Citizens of the Imperium

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flykiller December 23rd, 2015 11:17 PM

Recovery Mission 875-496
"Field Scout Adam Warren."

His eyes jerked open, he had been about to fall asleep. Relaxed, must be a good sign. He rose, unconsciously straightening his formal field dress uniform, and turned to the announcer. A young female, in formal administration uniform. More gray, less showy, but it exuded ... what? He never could figure it out. Mandarin officiousness? Made her look older.

She smiled and glanced him over, as if checking his uniform for propriety. "Sorry to keep you waiting, are you ready?"

"Yes. Lead the way," as he raised his hand towards the review bay and smiled slightly in return. She did, and he fell into step alongside her. A little bit of parade formality, admin liked that, though it was annoying to be led by a youngster. A bit much to check on his uniform too. An ancient design, it was both dashing and hard to wear incorrectly. Well, some field scouts could, and did, wear it incorrectly, so perhaps it was necessary.

Maybe she was looking for misaligned awards. Pilot wings. Lead pin. Wilderness Ribbon. Weapons Qual. Purple Heart.

He almost hadn't worn that last one.

She probably would have said something.

The access slid open and they strode into the review bay. By tradition, large and echoy, like a ship hanger. The far end was glassed in overlooking a magnificent view of the combined naval/scout base and the city beyond. Local star high overhead, beautiful blue sky, avian animals passing between the hangers. Marines in combat armor doing PT on the tarmac, an Alice on the flight line with bots loading it up with cargo, a Maus half out of a prep bay undergoing alignment checks. Beyond was the local port city, a bit small but expanding fast. Good to see people out-of-hull.

Was that his ship aligning? Looked like it. Test vehicles, reflectors, dampers, orange-clad ground techs scurrying around. Had to be.

Not yet though. Some formalities.

Before the bay window was a long table with the review board administrators. Admininstration Lead, Engineering, Ops, Personnel ... and a fifth? Who was ... medical. Psych. Here? Oh God, don't need this. Get through this, again, how many more times .... He relaxed. Think ahead ....

A chair faced the table. The youngster waved him forward while moving off to one side. He strode up easily to the table and they all rose to meet him.

"Scout Warren reporting for assignment."

"Scout Warren, pleased to see you here, I am Senior Administrator Harinkake," said the older woman at the center, clasping her hands in front of her in the ancient vilani greeting for females. He responded with his right arm across his middle and a slight bow, and she smiled at the courtesy. "This is Administrator Hourk for Engineering," the man leaned forward over the table expansively and offered his hand, "Administrator O'Mallard for Operations," the woman nodded, "Administrator Smith for Personnel," the man nodded as well, "and Doctor PringelHoeffer." This guy smiled that ... smile. Adam stood easy, greeting them all in turn as they preferred. No formality here, just the well-worn ways.

"Well, let's begin," Harinkake said. Everyone sat at the long table, Adam in the chair facing it.

"Scout Warren, this will be a review board to consider assigning you as lead to a ship and crew and assignment. The immediate mission is the investigation of an overdue vessel, the ISS Purdue. It is a standard S-class, crew of 4, overdue now by five months from Five Sisters Subsector System 875-496, the ship's last known destination. Its arrival in or departure from that system is unknown. Secondary consideration is the Purdue's original mission, a standard review and update of the status of 875-496 prior to the anticipated arrival of the ISS Lu Hao to conduct a full preliminary survey next year."

Harinkake went on for several more minutes further outlining the mission background. He knew most of it already - few secrets on a scout base. As for considering him, this was just a formality, the board did not seat without crew and lead decisions already having been made.

Except for PicklePicker there ....

"Do you have any questions?"

"Yes ma'am, I'm surprised at the length of time for the overdue declaration. Has there been a change in policy on that?" Smooth, lead off with a question regarding administration policy, they liked that.

"No, the Purdue had multiple missions and there was a communications issue at Gohature, all adding up to the delay. No change in policy." Adam raised his eyebrows - somebody at Gohature was getting a new assignment, probably long term research on a Kuiper belt object.

Next was Hourk. A big guy, leaned back in his chair, spoke clearly, his voice filling the review bay. "We've rehulled a Maus, ISS-SS18-1022-022A, with Jump 3 and matching tanks. We had to replace the landing gear with keel skids and downgrade maneuver drives to 1G but on the upside you'll have a model 4 sensor suite and a brand new fuel purifier. In fact almost everything on the ship is new except for the hull, built right here by Durhan Port of Karin. That's it down there." Hourk waved to the outfitting scoutship below. "It's not the lead boat for this alteration, it's number 3, so the kinks have been worked out ...."

Adam interrupted. "Was Purdue the lead boat?" Rude to interrupt an administrator, but clearly Hourk was an advance from the field and Adam didn't think twice about the question knowing that Hourk wouldn't think twice either.

Hourk grinned. "No it was the second. But the lead has been operating without incident for several months now at Candory and Andory, so we believe there are no issues in that regard. Lined up all three myself." Houk went on for a few minutes specifying the rest of the engineering features. They were fairly standard, though a tight fit with that fuel tank taking up so much hull. Missing a lot of cargo space. "There are four dtons configurable space available, two in hotel and two remaining from the old airraft bay, for equipment outfits, any of which can be installed in a few hours at your discretion. Questions?"

"What outfits are available?"

"We have a lowberth module - two berths, a laboratory facility, a grav bike garage, a damage control point, a pre-fitted machine/electrical shed, and a couple of robot berths. Oh, and a holobooth entertainment suite for those long lonely jumps. Not enough room for all of it, you'll have to pick and choose, and of course whatever you don't fill will be general cargo."

Adam nodded. "I'll have to consult my team first."

"Of course."

O'Mallard brightly and happily covered the assignment parameters and protocols. Launch tomorrow, flight window, calibration runs, supplies aboard, comms, span of regulations, target system specifications, preliminary navigation data, return date no later than two months, the works. "Rules of engagement," Adam perked up at that, what?, "you are to minimize contact with the indigenous population unless such contact contributes or is likely to contribute to locating the Purdue."

"Not a problem," he said, a little to readily he realized immediately. He saw Pifflepinger or whoever he was pretend not to take note of that. "But I don't believe I've ever actually seen such a parameter applied. Was the Purdue operating under a similar rule?" Genuine curiosity, smoothly expressed, good recovery.

"Yes they were, it's an uncommon parameter but we do apply it from time to time."

"Why at 496? The people are surrounded by multiple space-going interests, surely they should be told."

"Senior administration officials in the Indigeneous Office have decided that because the world is so far off of normal civilian routes and has no strategic value therefore it is to be left to develop on its own as much as possible. Agreements with Forine and Collace are in place to support that. In any case you may have trouble locating them at all, there are only several ten thousand of them and they all live on the coast of the great northern bay. That is, by last report."

"I understand, mission-relevant contact only."

