waste reclamation, all in there. The helmet is a single piece of optical sapphire, clearer than glass but stronger and a higher tensile strength than steel. Fitting takes about a minute; manufacturing, about two weeks. Unfortunately, until you get your suit, you won’t be able to see your office.”

“Why not?”

“The captain’s office is on the ship.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, there’s going to be enough paperwork and familiarization to keep you busy. You’re going to have a crash course on warp drive theory, among other things.”

“That sounds…fun.”

“The good news is that you’re going to get your own implant.”

“Implant?”

“Hoo boy. Tell you what, let’s save questions about tech stuff until we’re down, and I can introduce you to my wife. She’s the genius in the family and has a much better grasp of the tech than I do.”

“You seem to do okay,” said Alley.

“That’s from being around it for the past five years. Cass just gets it.”

“I thought her name was Aiyana?”

“It is, but everyone calls her Cass. If there’s a formal situation, you can call her Dr. Cassidy. Tabling tech issues, then.”

Alley took a deep breath. “What’s the big secret? The burn-before-reading one?”

“Wondered when we’d get back to that. There’s a war coming between the UE and the Solarian Union. HLC – which means Cass and I and our friends – are in it up to our eyeballs.”

“Whose side are we on?”

“Notionally, the UE, but we’re not exactly impressed by their track record as a world government. Their mismanagement and lack of foresight have gotten us into this mess. Zarquon, I don’t believe I’m about to say this, but no less than the future of humanity on Earth is riding on this. Bleah.” Kendra worked her mouth as if to rid herself of a foul taste. “I am so not into the deep drama bullshit.”

“Future of humanity?”

“In a nutshell. The Solarian Union gets most of the ores needed for high-tech applications, at least from the UE-controlled countries. We’ve been lucky, both because we’re not part of the UE and because we have suppliers of our own. But their computers project a collapse of the agricultural infrastructure and world-wide famine in twenty years.”

“What does agriculture have to do with ores?”

“You’re going to make me drag out my soapbox, aren’t you?”

“I guess I am. This is need-to-know stuff, after all.”

“I see I’m going to have to be careful of what I say around you,” said a grinning Kendra. “Ahem. The root problem isn’t the Artemis Accords, though they’re the proximate cause. The drain on the UE”s tech supply just accelerated the issue.”

“The problem is the Basic Living Stipend.”

“I thought that the BLS was pretty standard all over? I know that I still get one from the Imperium, even though I’ve been in the Navy for years.”

“And I get one as well. Okay, maybe not the BLS itself; the idea that all citizens receive money to take care of the essentials isn’t bad, of itself. What it rests on, though, is a highly automated infrastructure to do all the most fundamental production tasks.”

“Ohhhh.”

“Yes. And on top of that, the BLS that the UE distributes is higher than any distributed in the Americas, except in California.”

“I’m not sure I follow how that’s a problem?”

“The BLS I receive would cover my groceries and housing when I live. Yours?”

“Same.”

“Right. So to have money to do things that I enjoy, I have to work. I might not have to work much, and I don’t have to take a job just to have a job, but I can’t not work and be comfortable.”

“I’m still not seeing the connection.”

“Bear with me. You made me get up on this soapbox, so you’re stuck with it until I finish.” Kendra looked triumphant, then paused. “Where was I?”

“The BLS in the UE.”

“Thanks. Here’s the connection: in order to provide a higher BLS, you have to have an even more heavily automated basic supply chain. And, if you have a higher BLS, then the motivation to work is reduced because you’re already comfortable. And that’s where it falls apart. Since the UE is giving up a stupid high percentage of the materials it needs to maintain and expand the infrastructure to the Solarian Union, and they can’t get more –”

“Why can’t they just buy more from the sources you have, for example?”

“The Amendment to the Accords. When we got dragged into this, we did our research. The language of the Amendment makes it clear that any of the listed materials that the UE has, or acquires, goes first to meet the ‘needs’ of the Union, as defined by the Union. The UE only gets what is deemed ‘essential’, and that definition is tied to a BLS from the time of the Amendment. Food and shelter.”

“They’re pretty stuck.”

“Yup. They have a bunch of really crappy choices. They can ignore the problem and let most of the planet starve to death. They can try do some retrograde innovation to their means of production. They –”

“Retrograde innovation?”

“Go backwards in terms of tech to a point where they’re still able to produce and maintain the robots and other machines to do the basic work. They could also really go back and bring more people into the production if they can get enough of their citizens to agree. Or they could fight.”

“And they chose to fight.”

“And they chose to fight.”

“How are we involved, then?”

“Initially, it was because HLC does most of the boosting to orbit for the Union. They hoped we could put economic pressure on the Union, but Cass already is doing that. They pay in gold and platinum they mine from asteroids; raising the prices annoyed them, but they just paid.”

“Could we cut them off? If we’re the major bottleneck?”

“We could, but they’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to drop rocks on opposition. All of our lift centers are near populated areas, and that’s not a risk we’re willing to take. I should add that they’re also going for the retrograde option, but that’s going to take time to implement.” Kendra silently checked the time. “We’ve got another hour or so. We can spend it here, talking politics, or we can tour your new ship.”

“I thought you said – never mind, yes!”

“The engineering hull isn’t sealed yet. The primary hull is. And she has gravity. You can have that coffee.”

“What are we waiting for?”

The Road to the Stars The Cassidy Chronicles Volume 2, Book 1, Chapter 13

Published by gaffen620

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

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