PATROL SECTOR 4
UPSF DREADNOUGHT, RESOURCE
HUNG AGAINST A BACKDROP OF STARS, the huge swirling mass of Jupiter commands centre stage. Its gravitational pull so strong, it almost seems to ripple space itself. One lone insignificant mot spins past the super gas-giant with a grace its structure belies. The central body of the United Planetary Space Fleet Dreadnought-class ship, the Resource—built like a latter-day style Hindenburg airship—rotates at a calculated rate of spin to achieve artificial gravity within. The body armoured by a brace of six limbs that make up its exoskeleton: The Ram brace. So named after Fleet Captain Helena Blackthorn rammed the Belter’s flotilla at the infamous battle of Jaarlsberg, during the first Miner’s uprising. A Dreadnought’s terrible capability to inflict a great deal of damage became legendary.
The Resource—keeping its distance from Jupiter’s gravity well—having no desire to test the theory that the Ram-brace would protect them from the huge strain and tidal pull placed upon the ship’s hull. The ship is heading for a tiny cluster of asteroids that look like grains of sand in comparison to their giant neighbour.
Dwarfed, the ship moves across the face of the planet, bleeding velocity, passing Jupiter’s unseeing eye that pays no heed. Deep inside, ringed around the central core are the Tube, offices, workspaces, Marine units and various sized hangers—situated at the far aft sections of the Dreadnought—the crew go about their daily routine.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. They crew are the heartbeat of the ship, its lifeblood. But just as they are the lifeblood of the ship, the brain and thinking part of the ship, is commanded by one small likewise, steel-cored woman with piercing blue eyes.
The diminutive figure of the grey-haired Captain Elizabeth Halley stands perfectly still arms braced, much like the ships she commands, behind her back. Stood with her feet slightly apart in a stance that says at-ease, but which no one on the bridge takes to mean the Captain herself is at ease. They know better. This intense, small woman, thrums like a taut wire held in check by a stern will. One borne from a great deal of discipline that age and experience had made this Captain’s own personal exoskeleton. A shield, one that hides but also one that protected the woman within.
Dressed head to foot in her black Fleet-issue uniform, Halley fronts the three command-position chairs that is all that occupy the Bridge Shelf. Each chair ergonomic in design and utilitarian in function and identical to its brethren. The left chair is occupied by a pensive dark-haired man whose face bears deep lines of thought. His uniform is stretched taut by a frame built to lift weights; Commander Oliver Barrett rubs a finger across the bridge of his nose, eyes fixed firmly beyond his Captain. His attention focused on the large bank of view screens hung behind the five Bridge position chairs. Each chair arrayed in an arc facing in, toward the Command Shelf.
Heads bent, the five black-garbed Grubs who occupy these cocoon-like positions, pay no attention to those above—who look down onto them—each concentrating on the task at hand. Hands nimbly and expertly fly over consoles, as low voices offer up a steady stream of information to both those on the Bridge Shelf, and those hidden below the Shelf, in the semi green-tinged gloom of Command Operations.
The steady stream of data uninterrupted, the view screens offer up views of both space inside and beyond the exoskeleton of the ship, as well as of the hull itself when need be. It is one section of monitors showing the slowly growing images of the Asteroids, that Halley now studies. Her stance never wavers.
“Helm?” It’s been thirty minutes of careful manoeuvring and slow deceleration.
A voice responds from down in the Pit, clear and resonant.
“Aye, Captain, approach vector down the line.” The head never looks up.
“Very good, Mister Lopez, bring us to within one klick.”
After ten years in the Service, the dark-eyed Lieutenant, Maria-Louisa Lopez, is used to being referred to in the masculine. A time-honoured tradition started hundreds of years earlier, when the last vestiges of the old UN Navy moved from sailing ships patrolling and policing Earth’s oceans, to spaceships patrolling the solar system; and Earth’s local neighbourhood. Under the watchful eye of Admiral McKenzie, the newly formed United Planetary Space Fleet taking up residence in the Daedalus space-station, which, at that time, was still under construction.
Lopez confirms the command.
“Aye, Captain, one klick it is.”
Already anticipating his Captain’s command, Barrett, sat at attention, has a finger resting lightly on the earpiece of his COM unit. At the other end, already primed and ready in Marine Operations, duty shift officer Lieutenant Commander Sato Hiraku awaits in Marine Ops for the relayed order. The tension in the air is palpable. Barrett shifts his weight as he registers movement out the corner of his eye.
Turning, Halley’s lilting Irish but authoritative voice, steady above the background hum of both machine and sub-vocal chatter, gives the word Barrett is waiting to hear.
“Mister Barrett, if you please, inform Commander Hiraku to ready his fire detail and prep drop-ship Charlie for launch.”
Lips a thin line, Barrett nods.
“Aye, aye, Captain.” The fingers of his left hand press his COM unit and, in a low voice, he gives a verbal command. At the same time, fingers that were paused over his Ready-board nestled into the armrest of his command seat relay the same command to Marine Ops. The reply is instantaneous and acknowledged both verbally and via his board. Logged and tracked. No errors, no mistakes.
Turning back to the view screens for one last long look, and unseen by any, Halley’s left eyebrow arches for a brief moment before the ghost of a grimace flits across tight pale pink lips.
Mentally checking off all the things that could and still might go wrong with the now-in-motion Op, Halley turns back to Barrett staring at her right-hand man whose own attention is fixed on the boards set into the arms of his chair. And although she would love to sigh out loud and run her hands through her short-cropped, greying hair, instead she steps back from the broad luminous yellow line painted on the deck. The demarcation between safe and sorry. There is no safety barrier and guardrail running along the lip of the bridge shelf, and for good reason.
In a crash-drill or emergency lock-down, the three command officers up on the Bridge shelf need quick and easy access to both the Pit and Command Ops. And it was deemed easier for the Bridge officers to jump the few feet down into the Pit, than race to either side of the decking to take one of the two stairwells. Time being of the essence and it taking less than a precious minute to erect the emergency bulkhead, below, and thereby seal off and seal-in Operations from the main Bridge compartment—Secondary command being in the Operations section beneath the Bridge shelf.
Halley returns to her seat, vacated almost an hour early, and sits.
“Ma’am?” Fine-tuned to his Captain’s every nuance in posture and voice, Barrett, who has been with Halley for every one of his twenty years service, knows that look.
“Expect the best but prepare for trouble?” He quotes an old adage from his Cadet days.
“As always Mister Barrett, as always.”