Smith started into personnel. An older man, a little wooden. "You of course will be lead pilot. Your navigator will be Scout Natasha Sversk, a citizen of Aki. She is newly arrived this week from the top of her second tour class at the Glisten Navigation Academy and is able to drive the Jump 3 capability with no problems."

Adam thought about that for a moment. "Does she have any cyber interfaces or other alterations?"

"No. She is fully organic. You object to such?" A spark in the old eyes.

"You mean she is normal and being normal that question is not part of this review."

"I understand a citizen of Trin's objections ..."

"Glisten is always looking for experimental subjects from Aki ..."

"Gentlemen." Harinkake broke in, quiet but oddly authoritative.

After a moment Smith continued. "Your engineer will be Scout Kishsuumdadki-," Adam started counting off the syllables on his fingers, "-imku Laseiag Namuu-", he ran out of fingers, "-ishun, a native of Karin here, who is fully trained and qualified and experienced in all aspects of engineering. And yes, he is from a great vilani family."

"Sounds like he's an admiral." Adam grinned, meaning it as a joke and trying to restore some commity, but Smith had no sense of humor. "No, he himself is not. Will you have a problem with him?"

"That's ... we'll work it out," Adam finished confidently.

flykiller December 26th, 2015 03:38 PM

Smith continued. "Your survey specialist will be Scout Helga Braun von Hochstaadt of Lunion." This one Adam had met. He pursed his lips. "In addition to having experience in previous assignments she recently completed her second tour class in the cross-cultures training course, so in addition to hard system survey if you must make contact with the natives she will assist and perform that initial contact."

"She certainly will overwhelm them."

Again Smith had no humor. "Will you have a problem with her?"

Different tack. "No, not at all, I appreciate her Lunion efficiency, she should be a good member of the team." Honest sincerity. Just need to remember to get some earplugs ....

Smith turned to include the rest of the review board. "Total skill sets for this mission are Vacc Suit and Zero Gravity Qualified x4, Pilot 3x2, Navigation 3x2, Engineering 2x1, Mechanic 2x1, Electronics 2x1, Communications 2x1, Wilderness 2x1, Survey 2x1, Emergency Medic Technician Qualified x1, Airraft Qualified x1, Weapons Training and Qualified x4. This covers all required crew manning and several other seats as well." This put crew manning on the official review record. Adam listened carefully as Smith finished. "I assess personnel skill sets to be adequate for this assignment." He turned back to Adam. "Any questions?"

"Yes, two. First, Who is the EMT and is that the total medical skill we have onboard?"

"Scout Sversk, and yes. Not only has she tested very well in this skill but she also has extensive personal experience. She is a good choice to fill the role."

He tried to keep the edge out of his voice. "Good choice and experience or not I don't like minimal coverage there." Success. He even managed a small smile at the end.

Smith turned to Harinkake. "While we always strive to provide more coverage in this skill set, regulations permit this level of manning, and events of record demonstrate its adequacy in most circumstances."

Harinkake said, "I concur."

Adam had been about to say, "Not all." He almost said it anyway. But that was that.

"Second, no gunner?"

O'Mallard answered, "We expect you will have no contact with other ships. It's an isolated system, there is no through traffic."

"If there is any contact I may exercise significant caution. This may delay mission completion."

"As lead you will of course have full discretion," said Harinkake.

As he nodded he turned to the doctor, consciously keeping his body posture unchanged and his face mildly curious. "And a fifth board member?"

"Yes, a new policy to cover certain issues," the doctor answered amiably. "As you know scout duty can be both arduous and unrelieved," Adam's eyes were half-lidded, "and as team lead you have responsibilities which cannot be discarded on a whim. Your last mission ended very badly, not through any fault of your own of course, but badly nonetheless and personally. This happens in the service. We wish to see that you have dealt with it."

"Outside what is in the record I'm not sure I have anything new to say. I'm not sure there could be anything new to say. It happened, I'm moving on, I'm cleared for flight, what's to add?" He smiled. "Except the usual of course. Trins don't quit. God assigns us our lives and there is no escaping it. You know that."

"Yes, we know about Trin culture. What we'd like to see is the individual man here right now."

Adam raised his hand in a slightly theatrical gesture and smiled again. "Here I am."

"Your friend was beaten to death in front of you. You spent one month in hospital."

Adam looked to one side.

"Senior Administrator Harinkake encouraged you finally to train and apply for the bureaucracy. But for your third tour school you chose the combat handgun course. Perhaps you feel this might have changed that event?"

"The service offers the course, should I not have taken it? And it might have changed that event, yes." Lean forward slightly, confident, fully fair reasoning here. "And it might change events in the future. On this tour ...."

"At one point you cleared your barracks room and purchased private transportation aboard a private merchant outbound of Karin."

Adam said nothing. Hourk looked annoyed and embarassed. Smith retained his wooden demeanor.

"You submitted a fully filled-out form 2998a, Request For Termination of Tour and Discharge From Service."

Adam said nothing for a moment. "She said she deleted that."

"Of course the administrator deleted it from her files. But nothing, once it appears anywhere on the records system, ever is deleted from our data base."

"Well I meant for it to be deleted." An opening. Calm, forward. "You sound more like a naval investigator than a doctor. Look," cutting off the doctor who was about to add something else, "what is the point of all this?"

"Scout Warren," said Harinkake, herself almost imperceptibly waving down the doctor, "I find your behavior entirely normal, and I do have confidence in you. What we want to know, before we hand you a ship and a mission, is why you came back. You purchased the ticket, you filled out the form. Why are you now here?"

Adam looked past them, out the bay window, over the base and city, into the uncommon blue sky. "I ... I handed my ticket to the merchantman, and was walking aboard. And it occurred to me ... this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Ride on someone else's boat. I turned around and walked off and came back." He glanced at the review board members in turn, ending with the Senior Administrator. He waved his hand around the view outside the window and the base beyond. "This is what I do." He tapped the wings, pin, and ribbon on his chest. "This is what I do." He pointed at the outfitting Maus below. "That is what I do."


After a moment Harinkake nodded. "Very well, it seems all regulations and policies have been covered, the board will now decide on this mission. Engineering?"

"Go." Hourk seemed relieved.


"Go." O'Mallard bright and happy, God help her ....


"Go." It was incredible, but somehow Smith said it in a wooden manner.

"Medical?" Harinkake was looking at the doctor.

"Go." Slight hesitation.

"Very well, Administration approves the mission," Harinkake concluded. "Scout Warren, please assemble your team and procede on assignment as scheduled."

"Yes Ma'am." He even managed a smile.

Harinkake dismissed the review board, and they all started out the access towards the admin facilities.

He strode purposefully out of the review bay and down the hall towards the exit to the maintenance field below. As he passed by an empty lounge he seemed to think of something. He wrenched the Purple Heart medal off of his uniform, stepped into the lounge, and tossed it into a trash bin. He then stepped back out, through the doors, and onto the field towards his ship, eyes straight forward.

