ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE
STAR BLAZERS-TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
By: Frederick P. Kopetz
ACT SEVEN-THE SCUTTLEBUTT EXPRESS
NOTE: Derek Wakefield has graciously granted permission to use two of his characters--namely Dac and Anya Windfield--in this installment of this tale. Full credits are given at the end of this Installment.
Frederick P. Kopetz---February 2000
I. MORNING WATCH
Space Battleship Argo
January 9, 2202
0400 Hours: Spacetime
Venture sat at the Argo's helm, taking a final sip of coffee. "Well, Royster," he asked. "How do you like these long shifts?"
"I don't," said Sandor's second-in-command as he sat at Sandor's station, compiling shipboard information for a report he'd be giving Sandor at 0830 when Sandor came on shift to relieve him. "But, I guess that's life in the Star Force. Where are we now?" he asked.
Venture looked at a readout at his panel, glanced behind him at the Astro-Compass, and then flicked on the video panel. "See those few scattered asteroids in front of us? We're near the far edge of the asteroid belt now. That far dot off in the distance is Jupiter and her moons. By the time we have the next shift change, we'll be past the asteroid belt and entering the edge of Jupiter's zone of gravitational influence. Our ETA at Ganymede is 1100 Hours. Luckily, we're not that far now, and it's quiet," said Venture.
The lift doors on the starboard side of the Argo's first bridge whizzed open, and Nova, in her uniform and new white peacoat, walked up to the front of the bridge, standing behind Royster's chair. "Sir, I stand ready to relieve you as Officer of the Deck." The Officer of the Deck, or "OOD" was an officer who had charge of the ship when neither the Captain or Deputy Captain was on the bridge. The post of OOD rotated among all of the Argo's bridge officers on a rotating basis, so that there would always be a senior officer on the bridge.
"At 0400 I stand relieved," said Venture as he stood. "Mrs. Wildstar, you have the conn."
"Thank you. Now assuming command," said Nova with a smile.
"You look tired," said Venture.
"You look worse, Mark...two shifts?" grinned Mrs. Wildstar. "Go get some sleep."
"As much as I can with having to be in the Central Tactics room at 1130 Hours," he yawned as he stood up.
"Who's on my watch?" asked Nova.
"Royster on Mechanical, Staff Sergeant Tranh at the Tactical Radar, Ensign Broderson on Combat, Lieutenant Henson at Engineering, Junior Lieutenant Parsons at Navigation, Sergeant Yarborough at Communications. Staff Sergeant Scranton at Artillery. You're at the Cosmo-Radar. Analysis is unmanned," said Venture.
Nova nodded professionally, and said, "Thanks. Sounds like a good group on this watch," even though she didn't want to tell Venture what she was thinking as the lift doors whizzed open and Henson took her post from Ensign Carver.
"Something wrong?" he asked in a low voice.
Mrs. Wildstar just shook her head. "Just something on my mind," she lied.
Venture nodded as he left, departing through the port side lift.
As Nova sat down at the Cosmo-Radar, and just after Sergeant Yarborough took over Communications from another Ensign, the tall black communications Sergeant strode over to her post and said, "Ma'am, here's the dispatches in signal code from the rest of the task group."
Nova looked over the communications printouts rapidly. "Hmmm. The Andromeda requested a course change, to take place at 0405, since they're taking one of their auxiliaries off-line for an adjustment. It's 0403 now...and Miss Parsons isn't here yet. I can handle it. Sergeant, signal the Andromeda, and inform them that we'll make the course change on time with the rest of the task group."
"Ma'am, the Assistant Pilot isn't here yet...the ship's on auto-pilot," said Yarborough.
"Follow my order. I was trained to handle some of the piloting chores when Captain Avatar cross-trained us on several posts during the mission to Iscandar."
"Yes, ma'am," said Yarborough as he sat down, entering code at the coding keypad as Mrs. Wildstar got up and walked over to the helm. "The requested course change is two degrees starboard," said Nova as she disengaged the autopilot. "Disengage autopilot, " said Nova as she worked the levers. "Reduce engine output by five percent...change heading to RSV-230 from RSV-228." As Nova worked the helm controls, the view outside the windows altered slightly as the low hum of the engine changed just a little. "Cruising speed, now twenty-one space knots," she added. "Course change completed. Re-engage autopilot. Sergeant Yarborough, signal the Andromeda...inform them that our course change is complete."
"Aye, aye, ma'am," he said.
At that, the starboard side lift doors whizzed open. Junior Lieutenant Holly Parsons came through. "Ma'am, I'm sorry I'm late," she said as she ran in.
"That's all right, but don't let it happen again," said Nova as she cleared the Navigation post for Parsons. "I've just made a course change...we're right on course, Miss Parsons."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Holly as she sat down. As Nova walked back to her post, she asked, "What was the delay?"
"My last cup of coffee lasted a little too long, ma'am. It won't happen again."
"Thank you, Holly," said Nova.
"The Andromeda has acknowledged our course change," said Yarborough a few minutes later as he stood up holding a tape. "They've stated that the other two battleships and the cruisers have also changed course as requested. There's also a personal message to you from the Andromeda, ma'am. May I read it?"
"Go ahead," said Nova.
" 'To Mrs. Wildstar. I have received your ship's duty schedule and wish to extend greetings as well as good wishes for your upcoming mission. It's been a long time since we were in school, and I'd like to extend my congratulations on your marriage. Signed, Junior Lieutenant Hollander, Danielle, Officer of the Deck, Space Battleship Andromeda.' "
Nova smiled. "Sergeant, acknowledge the first message in the usual terms, and send this as a second message. " 'To Miss Hollander. Received greetings. Appreciate same. Desire for you make social call to the Argo when we reach Ganymede. Can we meet in the gym? Signed, Lieutenant Wildstar, Nova, Officer of the Deck, Space Battleship Argo.' "
"Message sent," said Yarborough a few minutes later.
