The Road to the Stars – Chapter One

No, you didn’t miss something!

Remember what Adam told you at the beginning of these posts?

Each volume of my stories is broken into three ‘books’, and each book has it’s own chapter numbering. So this is the first chapter of book two in this volume.

The book’s title is The Gathering Storm. We were fat and happy; didn’t have the slightest clue what was headed our way.

Still, it was a good time.

Now, Adam wanted me to mention that he’s entered a cover into this month’s (May 2021) contest, and he wants your vote! Just click the button below and you can vote, then come back and read this week’s sample.

And there is a sample of the audiobook at the bottom too! Click on ANY image and you can buy the book and skip all of this ‘wait a week between chapters’ nonsense!

Chapter One

Somehow, they’d done it.

The hairiest part was probably moving Spacedock to L5 and attaching it to Diana. All six of the MOVs had been enlisted for the effort, with Diana acting as remote co-pilot and engineer in each to ensure the precision necessary. The evolution took almost eight hours, all told, and had nearly ended in disaster when the Newton had suffered a main breaker fault; fortunately, the redundant systems did their job and kicked in almost immediately. Once at L5, it was another week-long project to attach Spacedock to Diana, and nearly a month to get all the systems and connections integrated. Now they were nearly finished converting the former Spacedock to an internal bay; there wouldn’t be atmosphere, but it would be a protected environment for any continued work.

All this while working heroically to shoehorn the two petajoule spinal laser into a hull which was already stuffed to the gills with vital machinery and equipment, where every cubic millimeter was accounted for. Compared to that, mounting the phased particle emitters in locations around the hull was simple work.

Alley was dead certain that Kyran’s crew was cursing both their names in what little sleep they were getting, but the fact remained that they’d worked miracles. It was still a few days short of 2119, and the Enterprise was ready for her first flight tests. Oh, there were still details to complete, but all the vital systems were functional. Supplies had been laid in, individual systems tested for operational integrity, simulations run. The crew was mostly living aboard, with a few exceptions, and were rapidly becoming familiar with the ins and outs of the starship.

The AI had been awakened, which was really a relatively simple process. The processor had already been fully operational, but the heuristic neural net hadn’t been activated. Kendra, Cass, and Alley had discussed naming the AI instead of constantly referring to it as ‘computer’, and had arrived at ‘Minerva’ as an appropriate name. When Alley had first activated the AI, it had responded in a neutral, if vaguely masculine, tone. She then informed the AI of its name, and the voice had smoothly shifted to one which was simultaneously cool, competent, and feminine, befitting the name.

Awakening Minerva, Alley reflected, was probably what allowed them to make the accelerated timetable. Minerva’s self-awareness allowed her to self-diagnose problems and report them to the human crew for needed repairs. As promised by Kendra, there was also a substantial self-repair capacity built into the systems, which largely reduced the need for the crew to be actively repairing. In addition, and much to the chagrin of both Kendra and Dr. Roberts, Minerva had spent much of her time optimizing her design.

All of which led to today. Today, there was going to be much speechifying, pomp, and circumstance. The attention of the worlds had gradually focused on the starship and her crew; Kendra drew on her experience to make the prospect of the first operational starship irresistible. While only the crew of Enterprise and Diana would actually be present, the various networks assured them of an audience in the billions, including most heads of state.

Alley’s musings were interrupted by her door signal.

“Enter.”

Kendra and Cass walked into her office.

“Hey, Alley. You ready?” Kendra nodded at Alley’s uniform.

“I am. What about you?”

Alley was wearing her Command gold uniform. It was a compromise between Kendra’s vision and Alley’s comfort zone. All the outer layers, top and bottoms, were navy blue with colored trim; the trim indicated which of several divisions the crewmember was part of. Since Enterprise was, after all, an untested ship, the crew were required to wear their skinsuits beneath the uniforms, and each skinsuit had been coordinated with the trim. The skinsuits were just visible at the cuffs and the neckline. As an unexpected bonus it was a huge boon for everyone’s individual comfort, since the suits were designed to maintain the wearer’s optimal temperature.