The young female administrator was in the hall behind him. She edged into the lounge and looked into the trash can. She retrieved the medal, looking down at it in her hand and then out the window at Adam. She pocketed the medal and headed back towards Admin.

MThompson016 December 26th, 2015 08:59 PM

Looks like a nice start. Very enjoyable.

flykiller December 28th, 2015 07:25 PM

Adam slowed his pace and shook his head to clear it. Wouldn't do to walk up on his boat angry. As he approached from the port bow he looked it over.

No landing gear. Though it squatted on the tarmac it still looked sleek enough with the standard pointed nose. Beautiful. They were all beautiful, but this one was his for a while. With its face on the ground it looked like it was daring him to fly it. Oh yeah kid, you'll fly ... but how to get in? The ventral airlock access is blocked. Ah, a newly installed ladder flush with the hull leads up to the dorsal airlock access, the internal ladder extended up through the hatch to aid entry.

Some workers were finishing up and driving off the heavy gear, others remained.

Adam yelled, "Yard!"

One of them turned to look, blinked at his full dress uniform, and walked over as Adam turned to him. "You Warren? Boat's about ready. Hourk says you'll need a few other things hauled in after you talk to your crew so let me know, I got a lot to do."

"Thanks. Are they here?"

"Yeah, your engineer's aboard already, seems to know what he's doing and let's people know it. And, uh, yeah, your navigator's here too," he motioned Adam to walk with him past the bow, "she's digging around in the bridge sensors up front. I told her it's calibrated and showed her the specs but she disagrees and wants to see for herself."

"She's just out of Nav academy. Have you ever calibrated J3 before?"

"Only in training, but I can do J2 in my sleep and J3's not that much more."

"Well, she's the one who has to drive it, so let's do it her way, so I know who to yell at if we have to spend three weeks in transit after a poor jump navigation."

"Suits me," the yard supervisor nodded. As they rounded the bow he cocked his head and motioned with his hand towards the opened starboard sensors access.

A woman in a standard gray flight suit, most very much oh so definitely a young female, was leaned over with her head and and arms and upper body in the sensor bay and her butt hanging outside.

It took Adam a moment to respond. "Always good to have qualified personnel."

The yard supervisor slapped Adam on the back of the shoulder, "Enjoy, pilot," and walked away.

"Yeah." Adam walked over slowly, watching her, or what showed of her. "Maybe a little too qualified. Yeah." He nodded.

He stepped up, off to one side and close. "Scout!" Loud command voice.

She jerked up, banging her head on something inside the bay. He could hear a dropped tool rattling down into the equipment. Some cursing in a language he'd never heard as she backed out and stood up to face him. Ohhh, she's pretty, and angry, and pretty when she's angry, and ... stop, focus. Holding the back of her head but full attention on him. Good presence of mind. Plus one ....

Very intriguing accent, he couldn't place it, Aki was such a hodgepodge of cultures. She was going on about who he thought he was, something. Good balance, good physical condition, she ... looked like she was going to fight him? She looked like she could make some progress at it, too. Plus two ....

He waved her down. "What are you doing in there?"

"I am the navigator for this ship and I check the maintenance work! They align incorrectly! Who are you?"

"I'm Scout Adam Warren, lead for this ship and mission. You are," he almost said Natasha but decided to postpone that, "Scout Sverk, the navigator?"

"Sversk!" she insisted, and came to attention. "Yes Scout Warren, I have been assigned as navigator."

He was taken aback for a second. "Don't come to attention, we don't do that here. You're new to the field?"

"Yes." She came to ease as if remembering, and put her hand to the back of her head again. It came back with a spot of blood, and she cursed or something in her native language.

"Well I've heard good things about you so far, so here's how we do it in the field. We don't compete, we cooperate, and they're not maintenance, they're calibration, and they don't make mistakes very often, so here's what you do. If there's some equipment configuration you prefer ..."

"It is not prefer! It is wrong!"

"... some equipment configuration you prefer," he repeated a little more clearly, "then you go to the yard supervisor and ask him why he set it up the way he did, and then explain to him why you think it should be different, and you do that back and forth until you reach a consensus. I know you were great at the academy but he's been doing this for real for a few years so," he made a guess, "it's an opportunity to learn a little bit more about how real equipment actually functions in the field. OK, Scout ... Sversk is it?"

She glared at him. "You manipulate me into saying 'yes' to your name pronunciation verification as substitution to saying 'yes' to second-guessing myself!"

Ah. He stood straight. "Yes, yes you're right, it is manipulation." He looked her in the eye. She looked him right back, then seemed to fume down a bit. "I will confer with the maint ... with the calibration supervisor." She turned towards the bow to go find the man. "Wait, don't forget the tool you dropped," said Adam gently, pointing to the sensor bay access. She rolled her eyes - he could tell it was at herself - and thrust her torso into the access again, fishing around for the tool.

Able to follow a lead, plus three. Responsible for herself, plus four. And watching her - a little bit un-self-conscious, plus five. Oh yeah, always good to have qualified personnel.

With an effort at setting his eyes up and straight ahead, he walked past her and around the bow again. Motioning to the yard supervisor to catch his attention he made talking motions with both his hands facing each other, and pointed back around the bow. The yard supervisor nodded. Adam mounted the new ladder to the airlock hatch on the top of the Maus and climbed down into the boat.

flykiller December 31st, 2015 12:24 PM

Everything new except the hull, Hourk had said. Well the airlock was quite old but all the atmo cycling equipment seemed good. Hatch gaskets were new. He stepped through the inner hatch into the main corridor. Vacc suit and ship's locker across from him, on his left the bridge, on the right the rest of the ship. He quickly checked the gear locker for a disposal bag, found one, and stepped through the hatch onto the bridge deck and looked around. New seats, and the primary navigation setup on the right seat was new, but the rest looked old and well-worn. The bridge panel was up, lights and screens lit off, looked like a ship/computer alignment sequence was underway. The primary pilot's seat on the left seemed inviting, but he didn't sit. Not yet.

For the moment he unscrewed and lifted the control panels at both seats. On the right there was nothing stashed underneath, but on the left was some kind of paper literature. Ah. Porn. In a galaxy full of people you never knew what you were going to find and you probably didn't want to know, ever. Without looking at it he used the inside of the disposal bag to lift the physical document and dropped it into the bag. Next he reached gingerly around between the panels and the hull. Usually weapons got stashed and forgotten there, but he found none. Last he climbed under each panel, laying on his back next to the seat, and looked up. Ah, there was ... something ... organic? ... lodged in the underside, whatever it was it was mummified. He didn't want to know. Again using the inside of the disposal bag he grasped the thing and wrenched it out and bagged it up.