"Very good. As you were, Sergeant. Now, I'd like status reports from everyone else, when you're ready," said Nova.
"Can we meet in the gym?" asked Holly. "Nova, what's that about?"
Nova smiled. "Easy. Danielle and I were on the gymnastics and cheerleading squads together at school. If she gets time, she probably wants to show me she can still 'skin the cat' on the rings. I'll take her challenge, and top it. Besides, I could use a good workout."
"Sounds fun," said Holly.
"Here's the Engineering status report, ma'am," said Diane Henson as she handed Nova a data cartridge.
"How are the auxiliaries holding up, Miss Henson?" asked Nova.
"No change," she said. "Ma'am...I'd like to make a report. Would you be willing to accept it?'
"Go ahead," said Nova with no outward change in demeanor, guessing, however, that she had an idea what Henson would probably talk about.
"Ma'am, yesterday, I was harassed by another officer in my Group, a Lieutenant Randall J. Parmon. He works in a section in regular contact with mine. While at my post, trying to perform my job, he made vicious allusions to a prior romantic relationship I had with him at the Space Fighters' Training School. A relationship that ended in late 2200 after I was assigned to the Space Frigate Hannibal with him. It did not end well, ma'am. I feel threatened working in a section in such close proximity and regular contact with him. I request reassignment to another section within my Group and I also request that harassment charges be brought against Mister Parmon. I also wish to bring complaints against Lieutenant Commander Orion and Captain Wildstar for ignoring my prior attempts to report this matter. That's all, ma'am."
"Logged and noted," said Nova coldly. "Thank you. I'll have the Executive Officer look this over in the morning to begin an investigation concerning these charges."
"You mean you can't do anything NOW?" demanded Henson.
"Is Mister Parmon in close proximity to you now? Do you feel threatened now?" asked Nova.
"No, ma'am," said Henson.
"Then, in my judgment, we can handle this through ordinary channels. Did Commander Orion actually deny your request to speak to him?"
"No, ma'am. He told me to hold it until later."
"Off the record, I think you should have done that," said Mrs. Wildstar quietly. "This could have been handled within your Group...or you could have asked for a chit to see the XO, Commander Venture, about this. You've had quite a bit of shipboard service. You know you should go to the Executive Officer to handle these personal problems...before you take them to the Captain...especially when he's in his quarters. Do you understand where we're coming from?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Henson coldly.
"Very well, then. Your complaint is logged. Please return to your post," said Nova calmly and professionally.
"Yes, ma'am," said Diane.
Later that morning, near the end of the shift (at near 0800), Nova was taking various sensor scans of the area when the Argo's Time Radar flashed to life.
"What's up, ma'am?" asked Staff Sergeant Scranton from Artillery.
"Something's coming in on the Time Radar," said Nova. "It's an indistinct image, but it's large." Nova sat adjusting her set as the image on the large screen on the bridge overhead cleared. "This is what was in this space about...twenty-two hours ago! WOW!" cried Nova as she looked at her readout.
"We never had that sort of recall before," said Royster, who sounded rather excited.
"And I thought the best we could do with the new Andromeda-class engine was an eighteen hour recall period!" said Nova. "That's really incredible!"
"What did we pick up?" asked Holly Parsons.
"Gernitz's main fleet, I think," said Nova. "There's his flagship, surrounded by a huge fleet of carriers, battleships, and destroyers. That flagship alone would've defeated us...it looks just like Zordar's black space fortress!"
"The one that came out of the Comet Empire city when you destroyed it?" asked Scranton.
Nova nodded, her mouth falling open when the Cometine fleet warped out all at once on the Time Radar image.
"So they DID warp in a hurry!" she cried. "This confirms what Desslok told us..."
"And, again he was right," said Royster.
Nova just nodded, looking at Royster. "Luckily, I made sure that this image was recorded. Wait until we tell the Captain..."
"Yes. He'll probably want it to go right to Defense Headquarters," said Henson.
Nova smiled and nodded. For once, she and Miss Henson were in agreement.
Space Battleship Andromeda
January 9, 2202
Eastern Standard Time
"So, we've landed," said Admiral Falworth as he stood up at his conn and stretched his arms.
"Affirmative, sir," said Commander Philip Danforth, who was Falworth's XO.
"I was just commenting," chuckled Falworth. "You don't always need to restate the obvious, Mister."
"Don't be," said Falworth as he walked forward to Danforth's station at the center of the bridge. "How's our spacecraft cover?'
"Good. All twenty-four of our planes are in optimal condition, and one squadron's on Alert-Five....the other's just coming off Alert Fifteen."
"Not bad, save that we're in dock, which makes it a bit hard for us to launch Tigers," said Falworth.
"Sir, we've got Ganymede covering us now...."
"But, what if more enemy ships show up and want to play games?" mused Falworth. "I mean, we're here...the Argo's on her way in to land next to us...and my other battleships are going to be landing, too. I'd feel good if there was a carrier around here on station...someone to, you know, cover our butts."
"Sir, I've got an image on radar," said Morrison. "She's at RK-214, range, 12,000, speed, twenty-two space knots. I think she's settling into a parking orbit."
"Wouldn't be the Argo; Wildstar hasn't called me yet like he said he would," muttered Falworth. "Morrison, put her up on video..."