“And pockets!” had insisted Alley, who had quietly become almost as familiar as Kendra with the source material for Kendra’s dreams. “None of those damn shows had pockets, and I know it’s because they were just like today’s FicChans and it made for smoother lines for filming. They weren’t real life, but this is, and my crew by the goddess will have someplace to put things!”

The divisions were reasonable enough: Command, Engineering, Defense, Medical, Science, and Small Craft. Kendra had argued for certain colors, and where she didn’t have a concrete objection Alley was happy to go along, so it ended up that Command was gold, Engineering was red, and Medical was blue. Science received orange, Defense received green, and Small Craft was purple. Since there was only a small crew, there was some inevitable overlap in specialties and assignments, but the crew’s designations generally matched their primary duties.

Alley had also insisted on a paramilitary organization for the ship. She used Kendra’s own arguments that, as the first starship, Enterprise would be setting the pattern for all future craft, and that establishing as clear a chain of command as possible would result in benefits for all future Captains. Rank was indicated by rings on the end of the sleeves, patterned after the NIN: four wide rings for Captain; three wide and a narrow for Commander; three wide for Lieutenant Commander; two wide and a narrow for Senior Lieutenant; two wide for Lieutenant; one wide and a narrow for Ensign; one wide for Ensign Junior Grade; and one narrow for Midshipman, even though they didn’t yet have any midshipmen, nor any plans to introduce them for some time yet. This structure officially enshrined Alley as the commanding officer. Her XO, Kiri Stewart, was assigned the rank of Commander and the position of Division Head for Command.

Stewart had been a classmate of Alley’s at the NIN Academy, graduating just behind her, and had also joined the submarine forces. Her career had been even more promising than Alley’s, but had ended earlier. She had been serving aboard the Milwaukee when the unfortunate sub had suffered a malfunction in the torpedo doors. The inner doors in the bow launchers hadn’t sealed properly, and when they flooded the tubes the inrushing water had pulled the ship to the bottom, despite desperate efforts to blow the tanks. Stewart had been crushed beneath falling equipment when the sub impacted the bottom, pinning her in place for nearly twenty hours until the NIN could mount a rescue for the eighty-seven survivors. The resulting damage to her spine had left her paralyzed from the waist down and had permanently beached her.

The NIN had found a teaching role for her at the Academy, but she was merely marking time there. When Alley had approached her with the offer of a position, two months into her tenure as Captain, Stewart was naturally curious, but also reluctant.

“Maybe you didn’t notice, but I’m kinda stuck in this chair.” She gestured to herself.

“There might be something I can do about that,” said Alley, enigmatically. “I can’t go into details, though. Not without your answer.”

Stewart looked to her wife, Lorelei. Alley knew that look; she had seen it often enough between Cass and Ken in the weeks since joining up. Where Stewart was almost 1.7 meters, fair-skinned, willowy, with straight brown hair that fell almost to her waist, Lorelei was barely 1.5 meters, richly colored olive-tinted brown skin, muscular, and possessed wavy hair that barely reached her chin.

“One more question.”

“I’ll answer anything I can.”

“You said ‘ship. How long are deployments?”

“That’s uncertain. We’re still under construction, and then there are trials, and those will be shorter deployments. Once we’re fully certified, I would expect to be aboard her for at least three months at a time, probably longer, with opportunities for leave.”

Stewart’s eyes saddened. “Then –”

“Not so fast. If you’re about to say no because you’re going to have to leave Lorelei behind, don’t.”

“You don’t understand. She’s what’s held me together after the accident. I can’t, won’t, leave her behind. What?” she finished sharply at Alley’s fond smile.

“You sound just like my boss. Okay, I can tell you this much: you won’t have to leave her behind, if you sign on. Where you go, she goes. Lorelei, what do you do?”

“Right now I’m an industrial engineer. I specialize in the application of high-power optics in manufacturing processes.”