Standing again he looked out the bridge window to see Natasha and the yard supervisor speaking, consulting charts unfolded from a user manual. He turned around and stepped off the bridge back into the corridor. Leaning into the airlock he swung the disposal bag up and out the hatch onto the top of the ship.

He checked the vacc suit locker and gear locker. One general purpose public soft suit, one smaller soft suit nametagged "Sversk", and a man-sized soft suit nametagged "KLN". Lots of other gear in the locker, the usual stuff, but hanging on the weapons rack alongside a few standard scout revolver sidearms was a shotgun. A very nice shotgun, inlaid stock, and semi-auto. A bit smaller than the typical military version. Somebody had a hobby.

He moved down the corridor popping open the cabin sliding doors to look in. The number 1 cabin had been minimized to allow reconfiguration of the hotel spaces - junior member would get that one. The rest looked normal, cleaned and ready to go. Aft was the crew lounge and dining area. Across from that was 2 dtons usually set aside for hotel services but now empty and available for other outfits. He thought about pulling out the lounge as well and replacing it with other outfits, but decided against it. Humans required communal space to form teams.

He popped the aft hatch and stepped into engineering. Oh. Brand spanking new, he had never seen such a clean space before. All the overhead lights worked, monoshade gray paint scheme, shiny deckplates, no broken lights, no grease in the corners, no missing name plates, everything clearly labled. He could smell the label paint, it was that new.

A man in standard orange engineering coveralls stepped around the corner past the forward power plant flasks and stood looking at him. Stoic, stable, upright, controlled, every inch Vilani. When not using their hands they tended to just let them hang at their sides, it made them look a little robotic.

Adam directly faced him. "Scout Adam Warren, duly appointed lead for this ship and mission, on initial inspection."

"Scout Kishsuumdadkiimku Laseiag Namuuishun, duly appointed engineer for this ship and mission. Ready by for inspection." Formal upper-caste pronunciation of the name. Gauntlet thrown perhaps.

Adam glanced around. "Should I bother?"

"No. Though you may wish to behold the sight of a virgin plant. And you will not have to worry about soiling your field dress uniform."

"Yeah", Adam grinned. "Calibrations finished?"

"Yes. The flasks are power tested, power trains verified, ship's computer aligning as we speak. The maunever drive was aligned this morning. We completed a jump drive dry breach just now. Everything is ready for a full run."

Adam looked at the single gravitic vortex maneuver drive on the centerline aft, seemingly lost and alone even in that small engineering space. Too small for sustained VTOL, flight mode only, bare minimum to drive the boat, but it looked unusually robust. He pointed at it. "Overload duration?"

"Forty-nine seconds."

"Wow. A five-year-old could fly that."

"If you can find a five-year-old."

"Will Natasha do?"

"The sharp woman? Forty-nine seconds may be adequate."

"Well she's going to take her out, so be ready. By the way, while your name is illustrious, I don't want to wear it out. May I call you Kish?"

The engineer's face did not change expression. "In my birth village we have a streetsweeper named Kish. Call me Chief Laseiag." Yep, gauntlet thrown.

"I appreciate your accomodation. Chief Laseiag it is." Adam thought a moment. "During the collapse of the Vilani Empire Laseiag was the only Vilani admiral to inflict a serious defeat upon a major terran fleet."

"I appreciate your knowledge of such ancient history. Yes, but the victory came too late to stem the Terran Assault." Third gauntlet thrown, and getting a little casual about it.

OK, enough of this. Adam nodded at the jump drives. "Show me the J3, I've never seen one before."

Laseiag, after an infitesimal hesitation, turned to the engineering local control station and aligned a 3D holo. Adam noted that he had mounted his training certifications as plaques to the bulkhead near the station. Engineering, Mechanics, and Electronics, the first two with honors. All in, this one. The mounting brackets were not sloppy or temporary but precisely ruled and meant to last. Adam wondered why someone like Laseiag had chosen engineering. Or the scout service, for that matter.

The holo display lit up and Adam and Laseiag were standing aside a depiction of the internal workings of the J3 drive. Laseiag walked into the depiction and pointed out the counter-rotating assemblies. "As you know the first ring breaches realspace allowing jump. In J2 the second ring merely powers through the breach and drives the J2 path by brute force. This is the limit of jump using this method. J3 takes step back from this conceptually, and rather than relying on brute force to create the jump path instead uses the second ring to forge a jump space template," he pointed to the mathematically described shape formed by the second ring at the breach point focused by the first ring, "which the third ring then uses to finesse the jump path."

Adam gazed in genuine fascination. "Can't say I understand the math here, but it's brilliant, isn't it? Knowing what works, yet to take a step back from that and pursue something else, and find it. To build on what exists, rather than accept it as a limit."

Laseiag answered, "Merely fortuitous. A future that ignores its past is dying."

Adam responded, "A past that looks to itself is dead. A living man has a past and a future. God puts us in the middle."

"You are Trin."


Laseiag switched off the projection. Adam turned and formally considered the plaques, each in turn, in detail, as Laseiag stood by. The lead then turned to face the engineer. "Administrator Hourk informs me that this ship is the third of its configuration. One ship already is lost for unknown reasons. You are the only one with engineering training of any kind on this crew so your judgement on those matters will be definitive. It is clear that you will be able to deal with any engineering problems that come to light and very likely this is why you were chosen for this mission. It bodes well that you are here Chief Laseiag."

Laseiag nodded. "Pilot and Lead."

Acceptable. As Adam turned to go he stopped. "By the way, is that your shotgun in the locker?"

"Yes. I hunt avians. The firearm belongs to my great-grandfathers."

"It's a beauty." Adam realized something. "Is hunting permitted on 496? I have no idea."

"I will inquire. But the shotgun also is a weapon should that prove necessary."

Adam looked up the ladder in the space between the fuel purifier elements, to the attic deck. "Yeah, they ... they work." He climbed the ladder.

flykiller January 2nd, 2016 05:58 PM

On the attic deck he popped the hatch to the gunnery station. Brand new, never been used, he knew nothing about it and apparently had no-one on the crew who did. Unlikely they would need it, but strange for it not to play a role. He started to step back and realized they could fill the station with food packet supplies. Just pile them in. He grinned as he dogged the hatch. "Food for peace. Feed the aliens. Nutrition not nukes."

On the corridor section aft was a general locker. Right now it had the usual general ship's supplies but they would have to stuff it tighter. He stepped through the aftmost hatch and found an expedition locker full of groundside equipment and beyond that the remains of the garage. No room for an airraft now, the expanded fuel tank had encroached on the space too much. Make a nice cargo bin, or there was enough room for two grav bikes.

He preferred the bikes. Would come in handy. Probably could persuade the crew. He remembered the Porozlo vid "Grav Rave" and James Stark DeVault looping on the river embankment cuts. For years afterwards lots of kids got concussions and broken arms trying to duplicate that. Yeah, lot of fun, probably could persuade them.