"Aye, sir," she said. An image came up on one of the Andromeda's four screens, followed by a data readout from the data dump from the ship's transponder.
"Sir, that's the spacecraft carrier Akagi," said Danforth. "The transponder dump says she's still on refit trials..."
"Paydirt! Captain Siegel must've heard that call of mine for 'all available ships in area' and decided to take me literally," chuckled Falworth. "Looks like I just got a carrier to watch our backsides! Mr. Kurinaga, would you connect me to her bridge? Phil and I have got to have a little chat..."
"Captain Siegel, a message is coming in from Ganymede," said the Akagi's communications officer a moment later.
"Put it up on the video panel," ordered Captain Phil Siegel, the Akagi's skipper.
The comm officer thrust her jet-black hair out of her eyes and began clicking away. However, there was no response except a hissing noise on the bridge speakers and a red line of text on the screen (Akagi now had a quad main screen like that of the Andromedas) that the comm officer, Jr. Lt. Cassie Lander, was trying to patch in.
"Sir," said Lander a minute later. "All I can give you is audio. We've got another damn systems glitch."
"What's "ERROR 502" mean?" growled Siegel.
"Sir, it's another computer core glitch," said Commander Leon Ruiz, the ship's Mechanical Group Leader. "Looks like another memory cell went south."
"Fine," said Siegel. "Lander, turn on the speakers."
A moment later, Falworth's voice came up on the bridge. "Phil, how's the refitted Akagi doing?"
"A little buggy, but fine, sir," said Siegel. "What's going on?"
"Might be the beginning of Comet Empire, Part Two," said Falworth. "Seems the Argo had a little run-in with some of our green friends...and they weren't exactly here to sightsee, either. You got someone out there on BARCAP?"
"Aye, sir. Standard procedure, even for shakedowns."
"Good. Who's the squadron leader?"
"The leader of the Texans, sir. He's out with his very own squadron right now. And, I assure you, sir, he's GOOD."
"Who is this whiz kid?" grumbled Falworth.
"Well, considering that you told me to make sure he got his waiver through back in August before his wedding, based on his great record under you on the Texas, and considering that you said his bride was the best dancer you ever met, I think you'd know him...."
"Oh...yes," said Falworth. "Mister Windfield, right?"
"The same, sir," said Siegel.
"Great," smiled Falworth. "And he's on BARCAP now?"
"Aye, sir," said Siegel.
"Wonder what the boy's up to right now....?" mused Falworth.
"Landford, what's up out there?" drawled the somewhat Texas-accented voice of his squadron leader and flight leader over his headset.
"Typical...just space trash, rocks to vector around, lots of emptiness..."
"The usual, right, Ensign?"
"Right, sir," said the young African-American pilot.
"SSDD," mumbled Dac.
"Sir, what's that mean?" asked Landford. "I'm afraid I never learned to speak Dentonese..."
"I'll explain it to you when you grow up, Ensign," chuckled Dac.
"Not exactly the sort of language for polite company, or the radio," said Dac. "That's why people invent acronyms, Ensign. Got it?"
Boy...I never learned to speak Dentonese... Dac thought as he looked at a little picture in a frame near his Cosmo Tiger's gunsight. It was a picture of a very pretty young blond-haired woman with burgundy-brown eyes and a winning smile. Anya...what kind of pilots are they sending me? GHOD!
"Squadron one, Texans, come in," said a voice over Windfield's earphones.
""This is Windfield, sir," said Dac as he recognized Siegel's voice on his headset and deftly switched frequencies. "What's up?"
"Mister Windfield, I've received a request for you to remain on BARCAP for an additional two hours. You up to it?"
"Can do," said Windfield. "Special visitors?"
"You know me well, son. Yeah...really special. The request came from the new commander of Combined Fleet. He doesn't quite trust our boys here at Ganymede."
"Don't know if I'd trust a load of new replacements either, sir. I sympathize."
"Okay, Windfield...I'm sure you know what to do."
"Sure do, sir. Over and out."
We will have to delay that brunch date just a little, Anya, thought Dac as he adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. I'm sure you'll...
"Sir, I'm picking up an object approaching Ganymede at the edge of my radar range," said Ensign Ken Horiyama, Windfield's other wingman.
"Speed...nineteen space knots and slowing. She's 5000 megameters away, coming right for Ganymede along RJ-015, and there's no record of any such vessel on the Rendezvous Notes log, sir."
"Okay...I think we'd better go and take a look," said Windfield. "Form up around me and we'll head on in and see what's up..."
At that, the three Cosmo Tiger II's, met and sped up, with their blue and gold colors and squadron logos (based on the Lone Star Flag of Texas) flashing in the sunlight as they roared off towards the vector Windfield called out.
Dac's right hand tensed around his throttle as a glint of light flashed off the object. Wonder what's up? he thought...tensing for action...until his plane's IFF transponder began to go off.
"She's one of ours, boys...but I'm not getting a full transponder ident," said Windfield as a line of data came across his screen and then stopped. "What's going on?" he mumbled to himself with his mike off. "What's with her transponder?"
The line of data only read: EDF REGISTRY. SPECIAL OPS SBB. MASS 64000. PENNANT NUMB....
"Where's the rest of her data, sir?" asked Landford. "What kind of game is that ship playing?"
"I'm getting an idea," said Windfield, straining for a visual ID of the ship. He only knew of ONE Earth SBB with that mass. If his suspicions were right...
"Approaching spacecraft!" snapped an authoritative voice in Windfield's headset. "Please identify yourselves!"
