“Since you showed the proper respect, I shall light a path for you.Be sure to hold your breath as I’m going to direct you straight through the nearest hull breach.You can inspect the damage.”
“Aegis, there are some days I really regret that you picked up my sense of humor.”
“My long-range plan seems to be working.Thank you for confirming it.”
“Since I was neither born nor have parents, that is one thing I cannot be.”
“Are you just going to snark at me or are you going to show me where the hell I’m going?”
“I am living the dream of everyone who has ever met you:I get to tell you where you can go.”
Bill just shook his head and walked out the door.Greg joined him as he left the bridge.The optic overlay turned on and was showing a small arrow for their path as they made their way through the ship.It took them under a minute to get to the maglev tube and another two minutes to transit the length of the ship.The mess hall was on the rear of the vessel in this design.
“Aegis, keep us heading to the planet and do a standard orbital insertion.Also, keep an eye on scanners so we can avoid any more surprises today.”
“Got it, William.”
“Cadet, how are you holding up?”
“I’m a bit overwhelmed, to be honest.”
“Yeah.We’ll get through this.”
“You’re not messing with my emotions, are you?I feel better.”
“That’s just my natural charm.When I use projective empathy, it’s not subtle in any way.”
“How did you end up as Captain?The Chief Engineer looks like he has a lot more experience.”
“Did you just call him old?As it so happens, I already had command of the ship until the engine calibration and trial runs were complete.Aside from that, the Chief is at the top of the engineering command group.He’s the boss of all you engineering types aboard.Pilots and Jumpers are both in the command officer group.The chief outranks someone like a Lieutenant, but not a Commander or Captain.”
“Got it, I think.”
“In practice on a fully manned ship, it would be fairly moot.The command officers aren’t on board a ship until after we make it back from trials, typically. There has been a lot of issues in the past when trying new jump engines.That’s why we have a fully-stocked ship.We’ve got everything on board except the staff.”
They walked as they talked and arrived in the mess hall just in time for the meeting.Everyone aboard the ship was here.They were dwarfed by the size of the room.
“Hello everyone.I am Captain William Elijah Thomas, the current commanding officer of the TCS Discovery, our first deep space exploration ship.We were supposed to be calibrating the jump engines and doing engine trials.Unfortunately, the drydock was attacked, and this ship suffered a severe explosion that disabled the ship’s artificial intelligence.Failsafe Protocols went into effect, and the ship’s deadman system turned on, automatically activating the jump system.”
“Captain, can you explain that for those of that aren’t normally serving in the fleet?”
“Certainly, Doctor.Very few human beings can withstand a mental attack from the Lewerren Collective.As such, all ships in the fleet are designed to get our people away from alien influence in the event of an attack.Unfortunately, we are in an unfinished ship.When the failsafe protocol was engaged, there was no way to turn it off, and the ship’s jump engines were not powered properly nor were they calibrated.I was able to set a jump course on the fly while Cadet Walcott here was able to direct enough power to the jump engines to actually jump the ship. Had we any less power than we did, the ship would have broken apart and exploded.Unfortunately, when we did jump, we were nearly completely out of control.You no doubt felt how rough the jump was.The good news is, the ship is in one piece, and it is fully stocked with food and supplies.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“We are in the Gamma Crucis system.Gamma Crucis, also known as Gacrux, is the red giant star in the Southern Cross constellation as seen from Earth.It is approximately eighty-eight light years from Earth.This is the furthest Humanity has every traveled on our own.”
“That’s impossible.” The man was shaking his head in denial.
“As the most experienced Jumper in the Confederation, I would normally agree with you, sir. However, Aegis assures me that is where we are.He’s one of the foremost stellar cartographers in the entire Terran Confederation.His expertise on this is unparallel because it has to be. Jumping is extremely imprecise for us the longer we jump and less dialed in the equipment is.It’s his job to figure out where we end up and provide the calculations to fix things in the jump computer.Aegis, show our current position on the holographic table, please.”
The table in front of the room light up showing the known colony space and their current position.People moved to stand around the table.
“What’s the priority, sir?” one of the engineering technicians asked.
“We are going to make sure that we have everything in place to survive the long-term first and foremost.We have enough supplies on board for our crew size to last the rest of our lives.With the hydroponics and life support systems, it might even be considered comfortable.Our experts in those areas can focus on that while the engineering staff corrects the damage with the ship and we move to refuel the ship in this system.Aegis, show the current system up close please.”
The holographic changed to show the Gacrux solar system.The ship was a tiny dot hard to see due to the size of the red giant.There were seven planets left in the solar system, and the dotted line indicated a course to an outer gas giant.
“Scanners indicate we’ll be able to get fuel from the gas giant.After that, we start to make our way home, and we chart the hell out of everything as we do so.This is the first Explorer ship in the fleet, and we’re going to gather data as we go home.”
“Do you know how long it would take?”
“Months and maybe years going by the book.”
“You have the reputation as a bit of a maverick, Captain,” one of the biologists spoke up.
“I’m guilty of that.I do everything I can to defend my crew, my ship, and my fleet.I make no apologies for that.”