He undogged the garage sliding hatch and slid it into the overhead, stepping to the edge outside. Always a little strange to breech hull protocol. He glanced up at the blue sky. Sad to fly out of that. Leave a perfectly good place just to fly somewhere else that might not be as good ....

"Ach, pretty boy with pretty uniform!"

And here she is. Looking back down he saw Helga. Big girl, very big girl, olive drab mission coveralls, a duffel bag on each shoulder and an equipment case in each hand. "Well hello dainty flower!" he grinned.

She smiled hugely. "'Dainty flower'! I like! I throw my bags to you?"

"No! No," he said, holding up his hands in half-joking negation. "Just get a loading ramp and put it over the forward airlock, we have some more stuff coming including all the food."

"Yes." She strode easily with her load to the bow, dropped all of it, and marched rapidly towards a nearby ramp vehicle.

Adam glanced over at Natasha and the yard supervisor. They were in the calibration van, standing in the middle of a very complex holographic projection of the ship's bow internals, moving the virtual components around trying to balance some consideration or other. He could see the depicted EM fields and orientations, and the math associated with each one, rolling all around them as they altered one parameter and then another. Natasha looked concerned, the yard supervisor looked like he was waiting for her to realize the obvious. Adam had no clue how they followed all the unseen interactions. He could comprehend the calculations for piloting a physical ship - mostly, he had graduated near the bottom of his flight academy - and that was about it. He slapped the ship's hull. "You I understand." He mounted the fantail ladder, slid down to the tarmac, and walked back towards the forward access.

Helga drove up with the ramp, in one motion lurching to a halt and deploying the ramp with smooth practice, stepping out without checking the alignment. Adam could tell it would line up with the airlock hatch well enough.

"Want some help?"

"You spoil your uniform! I can carry."

"Actually I was thinking of the loading ramp capacity. Spread the weight a little more evenly?"

She looked concerned. "I am fat?" She posed theatrically glancing over her shoulder at her rear. "What think you?"

Actually there was nothing overweight about her, she was just the most substantial woman Adam had ever seen. He grinned, "You're fine, let's get your gear aboard." He picked up the equipment cases, losing his balance slightly over one of them. "Is this your gun? And ammo? And a lot of it?" What was it with Lunions and autopistols? They loved the things.

She hoisted her duffle bags and started easily up the ramp. "Yes. And I use it last mission too. Perhaps that is why they send me to alien school. I learn to talk and wave hands and make faces instead of shoot!"

"I'm sure you're equally effective with both."

"Hah! You make funny!"

Glancing down the airlock hatch first, she tossed her bags in and gracefully mounted the ladder to slide down. Adam carefully handed the equipment cases to her, and she moved off with her gear to pick a cabin.

"Chief Laseiag," he called down, pronouncing it clearly, "is aboard. I want everyone to meet soon, maybe a few minutes."

"Yes," from out of sight.

He picked up the disposal bag from earlier and threw it down to the base of the ramp, and looked towards the calibration van. Natasha was approaching rapidly. He also saw a cargo mover with all his gear, and some other items, moving towards the loading ramp. Shaping up.

He strode down the ramp to his navigator. Walking up she announced, "This ship is not meant for J3."

"No, I suppose it's not." He looked it over as he recalled his training. She was right. "But it's what we have and it's what we're driving. Did you resolve the alignment issue?"

"No. Either align full jump accuracy and accept communications reduced by 57% or align full communications and accept jump accuracy at level 2 standards." Clearly she was unhappy with either option. Didn't sound good to Adam either.

"You're the one who's been to communications school, aren't you," Adam asked.

"Yes. Which alignment will you require?"

Nav Academy, Comm School, pilot qual, and EMT qual? She looked a little young for all that. There was a story here, but it could wait for jump time. "You are the expert in both of those fields, so you decide and I will accept your decision."

"But you are mission lead!"

"Yes, but not subject matter lead. Decide."

She put her hands on her hips and looked to one side. Cute pose, but it was clear she loathed both choices.

The cargo mover arrived. "Here, while you think about it, help me move all this stuff. Up the ramp, let's go." He shooed her towards the gear, and they started moving it up the ramp. She seemed used to physical labor - finding she lacked the muscle strength to lift one duffel bag she simply dropped it, lined up another alongside, and dragged both up the ramp at a loaded run. What a filly.

On finishing, "Well?"

"Our mission is rescue and recovery of overdue vessel?"

"Yes, you heard the right rumor."

"Then I elect for jump accuracy. We can maneuver to ameliorate reduced communications acuity, but we cannot ameliorate lost time."

Ameliorate ... means ... oh yeah. "Sounds good to me. Make it happen, then come aboard for the crew meeting."

She jogged back down the ramp towards the yard supervisor. Adam grabbed his own gear and started to drag it into cabin 2, but Helga already was in there. Fine, she needed the work station. Laseiag had taken 4, so he shuffled everything into 3. Closing the sliding door he suddenly became still, eyes shut, leaning on the bulkhead. Recovering he dumped his stuff onto the deck - plenty of time to arrange everything later - dumped his formal field dress uniform onto his bunk, and threw on a standard gray flight suit and boots. Much better.

First things first. He checked his cabin's lifesupport/toilet module. Not new but not old. Looked like it had been steamed cleaned, good, thank you somebody. Filters good, water tank full, air tank full, charging tanks up/down, atmo reprocessor up/down, pumps on/off, bidet on/off, heater on/off, refrigerant on/off, unit isolation/interconnection valves good, maintenance cards up to date - hey, they actually are - no smell, no rust in the unit, no rust between the unit and the hull, yep, all good.

He checked the lockers - stand-up and bunk and under-bunk. No left-over junk or piles of nameless mold-covered something. Vid/holo screen on, works, off. Well, he was ready for another week of stare-at-the-wall. He found his coffee cup and the handful of coffee packets in his gear and put them in a pocket.

He stepped out to the corridor and checked the laundry machine. Up, worked. Next, to the lounge, or rather the closet that passed for a lounge. Food prepper good, coffee machine good, cup/plate/utensil sterilizer working. With a slight feeling of dread he glanced under the table and bench seats. Nothing. Thank you God. Nothing in the food stager. He tossed in the coffee packets except one, and cycled the coffee machine with the one. Worked OK. He sat at the table with his coffee and waited.

flykiller January 3rd, 2016 07:55 PM

Laseiag stepped out of engineering and announced that the computer was finished aligning to the ship. He noticed the coffee and made some for himself, sitting down. Helga seemed busy for a while setting up her cabin, then popped out and crowded in next to Laseiag, grinning at him. He seemed taken back to see such a large and outgoing female. They made some small talk until Natasha started dropping her gear down the airlock hatch, and Helga moved to help her.

"She should count as two," Laseiag commented about Helga.