"This is damn irregular, sir," barked Horiyama. "Where's the rest of their IFF code?"
Windfield strained his eyes, and then caught a glimpse of the distant vessel's outline. "Well...I'll be...!" he snapped. "Horiyama, Landford, follow my lead, do NOT, repeat, do NOT prepare a single weapon, we've got scanners of all kinds painting us right now! And cut the chatter!"
"Great talkin, Mistah," drawled a familiar voice at very close range over Windfield's headset. "Good thing we've met befoh, and that ah know you. Otherwise, you might'a been Tiger Food raight about now," smiled the pilot of a black, gold and red Cosmo Tiger II that suddenly came out of nowhere and materialized next to Dac's starboard wingtip between him and his wingman.
"Hardy, how many times have I asked you...DON'T SCARE ME LIKE THAT! I get kinda jumpy when you come up on my six like that!"
"Sheeeit...Dac...why weren't you swivelin' your beady eyes back to yoah six, son?" laughed Hardy. "What did ah teach you in trainin'?"
"Well, you came on my six when I had my eyes on my twelve..."
"That's exactly when some enemy can jump you, Dac."
"Sir," gasped Landford. "You know one of the Black Tigers?"
"Damn straight I do. Aggressor training. Tiger Meet December 2200," said Dac. "Hardy, what are you doin' out here?"
"Well, we ain't playin' tiddlywinks," drawled Hardy. "Come along our starboard and have a look, and tell me what you can guess, Dac..."
"Roger that," said Dac. "Boys...follow our lead."
At that, Dac and Hardy sped off towards the approaching shape that made Landford's eyes go wide. "Sir…holllleee shit! We're cruisin' up alongside the bloody A...."
"A living legend, and say no more," snapped Dac as he caught a look at the distinctive shape that he was seeing for the first time in real life. Switching hands on his control stick, Dac brought his gloved right hand up in a smart salute as he let out a slow whistle while looking at the Argo, her wings beginning to open for landing even as he looked at her. Dac's whistle went up several notes as he suddenly noticed several rough patches, burn marks, and fresh, silvery welds scarring the famous space battleship's otherwise pristine blue and red hull. "Shooot! What happened to you guys?" whispered Dac in his lip mike.
"As ah said, we weren't playin' tiddlywinks, son," said Hardy. "Make sure yoah life insurance is paid up, Dac. Earth's just fallen back into the stewpot...you'll probably get briefed later on. Just be sure to watch yoah six, boy! For all ya know, the next plane on yoah six could be flown by someone with green skin who ain't as obliging' towards ya as ah am. Ah know you and Anya were damn happy at yoah wedding' back in August. Don't leave her a widow before ya reach yoah first anniversary, Windfield. Over and out...gotta run..."
At that, Hardy streaked off, followed by two more Black Tigers. Dac stared at the Argo's battered hull a moment longer before streaking away...as he thought...Anya...how the HELL am I gonna tell you that we're probably back at war with the Goddamn Cometines again? SHIT ON A SHINGLE, MAN! THIS SUCKS...
Space Battleship Argo
January 9, 2202
1131 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
The Argo had finally landed on Ganymede, and was now locked down in a repair dock.
Wildstar was again meeting with his staff in the Central Tactics Room. The subject of discussion was the image of Gernitz's fleet that Nova had picked up on the Time Radar a few hours ago.
"So, the fleet just warped out?" asked Venture.
Nova nodded. "It's just as Desslok said."
"So, we've confirmed Desslok's information," said Captain Wildstar. "Now, the question is...where did they go, and can we catch them?"
"You're still considering going after that fleet?" asked Venture.
"Shouldn't we be considering it?" asked Wildstar. "If they're anywhere around the solar system, they're still a threat to Earth. We need to know what their commander's planning."
"It does seem strange for a commander like that to just warp away with no reason at all," offered Sandor.
"What do you think he's planning?" asked Wildstar.
"It's uncertain. Maybe he decided to go off somewhere and regroup, or maybe he received new orders from his superiors. Until we hear what Desslok's guess as to what their actions might be, it would be best to wait...unless, that is, they come back and attack again. Then, their intentions would be unmistakable..."
"I don't like this," said Wildstar. "I feel as if we're being toyed with. Sandor, how are the repairs going?"
"We were able to make some repairs in space. Ganymede Base reported that they have all of the cables we need, so we can get the auxiliary engine repaired in twenty hours. It's my estimate that we can have all of the damage repaired within twenty one and half hours. We should be able to leave Ganymede at 0900 hours tomorrow morning with all of our damage repaired."
"Hmmm," smiled Wildstar. "Shipshape and Bristol fashion in less than a day. Great job," he smiled. "Good work. Everything's going right on schedule. Hardy, find anything out there on BARCAP?"
"Other than meetin' an old friend, no. Sandor, we need that damn transponder fixed. Thank God the pilot I met had some working' brain tissue 'tween his ears. Otherwise, we might'a been in a Goddamn friendly fire mix-up."
"Hmmm," said Sandor. "That could be a problem. It'll be fixed along with the other items."
"Why didn't you put it in the report, Sandor? or...why didn't you guys let me know about it...Venture...Nova?" said Wildstar.
"...Didn't happen on my shift," said Venture.
"Were there any signs it was acting up?" snapped Wildstar.
"No...there weren't," snapped Venture. "Homer, why didn't you report it?"
"It didn't happen on my shift, Venture!" snapped Homer.
"Mark," said Wildstar. "You're... responsible for appraising me of..."
