I countermanded it when Farley started trying to arrange with Red to get his hold patched. He had a specific unloading schedule that required Hold One first, and would have to completely rework his plan. But that was what he would have to do. Spacewalking inside the drive field while in Meta-Space is dangerous, especially when a fight is possible, and he couldn’t give me a good reason to take that risk.
Naturally, I heard about how unhappy ‘Colin’ was from Red. And she delivered that information to me in my stateroom with a tone that made it sound like I was the unreasonable one. But there was no way in hell I was going to send my deckhands or Red outside while we were underway in dangerous territory, where I could lose them if we were jumped by the Enemy and I had to maneuver the ship.
“We’re still in safe space here!” she protested, but I shook my head.
“We have less than three hours until we transit, Red. It might be safe here, but after we pass the fold, we will be right in the vicinity of the real front line. We need to fly hard from there on out and spacewalks have to wait until we were safely tucked into bed with the battle group on station at our destination.”
“We can finish a hull patch job in three hours!”
“That would be awfully damn fast. It’s you, Red, so I do agree you have a solid chance to pull it off, but you haven’t even seen the hole yet. And I am not going to let you start something if there’s any chance you will still be outside when we pass through the fold.”
What the hell, Red? I screamed at her in my mind for the dozenth time this flight. She was normally a lot more sensible.
She looked away, grabbed the door as if she was about to leave, but then sulked, “It’s like you don’t trust me anymore. What’s up with that?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, a little exasperated at this point. “I’m wondering when it was that you stopped trusting me!”
She gave me a look like I had just said something weird. Then her lips tightened, and she opened the door and left.
# # #
That question occupied my mind up until we reached the fold. At that point, I had to shove it aside and fly my ship.
I had already pulled in my sails and gone to jets for the transit, and Martins now tucked her fighters into close formation with me. To my relief, readings indicated a hyperlight flow through transition, which meant the path was still open. So far, I had detected no warning probes from the other side, nor any signature of ships coming the other direction from our side. After deploying a probe of my own, I lined up for transit. I watched it jet ahead, flying through the fold well ahead of us, squawking on the coded comm frequency of the week.
“Mo to Road Kings. I’m on course to hit off center-of-pipe by 1200 meters Galactic South. Flatten out your formation to conform.”
The end of the fold that was farther galactic south was required to run the fold by 25 percent of the available safe passage in that direction. Anything coming the other way should hit 25 percent galactic north. Better safety rules than that couldn’t exist, when trying to enforce them across hundreds of allied species, but almost every space-going race could understand the concepts of ‘half’, ‘safe’ and ‘same direction’. Although, some of them had difficulty with the concept of ‘rules’.
“Tapper, aye,” Martins completed, confirming not only her own ship but her squadron.
Can you guys get on the same page with how you call things out? I fussed at them. Not out loud, of course.
Martins must have had her squadron time their sleep schedule so that the first-seaters were all on duty for the transition. It’s a nervous time. Sometimes when a fold opens in the front lines area, the enemy will attempt to camp and pick off ships coming through. We try to send ships through regularly to sweep them off, but it really isn’t possible to stay on station in Meta-Space. The reality is that both Allies and Enemy will be making regular sweeps, and it is down to luck whether those sweeps intersect. The currents are going to blow you this way and that, and the only way to hold your position is to burn up reaction mass.
I only remembered one second-seater’s call sign so far. There was someone named ‘Googly’, who I think was flying with Martin. I assumed ‘Googly was short for ‘googly eyes’, so I had a very unfortunate mental image of her. I needed to meet her in person when we got home, to erase that picture from my mind.
“Attention, all hands,” I called on the speaker, “Belt in, belt in, belt in.”
I began keeping an eye on the readout that showed the acceleration couches on board. I needed to see twenty three green icons. So far I had seven, for myself, Red, my gun crew and Kirkwood, who was in the observation seat behind me, officially taking attendance. Her board was showing the occupied stations by name.
As I kept one eye on it and the other on my course, the numbers improved. Ten… fifteen… twenty… twenty three… and with less than fifteen seconds to spare, the last came on.
“All secure, Captain,” Kirkwood announced.
“Ninety-nine seconds,” I answered. “We need to drill. I want it under ninety.”
“… yes, sir,” she answered. I know, I know, I was being a hardass again. Especially since ten of the twenty two other people on board weren’t subordinate to her. But this was a vital issue.
“Roll call, all weapons, now,” I called.
“Port projectors ready,” Crewman Ledford reported, sounding a little tense. I couldn’t blame her.
“Starboard ready, Patró” Crewman Vilaró declared, his basso sounding like it was coming from beyond the grave.
Crewman Xiu gave a terse, “Aft ready.”
“Fire Control, ready,” CPO Letour’s crisp soprano finished.
“All battle stations ready, Captain,” Poppy reported, confirming what I had just heard, plus the fact that she had received verbal callouts from Engineering positions as well. It was her job to verify that everyone was in place; the callouts to me were just a way to verify that my direct channel with the gun crew was working.
It was weird how I was dropping so easily into this. I drilled flying a full crew in simulation weekly back home, as part of my Flag Officer Readiness requirement, but this was the first time I had ever gone to battle stations with a full crew in real life. There’s something to be said for constant training, I guess.
It was just me projecting my own feelings, I’m sure, but I felt the tension throughout the ship shoot instantly into the red with that momentary flicker as we hit the filmy surface of the fold. Mo gave a very slight shudder as its shields adjusted to the pressure differentials between sides, but in the end we were flying straight and so were our escorts. They fanned out to their prior distances as soon as they were through.
“All hands remain belted,” I called out as my and every other eye with visibility scanned the surroundings. “Lewis, I want sails and tails as soon as I can have them.”
Normally, I would have said that to Red, but now she could concentrate on the jets alone and leave the hyperlight generators to the Bosun’s Mate.
“She’ll be right in a minute, Skipper,” he reported.
“Anything?” I heard Martins asking her people. My own eyes noticed out a whorl somewhat behind us that I had a bad feeling about.
Back from the Road Kings, I was hearing, “Nope,” “Clear,” and “All clear,” while my mind was screaming, No it isn’t!
“Break! Five o’clock low!” I yelled as I pushed Mo upward in reaction to a tiny flicker in the screen, opening up the throttles of the secondaries in the same moment.