"She can," Adam grinned. He could tell Laseiag had serious reservations about such a free-standing female. "She likes to be happy. Be happy."

Laseiag frowned.

The ladies returned shortly. Adam could tell Natasha was irritated at being left the small cabin but she kept her focus up. Taking in the scene she slid in next to him.

"Good, all here, let's get started, this may be a little redundant but we'll make sure we cover everything." He waved to himself, "Adam Warren, third field tour, ship and mission lead, pilot, Flight Academy, Wilderness School, Combat Handgun Course. As you probably already know we are to locate and if necessary assist the ISS Purdue which is overdue, and also perform and update survey on 875-496." He waved to the engineer to speak next.

"Most of my ancestors settled on Karin centuries ago and occupy many prestigious positions in this world's political and economic structure. My father is cousin to Karin's governor and president of Khuigdur and my mother owns the Anuka field orchards. One of my brothers is president of the Karin Zoological Society and one of my sisters owns the Nashua Flight School. I am Kishsuumdadkiimku Laseiag Namuuishun. Here I may be called Chief Laseiag. I graduated with honors from the Imperial Scout Service Engineering Academy and Mechanics School and in the upper half of the Electronics School. This is my third successful tour. Upon completion of my service to the Emperor I am slated for a position in Durhansur Yard of Karin."

Again Adam wondered why Laseiag was here. Issues? Maybe he's just a dedicated servant of the Emperor. Find out soon enough, hopefully not the hard way.

"Helga Braun von Hochstaadt of Lunion, Survey Specialist and Indigeneous Contact expert." Her good-natured voice filled the tiny lounge and seemed to crowd Laseiag socially. "Second tour. I perform system survey update of 875-496 and continue that survey aboard ISS Lu Hao when it arrives in Five Sisters."

"Natasha Sversk, navigation and communication. I am administrator on field assignment for my second tour to gain experience in J3." She seemed reticent, as if going through the motions. Doesn't like people? Adam wondered.

Helga asked, "Gain experience? So for maiden voyage we can expect to arrive in Oort cloud, transit for two months, yes?" she grinned.

"Natasha here," Adam stepped in before Natasha could respond, "is from Aki and graduated top of her class in the Glisten Navigation Academy. She just might put us on 100d," he bantered.

"Ach! I look forward to that!" Helga responded, pounding the table and smiling at Natasha, who looked like she was facing an annoying gorilla who was trying to hug her.

"She's also," Adam added, "our medic. So treat her well or she might decide that a splinter warrants an amputation."

Laseiag asked, "You are a doctor?" There was absolutely nothing condescending in his tone, but somehow it was.

"No, I tested as qualified for Emergency Medical Technician."

"Tested?" Laseiag continued. It was fascinating. The man was as formal and polite as could be, but somehow he dripped doubt.

Natasha didn't miss anything. Her response was ice cold. "On Aki I was a morale girl in my block gang. I recovered and tended casualties, stabbings and gunshots and broken bones and burns and infections. I achieved .53 survival and return, .67 when I gained access to real pharmaceuticals. Your scout service qualification test was easy."

Laseiag said nothing. He put his right arm across his chest and bowed slightly.

Helga was more animated. She looked wide-eyed at Adam and pointed at Natasha. "I like!"

Adam looked at Natasha's left hand ring finger. Yep, there it was, the scar burned into her skin in a ring in lieu of a wedding ring. How had he missed that? Stupid of him, he had read up on Aki but hadn't the wits to make use of it. Wouldn't be the only scar she had.

"And I would add," Adam stepped right in, "that Senior Administrator Harinkake herself vouched for Natasha here." Natasha glanced at him. Laseiag had nothing he could identify on his face but Adam could tell the Chief was insulted. Oh, yeah, in vilani culture to appeal to authority after a matter was conceded was gravely offensive, it implied the subject was an animalistic criminal. Have to clear that up later. "So there we are. We're covered if you get cut or fall down, but don't lose an eye or it may be permanent."

Natasha stood up. "I will begin orienting to this ship's navigation systems."

"Hang on, still a few more things." He waved her back down, somewhat deliberately, and she carefully sat. "This space," he pointed at the empty space next to the lounge, "is available for whatever we want. We could ..."

He was interrupted by Helga and Laseiag simultaneously. "Holobooth." Natasha was right behind them. "Yes, holobooth."

"... or, that. Holobooth it is, motion carried," Adam finished. "Which leaves us the remains of the attic garage, 2 dtons with a garage hatch. I think a pair of grav bikes would be quite useful. They would allow us to search and explore much more territory up close much more easily than simply moving the ship around and walking."

"I like!" said Helga. Valkyrie.

"We will need cargo space," said Laseiag. Natasha seemed to begin realizing it could be an issue.

"Well we have no gunner so the gunnery station space is available. It would hold some equipment and there's enough space for more food packets than we could possibly use. For everything else we could overload the existing gear lockers. This is a short mission, all we have to do is get there, perform search and rescue with survey along the way, and come back. We easily could do it."

Laseiag considered this. "I agree. But I'll want welding equipment in the garage, not inhabited hull." Adam looked at Natasha, and she nodded. She seemed to have set aside all her previous anger and to be focusing on what was in front of her. A useful trait on Aki ....

"OK, grav bikes. I think that's it for now, anyone have anything else?"

Natasha seemed to realize something. "If we must rescue the crew of the other ship, where will we put them?"

"Double up," said Adam. Natasha looked back at her reduced cabin and frowned.

Helga looked suddenly concerned. "What is name of ship?"

Adam blinked. "I don't know," he laughed. "There wasn't anything on the bow? I guess not. I'll check the computer. Well, we're assigned to lift tomorrow morning but there's no reason we can't leave as soon as we're ready, so let's have at it. We have some more gear and food coming so let's load it as it shows. Helga please verify Natasha knows how to check her shipboard lifesupport toilet module then you'll be our stevedore, Chief Laseiag we'll need a standby charge module in the airlock when we lift and run, Natasha let yard know we want a holobooth and the grav bikes, then get with Helga, then distribute and verify ship comm links, then you and I will line up the bridge. Everybody fill out your checklists, when it's all compiled then we'll get clearance."

flykiller January 10th, 2016 09:59 PM

"Yes." Helga moved quickly up the corridor and out the airlock. Natasha was right behind her, clearly wishing she could just bypass all the human interaction and go straight to the machines. Oh she's going to be fun. Well at least she was moving to get the work out of the way rather than standing around complaining.

As Laseiag was rising from the lounge booth Adam said, "Chief Laseiag, I apologize for my discourtesy earlier in announcing Senior Administrator Harinkake's support for Natasha. I meant no disregard for your integrity, it was nothing more than an oversight on my part. I hope you will excuse it."

"I excuse it," Laseiag nodded easily. "While my family adheres to the old ways we always have recognized that they are," he hesitated and seemed to reconsider his words, "not easily practiced."