"Derek," said Nova meaningfully. "He didn't know about the problem when he was OOD. Neither did I. Sandor was about to tell you it blew around 0930, but we didn't spot it until we needed it approaching Ganymede. That's happened to us before...what's the problem?"
"With a massive fleet out there...and not knowing where they went...we're vulnerable," said Wildstar. "If we could get some more intelligence on what that maniac Gernitz is up to...and where he went, I'd prefer to get him before he gets us."
"You'd go out and look for a fight?" said Venture.
"Mark, you know damn well that's better than getting jumped with our pants down," replied Derek in a feigned tone of patience that made him sound a little as if he was talking to a mildly slow child.
"Derek, you know we have our orders from the Commander," said Venture in a low voice.
"Yeah...we have our orders...but we have an enemy force out there," replied Wildstar. "Still...I'll be sure to let the Commander know everything. I think we're right in the middle of Gernitz's game...and all of you know I don't like it one damn bit. All of you know the stakes...you saw that battleship. As you know, it was huge, black, and ugly. Dismissed," said Wildstar.
As everyone filed out, Venture said, "Wildstar...I think later on, we need to talk."
"I think so, too, Mark," said Wildstar in a low voice.
"Hmmm. So that's the current situation?" asked the Commander as Wildstar sat in the Argo's private communications room reporting to him.
"At the present time, everything's proceeding according to our schedule," said Wildstar.
"I take it the enemy fleet never came back?" asked the Commander.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean they're not going to," said Wildstar with a deep breath. "Their disappearance seemed...just a little too opportune, sir. I'd even suspect Desslok of having something to do with this if it wasn't obvious that the Cometines are at war with him, too."
"I think that our enemy is toying with us...and with the Gamilons, too. We know they were behind the attacks on Earth before Christmas, and we know that they were behind the later attacks on Earth. I'm aware that the Gamilons think they have an idea what they're up to, but I think we'd better be ready for anything...and I think we'd better find out where they went."
"And then?" said Singleton.
"Then...I hope to be able to take them out by surprise...just like the way we attacked the city-ship, sir."
"Pre-emptive strike?" said the Commander.
Wildstar nodded. "I think that's the only logical alternative, sir. Especially if I can hit them near the edge of the solar system or beyond it, Commander."
The Commander sat in thought with his eyes closed for a moment. Singleton knew this would not be an easy issue to decide. He just wished, by God, that he and Wildstar had more hard intelligence. "You know I've called all of our commercial ships back to port, and the Defense Council has agreed to deploy our remaining capital ships in four positions around Earth to meet this new threat. " At that, a computer graphic of the planned deployment of Earth's current capital ship fleet of fifteen space battleships and two carriers in four task groups around Earth came up on the screen. It wasn't much, and Wildstar knew that. "The Defense Council has also requested the construction of ten more Jamaica-class space battleships, and three more Andromedas, along with the appropriate number of fleet cruisers and destroyers to act as escorts, along with the additional patrol cruisers and frigates we'll need."
"So they changed their mind on changing the Fleet program around?"
"For now," said Singleton. "However, we don't expect that all of these new ships will be completed until May or June at the earliest. Also, in our review of the battle of Saturn-Titan, and the events afterwards, we found that the old numbered Patrol Boats were, at the very least, deficient. So many of those were destroyed on the ground at bases or shot down by Scorpions that we barely have any left. We're currently looking for a new design to full the gaps in our Fleet program that were filled by that old class, which we have decided not to rebuild. We hope we can design some sort of fast ship to act as both a close escort for commercial ships as well as a Fleet patrol ship and fast escort. There's a design that was in our archives that we think might be suitable if it's reworked somewhat."
"In the meantime, sir?" asked Wildstar with a hard glance at Singleton over the screen.
"I'd like you to, of course, make your meeting with Desslok tomorrow and find out the Gamilons' theories as to where that fleet went. Since he was once allied with Zordar, he may have knowledge of the Cometines' rationale and combat doctrine that we don't have. Then, I'd like you to continue to follow the trail of the enemy fleet, and to try to guess their intentions and report them back to me. If you're attacked, or you find some point where you can do something reasonable to stop them, take whatever action you see fit. However, keep in mind that the Argo is the only ship that Earth can spare in this sort of intelligence-gathering mission. We need as much knowledge as you can gather...and, remember...Gernitz's fleet may not be the only one threatening us. There may be other hostile forces allied with him for all we know. Our strategic grasp of the situation isn't the best now, Captain. We both know that. I know what you'd prefer to do...but...we need more intelligence to know if Gernitz is still a concrete threat at this time, Wildstar. I'm sure you understand the situation, Captain. "
"Yessir," said Wildstar.
"You learned well from Captain Avatar, and I trust your judgment, Captain. Keep in mind everything you learned from Avatar, and from your experiences, Wildstar. We're counting on you."
"Yessir...you can count on us," said Wildstar as he stood and saluted.
"I'm glad to hear that," said the Commander. "I'll be awaiting your next report, Captain Wildstar." At that, the Commander saluted, and the transmission faded out.
Wildstar took a deep breath, and thought, He's right. There's so damn much to consider about all of this. What if Gernitz's fleet isn't the only one out there? What if there's other forces that neither we nor the Gamilons even know about? Whatever's going on....there'll be a lot to consider. Maybe too much.
We need to act...but, where...and how soon? Ohh...this is just too much...and we're penned up here making repairs like a sitting duck!! thought Wildstar. I'm tense...too tense. Maybe I'd better go down to the gym...and work off some of this tension, before I get in another argument with Venture or something. I know where he's coming from, but I almost felt as if I wanted to fight with him again...like in the old days. A few sit-ups would probably work all of that out of me....