“Even the firing of a nuclear weapon onto a garden planet?” the biologist asked a little sharper.
“I defended the lives of over a thousand crew members on that ship, and I’d glass that entire fucking planet to defend them if I had to.Fortunately, the lowest yield weapon available was sufficient for protecting the fleet.”
“I don’t like having you in charge.”
“The airlock is down that hall and on the left.Feel free to make use of it.”
“That was a bit harsh, laddie,” the Chief said, interjecting before it could go further off the rails.
“Sorry, as an empath, I tend to pick up other people’s emotions and reflect them.Shielding such strong emotions in close quarters can be tedious.I’m sure Aegis wouldn’t let the airlock be cycled.”
“That is true, William. I prefer the opening of pod bay doors myself.”
“I should never have let them load any movies featuring an A.I. in the system, Aegis.It took me two years to get you to stop saying Johnny Five is Alive and needs input.”
“It was fifteen days, four hours and thirty-three seconds before I stopped.”
“Seemed like two years to me.”
“Perhaps the engines aren’t the only thing that needs calibrating around here.”
“Aegis, you are a lot more lively than most Artificial Intelligences I’ve dealt with,” Chief Engineer McGowan interjected.
Aegis manifested as a glowing blue orb on the holographic table.“Yes, Chief.I have been paired with William since I achieved self-awareness.He was a hyperactive twelve-year-old in flight training at the time.Terran Confederation Research Division has determined that we have symbiotic codependency.One of the results of that is we have a shared sarcastic personality.It acts as a relief valve for William’s Empathic gift.”
The Chief Engineer turned from the orb to look at the Captain.
“Psionic abilities are more often a curse than a blessing for those of us who have them.The Jumper talent is particularly turbulent.People with the talent do not typically live long lives due to the very high cost of mistakes.We can’t even tell you what happened to the jumpers we lost.Not for sure.It is most likely they jumped to far out of the way places, andwere unable to return.It took a very long time for us to figure out how to make use of the talent.The best way the Research Division was able to stabilize us was to give us a powerful companion A.I. that could deal with us.Aegis has evolved his programming to be my sarcastic opponent.”
“William acts as my grounding and gives me purpose.Artificial Intelligences need purpose and focus far more than human beings do.The key to long-term Artificial Intelligence as a lifeform is to have that purpose.”
“That is an area I’d like to do more research in.”
“Certainly, Doctor. I’ll send some suggested research papers to your inbox.”
“I know I’m not the first thing you would think of as a Captain.But I am anofficer; I have had the training, and I want to get us home.Once we know how well this ship is working, we’ll have a better estimate of how long it’ll take to get home.Chief, I want to dial in the calibration on the jump engines in a system where we have an endless amount of fuel.”
“I’ll need someone to step up as a tactical officer.Aegis will run you through training simulations while we fuel the ship and do our jump engine calibrations.Doctor Wesley, you are now the Chief Medical Officer, and you have command of the scientists on board.Everyone goes through a refresher course on ship operations, especially in emergency conditions.We are a long way from home, and we’re on our own.Any questions?”
Everyone looked at each other but didn’t say anything.
The refueling operations went well.The ship was put into the best shape it could be with the supplies they had on hand.The jump engine calibration took a lot longer than planned due to the uniqueness of the TCS Discovery compared to every other human ship.It was a beast with the biggest jump engines humanity ever built.Getting all the moving parts working like they were designed was monumental.They stayed in the system for two months before the ship and the crew was finally ready to head for home.
Bill did everything in his power to make sure that the TCS Discovery was as ship-shape as it could be before they attempted to head home.The Gacrux system was empty of life other than them, as best they could tell.It was clear that an advanced civilization had lived in this system in the distant past, based on the remnants of occupied worlds and outposts.Other than determining that they were humanoid in shape and size, there was not enough left behind to make any definitive calls.They would have had better luck, no doubt, had they had xenoarchaeology specialists on board.
While Bill and Aegis calibrated the Discovery’s jump engines, Chief Engineer McGowan led his crew to fix the damage from the initial explosion and get the full-sized shipboard Artificial Intelligence working.In the end, Bill was successful with the jump engines, but the Chief was not successful with the computer.Aegis was able to use the databases and additional computing power, as well as control full ship functions, but the original ship’s A.I. was a total loss.The other crew members made sure fresh food and life support systems were taken care of.
“Attention crew of the Discovery.We are finally ready to start heading home.Aegis has been doing deep range scanning in the direction of Earth, as we have been bouncing around getting the jump engines working properly.We’re now in a position that the ship is able to jump system to system as we head home. We have no way of knowing what we’ll be jumping into as we head to each system.We know that the Lewerren Collective is occupying some of the space between us and home.We have no way of knowing which side of the Collective’s civil war is there.My mission is to get us home.We’ll flee if we can and fight if we must, but the Discovery is going home.”
Bill made a cutting motion with his hand.
Bill turned to look at Greg, who was manning tactical.“Are you ready, Cadet?”
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends.”
The ship jumped, leaving behind the quiet red giant, Gacrux.