"Especially on a boat this size. I hope you will continue to excuse all of us from time to time," Adam added. Laseiag said nothing.

From there it was the usual routines for a few hours. Onloading gear and vacc suits and spare parts, cramming it all into lockers, everyone pitching in to fill the gunnery station with the food supplies. Yard showed up with the holobooth fittings and stuffed it into the available space in half an hour, yardhands and crew shoving past each other in the narrow corridor. Two motive pool boys showed up with the grav bikes, hot-rodding in on the quiet hummers like they were something special and spinning them into the open garage bay as pretty as you please. Helga grinned even more than usual on seeing them and positively melted when the motive boys showed her how to access the onboard music data base, but Laseiag looked suspicious - "We need a mobile platform, not these toys." No-one answered him, and he bolted down his welding gear alongside the bikes before cycling through the ship's internal comm panels.

Eventually Natasha passed out the comm links and tied in everyone. Adam thought the system was unusually clear, much more than he was used to, and told Natasha so. She only responded that it was simple. Adam pointed to the bridge. "Shall we?" He slid into the left-hand seat, Natasha into the right, and they began aligning physical systems to suit themselves.

Nope, no ship name on the computer, brand-new install, and no time to contact any previous system. Fair game. Adam linked the crew. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a no-name boat. What'll it be?"

Helga pounced as if waiting. "Dainty Flower."

Adam had been about to suggest his own idea, but he couldn't help laughing. He could hear that Laseiag was taken back too. Natasha to his right simply waved her hand dismissively. Too late, the moment had passed. "Very well, the ISS Dainty Flower is formally commissioned," he announced. He typed in the name.

"ISS Dainty Flower on-line", the computer suddenly announced in a little-girl voice.

"Voice systems comm check," Adam called.

"Computer on-line, voice systems on-line, ship power-down systems on-line, internal and external systems on-line, no issues," Dainty Flower came back at him, bright and happy like a little girl at a tea party with friends.

Adam could tell Natasha didn't like this at all. He really wasn't so enthusiastic himself about a talking machine.

"OK Dainty Flower, short Flower, both bridge stations prefer manual interaction," he looked at Natasha and she nodded looking relieved, "both bridge stations prefer leading minimal voice interaction, set standard avatar, set standard security."

"Standard avatar," a young woman's voice came back. Naval aide tone. "Voice unrecognized."

Adam typed in the name and service number of each crewmember and had each one in turn sing out to verify with the machine, which then began downloading everyone's data shells from the base systems to its own. He watched files load to the bridge, engineering, the cabins, and the holobooth. Simultaneously Natasha began updating the navcomp systems and preplanning their jump. He watched her eyes and hands traverse the systems, somewhat hesitantly at first and then quite rapidly as she oriented to them. He himself lined up the drive systems for a virtual test and tried them out. Maneuver 1, sluggish, virtually. Well at least this one was forgiving. Again, virtually. Jump fuel, up, maneuver fuel, up, system power levels, up.

Helga appeared in the bridge hatch, looking over Adam and Natasha at their stations. "Hah! Like two mice who find loaf of bread! We are ready for final check."

Adam swivelled around, leaned back, and closed his eyes. After a moment he asked, "Do we have all the maintenance and excursion gear for the bikes?"

"Ja!" Helga affirmed eagerly.

Adam chuckled. "Standby charge module aboard?"

"Yes," Laseiag called from behind Helga.

"That holobooth actually work?"

He heard Laseiag turn around and walk back. "Yes," over comms after a minute. "Standard and crew programming uploaded."

"Good. Anyone else?"

"Is the gunnery station deactivated?" asked Laseiag.

Adam blinked, then turned to his panel as if guessing. He had no idea. "Flower, report status of gunnery station."

"The gunnery station is available and powered and on-line."

"'Online'? Is the weapon charged, or whatever the term is?" asked Adam, concerned.

"The gunnery station weapon systems are not charged for use at this time," the naval aide avatar replied.

"As I step in. I know this," said Laseiag. "ISS Dainty Flower, set gunnery station to non-use mode."

After a moment the machine replied, "Gunnery station set to non-use mode." Laseiag explained, "This will maintain life support to the station, but otherwise it is now non-functional."

Adam looked relieved and pointed at Laseiag. "Thank you. Anyone else?" No-one added anything. "OK, then standard checklists. Lifesupport? Air? Water? Food? Personal? Weapons? Equipment? Parts? Vehicles? Engineering? Flight?" To each one each crewmember said, "Go."

Except on "weapons", Natasha replied, "None." Adam looked at her. "At the review board I was told we were x4 weapons." She said nothing but simply held up a fist. Adam simply said, "Ah." What a filly.

"OK, we're as ready as we can be. I'll call for clearance, if and when we get it then Chief Laseiag please take Helga with you on preflight walk-around and then we'll lift, four hours to jump. Are we ready to line up jump?" Natasha nodded her head. "Then standby."

Turning to go, Helga nodded to Adam and Natasha, grinning. "Cute couple." Moving down the corridor she laughed and belted out the old heavy refrain,

"Woman and ma-an
(portentious musical theme)
Stuck in a ca-an
(portentious musical theme)

Adam raised his eyebrows, looked at Natasha, and started to say something. Before he could, Natasha cut him off. "Touch me and I break your bones." Deadly serious. Like she could.

Yeah ... he knew what that sounded like. He could still hear it, he suddenly heard it now, again, again, again .... How to break a humorous in seven places? He still couldn't figure out how they did that.

He managed to smile and throw up his hands. "Hey, OK, no touching, can't have you breaking the lead's bones now can we?" he said laughing. He linked ship comms to the base. "Karin Scout Control ISS-SS18-1022-022A Dainty Flower scheduled for lift tomorrow but requesting priority clearance for S&R."

"What took you so long 022A, you still need a therapist to hold your hand?"

"That you, Pig?", Adam sang right back. "If you were aboard it would have taken us twice as long to load the food to feed your carcass, no, four times as long 'cause we would have told you to load it yourself." Natasha looked incredulous.

"Call me Skinny Pig, I'm on a diet. OK, ISS Dain ... Dainty F ... I can't believe I'm saying this, ISS Dainty Flower, empty sky two hours, cleared for lift at this time initial vector 022-027-001, free-and-clear at 10, nav office standing by, good luck and bring Purdue home."

JFGarber January 14th, 2016 12:27 PM

That was the most enjoyable lunch break I've had in quite some time. Please continue.

flykiller January 17th, 2016 08:12 PM

"Roger that, Control," said Adam. "Crew, lead, we have a go. Engineering, full light-off to standby then perform walkaround."

"Acknowledged," called Laseiag. Adam and Natasha watched the internal bus systems indicate on-line in the bridge, then the maneuver drive spin up on standby. "Engineering, Bridge, looks clean up here."