So, Wildstar went to his quarters, changed into sweat pants, sneakers, and a tank top, and called up Dash Jordan, who was acting as the OOD at the moment, and informed him of where he'd be if he was needed. Then, Derek went down to the gym.
A few other people were down there, and, judging from the look on his face, they probably felt it was a good idea to give him a wide berth. Wildstar found an exercise bench, lay down, and began to do some sit-ups, losing count at around twenty-four. A while later, he was aching, but he didn't mind. It was a good ache, the sort that burned away the tension that was burning within Wildstar's mind like a flame that couldn't be extinguished.
After a while, Derek calmed down. But, the issue still ate at him.
So, ignoring the ache, he closed his eyes, tensed his muscles, and figured a few more sit-ups would be just the ticket....
In the meantime, a little hush fell across the gym as a few guys who were noisily working out on the parallel bars and performing crunches with a medicine ball (all being ignored by the Captain) went quiet when two females entered the gym.
One was Danielle Hollander, the visiting Artillery officer from the new Andromeda. She looked rather fetching in a light blue leotard, white legwarmers, and white sandals that she kicked off as soon as she got onto one of the mats with her friend, tossing her mane of golden hair casually out of her eyes as she began to fix it into a ponytail.
The other gymnast was Nova, who was talking to Danielle as she unbuckled one of her white sandals just under the cuff of one of her pink legwarmers. Her leotard was basic black, but as Derek had once observed, Mrs. Wildstar didn't look at all bad in black.
Danielle (who was unattached), decided to wink at a few of the guys as she began to do her stretches.
"WOW, Nova!" called out one of the admiring audience. "Can I ask your friend out?"
"Sure, " said Danielle brightly. "If you don't mind coming over to the Andromeda for lunch, that is..."
"The Andromeda?" said the young officer.
"Yeah...I'm her Artillery Officer."
"Well, you can shoot my guns any time!" laughed one of his buddies. All of the males (except Wildstar, who was still preoccupied) laughed uproariously as Nova gave them a somewhat peeved look.
"How high are these?" asked Danielle.
"Standard height," said Nova as she performed her stretches and adjusted her legwarmers. "Now, who's going up first?"
"Me," said Danielle as she jumped up, grabbed the rings, and promptly went upside down. "Hey, Nova. Who's that guy working out on the slant board, and why is he ignoring us? Is he gay?" she whispered as she came down.
"Well," said Nova (whose view of Derek was blocked because, on the ground, the skipper had his board facing towards a bulkhead), "if you'd let me up there, I could tell you."
"Roger that and over," said Danielle as she jumped down, and let Nova spring up onto the rings. "Who is the guy?" called out Danielle as Nova twisted around on the rings....
"Well, let me get my hair out of my eyes....and," said Nova, stopping in mid-sentence. "Oh, just our Skipper," said Nova brightly. "I can see his face, and he's not noticing you...or me...since he's in a grade-A prize winning funk."
"You know your ship's Captain well," said Danielle.
"Ah'm," said Nova. "You forget, I'm married to the man," said Nova as she came down. "And, today, the poor dear is acting as if he has armor plate for a skull," she whispered. "He's in one of his famous Wildstar funks again."
"How often does he get like that?" whispered Danielle.
"Often, when things get sticky out here. And, believe me, he's got his reasons."
"So, you're gonna let him stew?"
"And let the man get ulcers? Negative. You go up on those rings...I've got to go distract him before he blows a head gasket!" said Nova with a little grin.
So, while Danielle distracted everyone else, Nova went over to Derek, put her hands over his eyes, and cooed, "Guess who?" in his ear.
"Hi, Nova," said Wildstar without much spirit after he shook his head and looked up over Nova's hands at his missus' upside-down (and smiling) face.
"I'm glad you didn't tell me to get lost," said Nova calmly.
"Only you'd dare to surprise me like that, Nova."
"So, what's on your mind?"
"Too much. Too damn much, Nova," he muttered. "You know the stakes."
"Yes, and I also know that it's no good for my favorite Captain to work himself into a black, nasty funk. It doesn't do much for your blood pressure. Why don't you get up, get a towel, and watch me on the hanging rings? I'm sure you could use a diversion..."
"C'mon, you," she whispered, smooching his forehead.
"Uh...do I have a choice?" he said.
Smiling a little, Derek got up, stretched, and walked over towards the rings with Nova. "Look, Danielle!" she called out. "I've got my audience!"
Danielle called out, "Just as I expected. I knew it all the way back in Boulder...I knew it in college…you always were the Princess of mush!"
"MUSH?" cried Nova. "Humph! You're just jealous because I've found the love of my life, Danielle!"
"Is she your friend?" asked Derek.
"She won't be if she doesn't get her carcass off those rings in two seconds," teased Nova.
Danielle, upside-down, stuck out her tongue at her friend and did one more flip. Then, she jumped down and said, "Go defy gravity, milady."
Nova sprang up and began to do maneuvers...skinning the cat...switching hands on the rings and doing a flip, then a double somersault...
While hanging upside down and catching her breath, Nova spotted the doors whizzing open, and immediately spied Mark Venture coming through the doorway.
"Derek, it's Mark!" cried Nova.
"Nova, where are you?" said Venture, a little perplexed.
"Up here, over your head," she said. "Derek's over there, watching me."
"Oh," said Venture. "Derek! Glad to find you here...we've gotta talk..."
"ohhh...," grumbled Wildstar. "Mark, with all respect...I'm not in the mood right now. Can we do this later on?"
