by Leslie Bates
The klaxon suddenly woke her up.
As she came to consciousness she could hear the voice of a slightly annoyed young man announcing something.
“GENERAL QUARTERS! GENERAL QUARTERS! ALL HAND TO BATTLE STATIONS! ALL HANDS TO BATTLE STATIONS!”
The ship’s klaxon sounded again.
It took her a moment to remember that her name was Joan Sherman, and that she was a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in the Navy of the Republic of Freya.
Oh, and that she was also the captain of the Freya Navy Ship Reliable.
Joan donned and zipped up her gray shipboard jumpsuit. She didn’t bother to put on any shoes before punching the button that opened the door of her tiny cabin.
The first thing Joan noticed as she stepped onto the cramped bridge of the Reliable was that there were no stars, planets, or other bodies visible in the forward windows. There was only the unlit dull gray of Jumpspace.
There was no real emergency, only a randomly scheduled battle drill.
But as the captain Joan still had to play her role in the exercise.
There were three other people on the bridge when she entered it.
Sitting in the pilot’s seat was the executive officer, Ensign Hal Banning. At the fire control station running a simulation of the tactical scenario was the gunner, Petty Officer Third Class Jim Ripley. He was only wearing the tee shirt and boxer shorts that he normally slept in.
Standing on deck was the Chief of the Boat.
Normally a vessel such as the Reliable, an elderly Swift class multi-mission sloop, one of the smallest craft capable of transiting Jumpspace, would only rate a Petty Officer Third Class, or Second Class at best, as the senior noncommissioned officer on board.
The Republic of Freya Navy had very politely asked a retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Freya Colonial Space Guard, the predecessor service to the Navy, to come out of retirement for one year. Dennis Compton wasn’t quite old enough to be Lieutenant Sherman’s grandfather, but he was fairly close to it.
It was time for the captain to speak.
“What’s the situation?”
Master Chief Petty Officer Compton replied.
“Captain, we have a Federation Tango class patrol ship on an intercept vector to us.” He said. “We are running evasive maneuvers.”
“What the hell do they want?” Said the Lieutenant.
“They want us to surrender.” Said the Master Chief.
Up until about five years ago the Federation was the coalition of English speaking nations and their allies who held political domination over the Earth. The eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano brought an abrupt end to it. With the Federation capital buried under several meters of volcanic ash and anyone who could not leave the planet dying of starvation or killed in the vast planetwide food riot the Federation as an effective political entity was dead.
But the vast fleet of starships paid for by ten billion no longer living taxpayers still existed. Some of those ships were still operated by the coalition of core colonies that claimed to be the continuation of the Federation. Some ships went to those worlds who put in the highest bid for their services. Others simply went pirate.
And some of those had already attacked the Freyani homeworld.
The Tango class patrol ship had four times the size, mass, and firepower of the Reliable and had twice the acceleration. In a fight with conventional weapons the Reliable would lose.
But it didn’t really matter who was in control of the attacking ship. Surrender was simply not an option.
“We are not going to surrender.” She said. “Load the Bird.”
It wasn’t a technically correct order but the gunner understood it clearly.
“Load Mark Two anti-ship weapon, aye, aye.” He replied.
The Reliable carried a single triple weapon turret fitted in what the Freyan Navy called the Bravo configuration. Two beam lasers rated at 750 megawatts each, and a single missile launcher. The missile launcher normally carried three of the Mark One anti-ship missiles in the ready rack.
A basic anti-ship missile such as the Freyan Navy Mark One was a kinetic energy kill system. The warhead was a segmented mass of steel with a bursting charge to scatter the fragments should the missile’s guidance system fail to achieve a direct dead-on impact on the target.
But it was understood by the political and military leaders of the Republic of Freya that not all of their patrol vessels would have the upper hand in every situation. Thus a “battery-round”, which was one weapon per launcher, of Mark Two anti-ship weapons would be issued to each patrol ship regardless of its size.
The Mark Two anti-ship weapon carried a five kiloton boosted fission nuclear warhead. In the parlance of the patrol forces of the Freyan Navy it was called The Bird or The Finger. It was simply the weapon of last resort.
In the aft section of the ship in the accessway to the single turret the rest of the crew practiced the loading procedure with blue painted inert practice rounds.
On the bridge Lieutenant Sherman turned to the Master Chief and gave him an order.
“Chief of the Boat, unlock the safe.” She said.
“Unlock the safe, aye, aye.” He replied.
On the aft end of the bridge a bright and shiny box was bolted to the bulkhead. The Master Chief dialed the combination of mechanical lock on the box. With the final click of the lock he opened the box, reached in and picked out one of the two manila
envelopes in the box. The first envelope was marked with a red stripe and sealed with red colored wax. The other envelope had no markings and was merely closed with the flap in.
The Master Chief picked out the second envelope and handed it to Lieutenant Sherman.
Joan opened the envelope and removed the practice arming key for the Mark Two anti-ship weapon. She turned to the ship’s gunner and spoke.
“Fire Control, what is the status of the Mark Two?”
“Captain,” he said, “I show the Mark Two loaded and ready to launch. Firing solution is laid in.”
“I am arming the weapon.” She replied.
Lieutenant Sherman turned and stepped towards the pilot’s station.
On top of the forward control panel between the pilot’s and co-pilot/navigator’s seats was bolted a small shiny box with two key slots and red and a yellow light. Joan inserted the key into the slot under the yellow light.
“I am arming the weapon.” She said.
She turned the key and the yellow light lit up.
“Captain.” Said the Gunner. “I show the weapon is armed.”
“Launch weapon.” Lieutenant Sherman ordered.
“Launch weapon, aye, aye!” The Gunner replied.
The Gunner pressed a button and watched the results on the fire control display.
“Weapon away!” he yelled.
Joan heard the click of a stopwatch being stopped. She turned to the Master Chief to see that he had pulled the stopwatch from a pocket in his shipboard jumpsuit.
“How did we do?” She asked the Master Chief.
“We passed, Ma’am.” He replied.
“And?” She said.
“We could do better, Ma’am.” Said the Master Chief.
Ensign Banning in the pilot’s seat failed to suppress his own groan.