I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 19

Well, that was a non-event

The view in the front of me, and everyone else, didn’t change. I didn’t expect it to. It was dark and sometimes eerie out in space, and like us, eventually, hurtling towards the unknown.

But, that was yesterday.

That all changed a little over an hour ago when we made the first contact with another race. Admittedly it was not the ideal way to start a new relationship, but it was a start.

I had no doubt the diplomatic team was hard at work coming up with ideas on how we were going to approach these new people.

But in the meantime, we were, quite literary, hurtling through space faster than any human’s had before.

The chief 3ngineer was right when he said the problems were fixed, and the main drive was online and ready to go.

At first, it seemed like nothing had happened when Mr. Saville pressed the button. Then, gradually, the speed indicator moved, from 3.5 to 5, then to 7, and finally, 9. Nearly three times faster than anyone before.

Which brought a new set of issues. We would be arriving at the two ships, apparently waiting for us, a lot quicker than the original estimate of 7 hours.

It was now down to about 45 minutes, and we were going to need a plan of action.

There was a platoon of special soldiers on board, an odd addition to what was supposed to be peaceful exploration, but their inclusion was non-negotiable. I knew the previous captain was not very happy with them being on board, and the one conversation between the captain and their leader was quite acrimonious.

I hoped to improve relations and stepped off the bridge to go visit the commander.

They had a separate section of the ship, where they had quarters, training, and planning facilities. The commander, Lieutenant Colonel Baxter, had an office, and his 2ic met me at the elevator and escorted me to it.

“Not the best was to become captain of a ship,” he said.

“If I had a preference, no. I assume the Admiral had spoken to you.”

The Admiral seemed to have spoken to everyone, perhaps to ensure that I would get the support I needed. Captains were generally a lot older than I was and commanded respect through years of service and experience.

Though I didn’t lack years of service, I did lack experience in running a ship like the one I was now on. But, I told myself, I would not have been made number one if I didn’t merit it.

“We’re going after the people who took the captain and one of our scientists, yes. I see we’re about a half-hour before we encounter two alleged sentry ships.”

“Possibly. But you will need to supply a four-man team in case we have to go off ship, for security purposes only.”

“And if diplomacy doesn’t work.”

His shoot first and ask questions later policy was not going to go down well, it certainly didn’t with the previous captain, and it wouldn’t with me either.

“I’m sure we all know what that will mean when the time comes. The official book on this vessel doesn’t mention anything about armaments, but if I know anything about the military, I’m sure there are defensive weapons installed. I know you told the captain that there were none to your knowledge but we both know this ship would have never left the dock without some form of defenses.”

I could read between the lines. I had a lot of spare time on those interminable cargo runs and read a great deal about the space program, and the hopes and aspirations of a lot of countries in exploring, but not with the means to do it on their own.

Where sport was once the means to unite the world, now it was space, and I had wanted to be a part of it.

In all that reading, it was the obscure references that told the real story. Nothing could get off the grounds without military cooperation, and to get that, some concessions had to be made.

Like Baxter and his men. And for the installation of a host of new weapons, specifically for space. A little further reading showed the advances made in adapting laser technology, and I suspect this ship had a few, as well as other weapons. I hadn’t seen any ray guns, but there were prototypes, and they’d been around for several years.

“I couldn’t say, even if I wanted to. You know how it is.”

“Well, let’s hope your desire for secrecy doesn’t imperil the mission because if it does, you’ll be the first visitor in the brig.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No. That’s just a fact. Now, once more, is there anything you need to tell me, that will be useful in any negotiation with the two ships we were about to encounter.”

He looked at me with what I would have guessed was contempt, but that was how he viewed everyone. There was no doubting his capability, his service record, or his loyalty. But space was different to anything else he’d encountered.

“If they give you any trouble, you let me know. That spare console on the bridge, it controls the ship’s defenses.”

I was smart enough not to ask what those defenses were. We’d all find out soon enough if it came to that.

“Then you’d better send someone up. We might need him.”

“Her actually. Gunnery Sargent Walker.”

Going back up in the elevator I looked at my hands and they were shaking. The first day out, and I was all but ready to go to war.

Not expected, not wanted, but sadly a fact.

When I stepped onto the bridge, the viewing screen showed the two ships, very close, and very detailed.

The second officer was saying, “We arrived early, and if I may ask, why didn’t we just go around them?”

“I’m curious about what they might have to say.”

“And if they shoot at us?”

“I’m sure Baxter will have something to say about that. Is the spare console manned?”

“Yes. By a Gunnery Sargent, part of the military team on board.”

“Good. Now let’s see if we can strike up a conversation.”

© Charles Heath 2021

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