"I don't think so," said Venture. "Sorry...but this is serious..."
"Yeah?" said Derek.
"Let me start here," said Venture in a serious tone of voice as Nova, sensing that something was wrong, sprang back down, landing not too far from the Captain and XO. "Derek...to begin with...what's gotten into you?"
"Mark...we're here in the middle of the solar system with a massive enemy fleet cruising the area, location unknown, purposes unknown, but intent...certainly known. I'm beginning to get a distinct sense of Deja vu...and, since the memory involves a time not long ago when we didn't have a defense fleet and we had a very hostile Comet City bearing down on Earth. Well...maybe you can see why I'm getting more than a little tense about this."
"Derek, has it ever occurred to you that this force of Gernitz's might just be acting as bait for a larger force?"
"Oh?" said Wildstar as he stopped to think...and the doors whizzed open.
Paul Rosstowski and Holly Parsons cruised into the gym. Paul looked confident...Holly looked rather troubled about something.
"Something on your mind, Captain?" asked Rosstowski.
"I'd say so, Mister," said Wildstar as he leaned against a gymnasts' horse. "Call it large, black ugly, and cruising around somewhere in the vicinity."
"That damned Gernitz, sir?" asked Rosstowski.
Derek nodded. "Mark and I were just discussing what we should be considering next. Any ideas, Mustang?" said Wildstar with a smile, using the slang term that referred to an officer recently commissioned up from the ranks, which was precisely what Rosstowski was.
"Well, sir," said Paul, a little taken aback at the Captain's considering his viewpoint. "To begin with...I'm remembering the meeting we had earlier today, and what you were saying to the XO on the bridge before. The answer's self-evident...let's go out, find Gernitz's fleet, and eliminate the threat."
"Playing Devil's Advocate, Mister, and my prior opinions aside," said Wildstar. "Why should I be considering that?"
Venture was pleasantly surprised. He noted to himself that if Derek was playing the "justify your tactic" game with Rosstowski...with what had seemed to be his own point of view a few minutes earlier, maybe something he had said to Wildstar had gotten through.
"Rosstowski?" questioned Wildstar.
"Sorry, sir. It's obvious. They're out there, they're known to be hostile...they're probably coming right on back...so let's take the advantage while we still have it. Let's use everything we have, find them, and get them! We can't continue to allow an enemy fleet to operate like that in our own backyard!"
"And Mister, with all respect...what happens if we attack them and get trapped or destroyed in the battle?" asked Holly Parsons.
"We've got to hit them, Holly," said Rosstowski with a slightly arrogant streak that was suddenly giving Wildstar a bit of deja vu all over again. "Or, do you think they're just gonna be nice guys and send us a note as to where and when they want to fight...you know, like Lysis did?"
"Oh..," said Holly with a bit of a smile that suddenly made Venture start a little. "You're coming up with some interesting little guesses to try and prove your point, I see, Mustang. When were you chatting with the Cometines, Paul?"
"Listen, Holly, just cut the sarcasm," snapped Rosstowski. "I'm not doing this for my health or to make you happy. The Captain asked me for his opinion. As an officer, I'm supposed to point out alternative ways of looking at things, and point out angles he hasn't considered...especially when I get a direct order to go into the confessional and spill my guts to the "Old Man". You remember that, right?"
"Yes...I do," said Holly, who had everyone's attention as the gym suddenly went deadly quiet. "So, go on..."
"No...you go on," said Rosstowski. "I'm sure the Captain would love to hear an alternate opinion from our favorite Junior Lieutenant in Navigation...ma'am...."
"Who obviously isn't your favorite, Paul," snapped Holly. "Right? Okay...I know you might not like to hear this, but, even with all the evidence that seems to point to the obvious conclusion...that they could be toying with us and just waiting to come back in and begin a full-blast invasion with their main fleet… Well, there is a possibility that they could be setting up a diversion for another force under that Gernitz's command, Paul...Mark...Captain..." added Holly hastily as she became aware that Venture and the Captain were watching her. "Now, gentlemen, if they know our history...they might just know the gung-ho, damn the torpedoes reputations that some of us have had in the past...and to which a few not so-well-educated officers stick to now...."
"What the?" demanded Rosstowski....but, Wildstar held up his hand and said. "Paul. Let the young lady finish, huh?"
"Yessir," said Rosstowski, chagrined.
" And....sir, they might be exploiting it to our disadvantage. With all respect to the Combat Group, you've historically looked at things from one viewpoint...how hard can we hit them? I'd try not to let a man up from the ranks who's obviously all too eager to sit back and give a fireworks display with our shiny new main guns influence you too much, sir. Captain, with all respect, I wouldn't sit back...but I wouldn't be too eager to rush into harm's way, either. Maybe Gernitz is trying to outsmart you, sir?"
"Hmmm," thought Derek as he stood with his chin in his hand.
"She's got a point, Derek," said Venture. "Even if she's...a little heavy-handed in bringing it to your attention."
"See, sir?" said Holly. "I'm right, and Paul here is wrong."
"And we don't jump to conclusions about our fellow officers like that," said Venture.
"What do you mean, Mark?" asked Holly.
"Hold that thought for the moment," said Wildstar. "Drawing someone's attention elsewhere...I outsmarted Zordar with a similar diversion," mused Wildstar. "Remember? We attacked the upper part of the Comet City on Earth as a diversion while we hit their unprotected bottom half with torpedoes."
"So, don't you think it's possible they might be outsmarting you, Captain?" said Venture.
