Red’s jetman had the engineering watch when I entered the galley for breakfast, so my engineer was taking her meal as well.
I didn’t ‘walk in’. I pulled myself in, because we had hit equilibrium, the point where the resistance of Meta-space and the thrust from our sails equals out, putting us at a constant velocity. Mo’s crew and passengers now hung in microgravity, and objects that weren’t secure simply floated. The occasional slight buffeting of the ship by the hyperlight flows pressing its shields would cause everyone to drift suddenly an inch or so in one direction or another. It meant meals were what we spacegoing types refer to as ‘NASA style’. Everything was in tray pockets with self-closing covers that you slip your utensil under to extract each bite.
A take-hold warning from Kirkwood would precede any sign of real cross-force against the shields, or any maneuver she felt she had to make. On a bigger ship the warning would come from a bosun’s mate, and we in fact had a bosun’s mate now, Petty Officer First Class Daz Lewis. Mo is too small to have a bosun or a sailmaster, so our bosun’s mate was generally busy with the job of directing our three deckhands through managing the sails and tails. General announcements came from the helm on a ship this size.
Before, when it was just the two of us, our breakfast routine while in Meta-space was to chat, discuss any special jobs needing doing that day, and maybe play a round of Othello. We also had a long-running Magic: The Gathering competition going, although it had been a couple trips since we played.
But Farley was in the galley too, and he had Red’s ear. I had thought so, previously, but the guy was definitely chatting her up with more than chat on his mind. And she was cooperating. We weren’t alone in there; about half the Surface Corps troops and several of my crew were getting their breakfast, but the conversation between those two was strictly one-on-one.
I’ll say it again. I have never thought of Red as “mine” in any sense other than being my plugger. It’s strictly a coworker arrangement, although a friendly one. But it did not help my mood when she literally said nothing to me until she finished her meal and was ready to go.
“Hey, Cap, I want to access the cargo head lock. Are you at the controls on the next shift?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m just about to head there. Isn’t this early?”
We didn’t actually need to crack into the cargo pod until we were getting close to our destination, so the planned time for this was a full day away.
“I’m still worried about that trim problem. Everything seems to be in spec, so I have no explanation for it. I want to verify the cargo pod placement.”
Before I could respond, Farley chimed in. “I figure the hatch on the cargo pod is gonna be off center. I wonder if the seal ring even clears it.”
I frowned at him. “The sensors show a proper seal.”
And you heard me query the ground crew when they set the load. You should know they wouldn’t miss it by that much and not be able to see it. What is your game?
He shrugged. “Sensors can malfunction.”
I turned the frown toward Red. “You were pretty clear before about the diagnostics coming back clean on that.”
She looked a bit less confident than she normally would. Her eyes flicked toward Farley. “Yes, but if we somehow took off with a misalignment, you would be in trouble once you have to start maneuvering for real, right? I mean, when we get in-system and the shooting starts…”
She stopped when she saw my eyes narrow. Something had turned cold inside me with those words. Red had not once doubted my flying since that day, three months into our career together. Since we made our first trip through hell together…
Farley chimed in again at this point. “It’s gonna be tough enough for a young pilot to get through that system. It’s not like you’re flying a scout fleet frigate, right? If this old tub is fighting you, on top of it…”
I interrupted him. “So the worry is that I won’t be able to handle her once we get in-system?”
Red’s eyes flicked toward Farley again. With that, I knew where this line of thinking had originated. As my thoughts grew colder with that knowledge, I noticed the conversation in the galley had vanished. We had the room’s full attention.
“I’m not saying you won’t be able to handle it, Cap…” she answered quickly.
“And Farley brought this concern to you, I take it?” I asked her in a flat voice.
“I…” she chopped off, glanced at him yet again, then told me. “We just feel like we should be checking all the possibilities. If Mo took off with the mod off-center…”
She trailed off. I could see a blush coming onto her face. Either embarrassed or angry, I couldn’t tell which. Overall, Red was acting in a way she had never acted on a mission before, and it was upsetting me. Just like how she had waffled about the load imbalance reading in the first place, a highly uncharacteristic thing for her to do when talking about a ship she knew every bolt and screw of.
But as I absorbed all the implications of the current discussion, I wasn’t just upset. No, I realized I was actually angry. But I kept that fact off my face. I brought what was left of my micro-gee meal tray over to the compactor and tucked it through the slot with no more than the usual force.
Turning back, I simply told her, “Permission granted. I want it to happen during my watch, so I can monitor from the boards. Follow full safety protocols, please.”
As I left the galley, conversation still hadn’t returned. I turned at the door and looked over at Farley to tell him, “Chief, you are not a passenger, you and your gunner’s mate are Aviation Corps, and therefore part of my crew. In the future, bring any concerns about this ship directly to a ship’s officer. On this flight, that means either myself or Lieutenant Kirkwood. Bypassing proper channels is a breech of regulations except in an emergency.”
I pulled myself out the door. Although I did hear Red call “Cap!” behind me, I acted as if I hadn’t. I didn’t want to speak to her at that moment.
My anger began with the fact that I knew what they were going to find in the cargo pod. I had been watching the thrust readouts from the secondaries like a hawk ever since the very first wobble during takeoff. It was true that I had kept it from Red, but I had a reason. I could be wrong.
If I was wrong and I planted that wrong idea in my plugger’s head, she might not catch the real problem. If I was right, then I could fly the ship like this, and I had fully briefed Kirkwood on the situation, so she could, too.
Once Red got around to studying the thrust logs and the propellant tank trim logs, she would figure it out, too. Right now she was assuming that I had been trimming the same from the point that I first got Mo flying straight. Once she saw how I had actually balanced the ship, she would have known it was a minor issue. And she would have griped at me for not telling her that I’d already solved it, even though she understood why I did that when it wasn’t a safety-of-flight issue.
But Farley had convinced my plugger that I was struggling to handle the ship. Mostly, I was miffed that his meddling had taken her attention off the troubleshooting I wanted her doing, catching the real problem in the case that I was wrong. She was now locked onto the bogus idea of an incorrectly set load.
But I was primarily angry at him because I suspected that he had done it intentionally. He was looking for ways to detract from my image in her eyes. Maybe the real reason was I was just not as good at flying as she thought. Now that I was having to fly at a higher level of difficulty…
And why would he do such a thing? He had been sticking close to Red ever since meeting her, so it was obvious to me he was pursuing her. And I knew exactly why he might think he needed to separate her from me to have a chance with her.
Which was stupid. She had no romantic interest in me in the first place.
And I was also upset at Red for listening to him. Sure, he had seniority over her and she had to hear him out. But it wasn’t his speciality, he wasn’t part of our crew, and she should have politely told him so.
But that’s not even the biggest thing bothering me, Red. Even if it were a real mis-load, for you to suggest I couldn’t fly it…
“Watch me,” I muttered.