We tied up in the large boat bay of Fleet Carrier Alexander. While they were putting the maneuvering braces in place around Mo, I sent Gereben out to spend the afternoon in the ship’s hospital.
Red and our deckhands went on spacewalk to inspect our hull. I watched the proceedings from the boat bay’s observation port.
ESDF officers show rank on our shoulder boards, not on the sleeves like surface navies. But you do see stripes on a few officer’s cuffs. They designate the captain (four stripes and a ring, like the Royal Navy) and the XO (three stripes and a ring) of an interstellar ship. The Sky Boss on a carrier gets three as well, as commander of the aviation wing. On capital ships like Alexander, division commanders get two.
So my fours stripes drew a lot of double-takes from passing Alexander crewmen as I stood there staring out the window. It’s a lot of fun, but the salutes I get from crewmen twenty or thirty years my senior are really embarrassing. I swear the brass did not think it through when they wrote the rules. Alexander’s Captain Vasileva deserved those salutes from her 3000-plus crewmen a lot more that I did.
As I expected, Mo had not been significantly harmed by the burn-through, despite the dramatic scorch decorating her side. We lost a back-up antenna for local data traffic– a minor loss– and that was all. But on the cargo pod, Red finally had a look at the hole in Hold One. I watched the remote cam feed through my nerveware.
It was huge, a breach as wide as my shoulders. Red was able to stick the cam right into the hold to inspect the broken welds from inside.
“That’s ancient,” I commented on Mo’s crew channel. I could see corrosion in areas that had been exposed to the air in the hold. “A patch job from years ago, I bet.”
“Decades,” she corrected. “We would never fix something this big with a patch nowadays. It’s too large to hold the sea back when the pressure is reversed. We would have replaced the entire section properly.”
For safety, one does patches from the interior, so that positive pressure bears on the patch, and the welds aren’t having to take the strain. But the pressure goes in reverse once you submerge. And pressure goes up exponentially with size.
She continued panning around, inspecting for structural damage, while I mulled it over. I concluded, “We have to fly it like this until we get back to Earth. I don’t think Alexander’s shops can produce a section that size.”
Red snorted. “I know they can’t. They never carry stores of plate that large on a ship.”
“How do they fix their own ship, then?” Farley broke in to demand. He was outside with them, so we had him on the crew frequency for safety.
“For that, they have heavy starship plate,” I answered. “It’s several centimeters thicker and weighs dozens of times more than the stuff Mo and your cargo pod are made of. It’s far too heavy for us to use.”
“Then Red can just patch it the way they did before!”
I frowned at the tone he was using. “Farley, there is no point. She has to do it from the inside, which she can’t do until the hold is empty. There’s no room to put the cargo except your empty craft after you make your first run. Once the cargo is in your lander, we no longer need the hold. We can seal it and leave it for the Yard to repair.”
“We’ll have to pump the air out of my craft and the central chamber and offload in vacuum! That will take a dozen hours extra and completely screw up our system! Red can patch it from the outside! It only has to hold for a little while!”
“There is no way I will risk that. It could let go while the guys are offloading. You will have to work out a load method for vacuum.”
“Red, with skills like yours, you can do it!”
“You’re only sayin’ no ’cause that bloke says, right?”
I seethed a little at that comment, but held my tongue. Farley could believe what he wanted about me, criticize my ‘wild flying’, say my head was swollen. I had stopped trying to deal with him as a reasonable equal.
“Colin, I won’t do it. It’s too dangerous,” she said firmly, to my relief. I didn’t want to have to order her not to do it. She was audibly unhappy, but logic was logic, and she was seeing the same thing I saw.
Farley was fuming. “Skipper, this is unacceptable. Your interference is bodging up a system that was set before you were born!”
“Chief!” I answered, putting some steel into my voice now. “That… is your problem. It is not my problem. I insist that you stop making it my problem. That is all.”
I switched off my mic. I wasn’t going to risk saying something he could legitimately file a complaint about. A youth officer is in a peculiar position.
After staring through the port at my ship and reflecting a bit, I thanked Martins in my mind for the words.
# # #
After the crew spent a night on the rotation decks of Alexander, getting a break from microgravity, I borrowed a briefing room to meet with everyone, including Farley’s team.
Gereben was there, wearing a shoulder cast and an embarrassed grin. He was the only person visibly injured, although from their eyes, a few of the younger SC guys might have suffered some form of mental scarring. Most trips don’t involve accelerations like they had just experienced. However, most trips don’t involve exposing a single small transport vessel to enemy fighters. Other than Lastunen, I bet none of these guys even had any idea that a frumpy old Goblin could fly like that.
After a quick thank you to everyone for their performance, I got straight to the point.
“We expected to work from low orbit, turning around every four or five hours, but we’re orbiting the wrong planet for that.”
“It’ll be like running between the Earth and the Moon, right?” asked an SC with petty officer stripes… I mean gunner stripes.
“Much worse. It’s 800,000 kilometers to Sebka B. The lander is only Normal Space capable, so the round trip will be about forty hours once you include the time on the ground.”
Someone swore. I couldn’t blame them. I had just told the ones making that trip that they could be spending the majority of two days exposed to the Enemy. Five times.
I had worked out an alternative. We could take Mo across in Meta-space far faster than the lander could make the trip in Normal Space.
We would drop the lander off in Normal Space in low orbit, then go Meta and skedaddle out while he was on the surface. We would return in time to pick him up, then run to the safety of the Fleet to load up for the next trip. It would take only an hour longer than the original plan.
The Sky Boss on Alexander wouldn’t approve it. He felt that Mo was too big a target. I might have persuaded him, if Farley had shown some willingness, but the Chief got cold feet when he saw the Commander hesitate.
I could see it in Farley’s eyes now, as I spoke with the crew. He was wondering if I would tell them about it. I could undercut him by bringing up this lost opportunity, telling them they could have had six hours with much of it spent in the loving embrace of Mo and her shields, instead of forty hours on their lonesome.
Hell no. I don’t work that way. To do your job, you need these guys behind you.
I don’t know if he was able to read that in my eyes, but if it was there, that’s what it said.