"Commencing walk-around," Laseiag announced on the comm link. "Helga follow me out the garage hatch." "Yes."

Adam listened to them as they checked hatches and cables, and detached the drip lines. Laseiag was showing Helga how to safely detach the power umbilicals from the ship. "First the deck box before the ship connect, under this ...."

Sudden panic and some kind of Lunion swearing up and down. Helga was really sounding off, Laseiag said something very un-vilani, in the background was some kind of gutteral growling.

Adam popped up out of his seat and behind Natasha, trying to look aft out the starboard window. "Status check crew!" Natasha sounded off quietly by rote, "Natasha up." Helga and Laseiag were considerably less rote. "Ach! Ahhh, <swear>, a bear. Helga up, bear in power shed!"

"A bear?"

"Yes, bear. Ah, not yet airborne and already I need laundry machine."

"Chief Laseiag up." Ah. Still an upper-class pronunciation of the name. Good man.

"Uh, can you move it?" asked Adam.

"No, is big bear!" squeeked Helga.

"It is constructing a nest and will not want to leave," Laseiag said. "We will need a base animal control team."

Adam rubbed his eyes. "We need to go. Can we just drop the ship-side?"

"No, that is unsafe and a violation of procedure."

At that moment a platoon of marines, on their morning run in full combat armor, came into Adam's view. "Helga, eyes off the starboard bow, go get those boys and see if they'll drive it away for us."

"Ah ... yes." He could hear her trotting off, and in a moment she came into view on a course to intercept the emperor's finest.

"Join the marines, go to interesting places, play with alien wildlife." Adam linked to base control and requested an animal control team, then checked back out the window. Natasha was straining with him to see starboard aft.

It took a minute or two but Helga managed to persuade them. The platoon double-timed up alongside the ship, then broke ranks to view the situation. Even in their armor some of the marines' body language conveyed amusement, while others seemed annoyed. "Yours is not to question why, gentlemen," mused Adam to himself. In the full tradition of the service the platoon sergeant sized up the situation and came up with a plan in a few seconds. He sent two squads to the enclosed sides of the shed to yell through the windows with their external power-enhanced vox and beat on the shed's exterior to drive the bear out the front door, then used the remaining squad to yell and wave their arms at it to drive it towards a less-inhabited portion of the base. The tactically sound plan using fire - or rather loud voices - and maneuver worked reasonably well and after a moment the bear bolted, then ran towards a forested area near the base boundary. Adam finally saw it out the window - yep, big Karin "bear", long fluffy tail waving high in the air. Not very aggressive but dangerous if they wanted to be.

"OK, Helga please blow them a kiss, Chief Laseiag let's get us unplugged and buttoned up." As Adam returned to his seat he seemed to overhear Helga kissing someone's faceplate. Natasha looked like she was having misgivings about the comm link transmitting everyone's breathing and cursing and movement noises.

In a moment the base-power light blinked out and the ship was on isolated internals. No surges or drops, it all looked good. He heard Helga and Laseiag bolting down the garage door hatch and then shutting the attic hatches, then Helga retired to her cabin while Laseiag reported at engineering. "All nominal."

Adam glanced out the windows to verify that the marines were clear and that there was reasonable empty space around the Flower. "Ladies and gentlement we will now commence lift. Your pilot for today is Natasha Sversk, she has the conn." She looked at Adam wide-eyed. He folded his hands across his chest and leaned back in his seat. "Take her up, pilot."

"Regulations state the senior pilot should take out a new ship." Nervous, but a perfectly legitimate regulation.

"True, but I want to see how you perform. I need to know if something happens to me that you can take over."

"If I make a mistake ..."

"If you make a mistake it goes on my lead record but it goes on your flight record." Adam leaned forward and switched off his panel indications. His panel went dark. What was the administration phrase again? He looked at her. "This is a professional observation."

Her eyes narrowed with annoyance again, but she turned her eyes to the task at hand. He could tell she was mentally listing through all the lift procedures. "Initial 022-027-001," she said, "lifting." He saw her motioning the maneuver drive controls. "Announce to Control," he reminded her. No annoyance on her face at the correction, clearly able to focus on the task at hand under stress.

"Control, ISS Dainty Flower, lifting."

"Control acknowledges, and taking cover!" Pig responded. She did look annoyed at that. She lifted the boat.

And it promptly rolled and slewed to port. A lot. In view of Natasha Adam maintained a clear and non-challant face, but his right hand was on the senior pilot override and his feet were on the pedals. Oh God did I make a mistake ....

She didn't panic, she corrected to starboard. But the M1 drive response was sluggish, and she wound up overcorrecting. The ship not only rotated and slewed to starboard it began a clockwise spin as it drifted up, the entire world outside the window rotating in six degrees of freedom. Her eyes were getting quite wide.

As the ship spun the bridge passed directly in front of the administration overlook bay at a 45 degree tilt. He could see Senior Administrator Harinkake staring with an administrator's typical look of resigned forlorn hope. He smiled and waved to her as he passed by, then called out very clearly to Natasha, "Correct down the flight line to gain space."

Laseiag called out, "Sixty-five percent overload."

She didn't correct immediately. Her eyes played out over her insturments, he could tell she was making a calculation in her head. As the boat bow aligned with the flight line she executed several corrections simultaneously and achieved a stable oriented drift down the line. Her mouth was open and her eyes were darting everywhere and her hands were shaking.

"OK, now hover."


"Hover, you need the practice."

Pulling back the drift the ship nose rose up a full 45 degrees. She corrected it in place and somehow achieved a stable hover. "Good, now slip one ship width to ..." he looked out the window for a safe direction, "port."

Laseiag called out, "Seventy-five percent overload."

She eased the boat to port, pitching slightly again but settling down to the ordered parameter. "Good, now slip starboard two widths." She slipped the ship to starboard, much more gracefully this time, and hovered at the parameter.

Laseiag called out, "Eighty-five."

"OK, take us up," Adam told Natasha.

She double checked her vector first, good girl, then accelerated while pushing the nose up. She boat was sluggish as a water-filled foam pig but it rose determinedly. Laseiag called out immediately, "Ninety." She checked her display and answered back clearly, "Yes, I see, cease reports." Adam switched his panel back on to watch the loading himself. Ninety-two, four, six ... Natasha realigned to 1G ordinary, and the overload stablized at ninety-seven then began slowly drifting back down as the ship coasted up on atmo lift and intertia.

Natasha took a deep breath and relaxed a bit, but kept her concentration on her panel. Adam smiled to himself. "Outstanding, pilot." He emphasized the last word just slightly.

"Uh, Dainty Flower, Control, just checking, can we come out from under our consoles now?"

When Adam didn't answer, Natasha looked at him. "You're the pilot," he said. She replied to control with a steady voice, "Yes, Pig, you will live to be butchered another day."

Adam laughed out loud. What a filly.

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