Alley worked through the jargon. “You work with powerful lasers?”

“Yes,” agreed Lorelei.

“Then I think I have a position for you, too.”

“You can do that?” gasped Stewart.

“My ship, my crew.”

Another look.

“We’re in.”

Alley caught up to them several days later, after both Stewarts received their implants.

Can I come in? she commed.

A moment later, she received, Come in.

“Still getting used to it?” she asked once she’d settled in.

“It’s really weird,” admitted Lorelei.

“Where’s Kiri?”

“Coming!” said a voice from another room. A moment later, Kiri rolled in. Alley frowned.

“You ought to be able to get out of that,” she said, pointing to the power chair.

“It’s not that easy,” said Kiri. “Alley, I’ve been in this for the past six years! I’d gotten used to the thought that I’m never going to walk again, and now you come to me and tell me I can just get up?”

“I know it’s not that easy,” Alley started to say.

“No, it’s not! Oh, I love the idea, but it’s real, real sudden.”

“- But no rush,” finished Alley. “Enterprise runs on three-quarters g, though. Maybe you want to wait until you’re aboard to start trying? In any case, I came here to talk with you about assignments…”

Kiri was a natural XO, and as Alley had thought, the reduced gravity had both enabled and encouraged her to regain her mobility, now that her ‘bots had repaired the injury damage and the muscle deterioration and atrophy. Lorelei had slipped seamlessly into the Engineering division, working closely with Val and Cass on the installation of the spinal laser.

The other division heads were all assigned the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Dellin Anderson was the Chief Engineer and in charge of Engineering; Candice Sanzari had chosen to join and was given Defense; Dr. Joseph Quinn was given Medical; Mia Kleve found herself riding herd on the MOV pilots, already calling themselves the Wolfpack; and Cass was tentatively assigned to head Science, once she finished freeing herself from her Earthside commitments. Until then, the position was being held by Dr. Dawn Zihal, who had come aboard as a planetologist and taken the rank of Senior Lieutenant.

There was a meeting scheduled with all the division heads momentarily, but Alley appreciated the gesture by Cass and Ken to stop in with her beforehand.

“Cass, that uniform looks like it was made for you to wear it. Or maybe I should call you Lieutenant Commander?”

Cass was in uniform, tugging at the collar of her skinsuit. Breaking into a smile, she said, “It still doesn’t seem real. I mean, you’re definitely a proper officer; you’ve earned it! I just happen to be the woman –”

Before Cass could finish, Alley interrupted. “Don’t go there! Yes, that’s an argument that Kendra and I had, months ago. But you have convinced me that you deserve the opportunity to prove yourself. Unless you do something to prove me wrong, you have earned those stripes. Are we clear, Lieutenant Commander?”

Cass unconsciously straightened. “Yes, ma’am!”

Kendra couldn’t help it and broke out laughing, which drew a glare from Cass.

“Oh, shut up,” Cass snapped. “At least you can’t make me salute you!”

“Actually,” Alley started. “She can.”

“Did I miss a memo?” Cass looked from Alley to Kendra.

“Maybe?”

Cass turned to face her wife, arms crossed. “Uh-huh. Spill.”

“Well, I might have thought it proper, since, you know, we’re going to be building an actual fleet…” Kendra trailed off.

Cass stared.

“And, you know, Alley’s going to have her hands full commanding Enterprise.”

She still stared.

“So when we finish Endeavour, we’re going to need someone in overall command.”

She arched an eyebrow.

“And Diana is technically a Fleet base, so we really needed someone to oversee…”

Alley couldn’t stand it any longer. “Cass, I’d like to introduce you to Admiral Kendra Cassidy.”

“You brat!”

“Hey! Watch how you address me!” Cass grabbed hold of Kendra’s arms and gave her a shake. “Alley! She’s striking a superior officer!”

Alley’s laughter filled the room. “Seems to me you deserve it.”

“Mutiny!”

The Road to the Stars – Book Two – Chapter One

Published by gaffen620

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

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