"Yeah...You could be right. Maybe Rosstowski and I are being too hidebound about this...and you and Parsons have a very good point." mused Wildstar,
"Okay, sir," shot Rosstowski. "Now, with all respect to you, sir, and to Commander Venture, I'd like to ask Miss Parsons a question."
"Shoot," grinned Holly.
"Parsons...uh...ma'am," said Rosstowski. "I think you're getting a bit personal. I'm a Mustang...okay. Right? But...do you really have to stand there flashing your Space Fighters' Training School Ring and rubbing my damn nose in it in front of half the Star Force?"
"What did you do before, hotshot?" snapped Holly. "You said I was flashing my Space Fighters' Training School ring? Fine! Wanna see it again?" she said as she held up her hand. "It just goes to show you...that someone with a professional military education can outthink any other so-called officer, anytime, any...."
Nova stepped up, clearing her throat as she stepped in between them. "Miss Parsons...Mister Rosstowski...both of you might like to notice that my class ring is from the University of Colorado at Boulder? I was commissioned as a Reserve Training Grad...okay? This has become very silly...and this has gone far enough...both of you! This is wartime, remember? We need both of you putting your heads together to come up with ideas we need you treating each other in a civil manner. Understood?"
Paul and Holly nodded sheepishly. At that, Wildstar said, "I'd like to thank both of you for your input. But you can't let your personal prejudices get out of hand like that. I want to see both of you up in my quarters in forty-five minutes...and we'll get all of this hammered out. Rosstowski, in the meantime, you're to find Dash and talk with him for a bit on how an officer handles conflict. He's been one for longer than you and could give you some advice. Got that?"
"Yessir," said Paul sadly.
Holly stood smirking slightly as she raised her head.
"And, Parsons," added Wildstar, "I expect you to have the same discussion with Venture."
"Yessir," said Holly with a somewhat downcast face.
"Venture, you, Parsons, Dash, and Rosstowski will all report to my cabin in forty-five minutes. Understood?"
"Yessir," said Parsons, Rosstowski, and Venture together.
"Good... now I have some business to tend to," said Derek as Nova found a towel and threw it over his shoulders. At that, Venture and the two junior officers left. "Nova?"
"Sounds good," she said. "I'll see you in your cabin in half an hour...and I'll have some herbal tea for you. C'mon, Danielle. You've got to go back to your ship soon, anyway. Let's get our showers and cool down, and hope the new kids on this ship learn to do the same," said Nova as she patted Derek on the arm and then left. Danielle followed her.
Later on, Nova sat by herself in the cabin she and Derek shared, dressed in her uniform again, and disconsolately stirred her cup of herbal tea with her spoon as she sat at the table she had unstowed and prepared for Derek's arrival. A moment later, just as the brass clock on the bulkhead began to ding, the lock on the hatch opened, and Nova brightened a little as Derek came in, dressed in his full uniform and peacoat again.
"You didn't look too happy a minute ago," said Derek as he shut the hatch and tossed his white hat on the table.
"I wasn't...but then, I started to think of this as sort of funny..."
"What do you mean, Nova?"
"Nothing much...I can just remember the days on this ship when another officer from the Combat Group and another Officer from Navigation liked to make another Captain feel like tearing his beard out."
"Oh, yeah," said Wildstar as he sat down and poured himself a cup of tea. "I think I remember those two crazy young star blazers," he said with a wistful, half-deprecating smile. "One of them had a really loud mouth, I remember..."
"And he never learned to comb his hair," said Nova with a playful light in her eyes. "Come to think of it, I still don't think he's learned what a comb's for, yet..."
"Now, that's below the belt, Nova," said Derek seriously. "And, I'm going to remember that remark."
"Oh, tell me how you're going to remember that remark, Skipper," teased Nova.
"Well, if we're not on alert tonight thanks to Gernitz, the memory treatment will involve something on the order of personal therapy for one of my officers..."
"Will this therapy be too personal to be discussed in mixed company?" teased Nova.
Derek got a dangerous grin, pushed his tea aside, and leaned over the table to begin kissing Nova. "Does this answer your question, Mrs. Wildstar?" he said when they parted lips.
"uhhh...huh," said Nova dreamily. "I like your novel sort of memory treatment, Derek. In fact, I like it so much, that I'll try to forget everything I know before the end of my shift..."
"So you can have fun restoring my memory, silly," whispered Nova as they began kissing again.
"Mmmmmm," said Derek softly.
"mmmmmmm," said Nova, leaving some lipstick over part of his cheek.
Both of them jumped a second later when three loud bangs came at the hatch. "Captain, the Deputy Captain and subordinate officers are reporting for a conference as ordered, sir," came Venture's voice from outside.
"Oh...crap," muttered Derek. "Forgot the time, Nova," he whispered.
"Ditto," whispered Nova with a blush.
"Uhh...come in!" called out Wildstar, trying to sound authoritative.
As the hatch opened, Nova tossed Derek a napkin and whispered "lipstick...."
"Mine. On your cheek," she whispered hotly as she helped him wipe it off right before Venture came in.
As Venture, Dash, Rosstowski, and Parsons stepped in, Wildstar deftly flipped the napkin around and made it look as if he was blowing his nose.
"You okay, sir?" said Venture.
"Little touch of a cold, I think," said Derek as Nova lightly kicked his shin under the table and quickly confiscated his napkin, putting it in a wastecan.
"Better take care of those colds, sir," said Dash as Wildstar got up.
"Oh, he does," said Nova smartly. "Anyone up for some tea after the Captain's done?"
Given the talks they had been through already, Rosstowski and Parsons politely shook their heads. They just wanted to get out of this cabin of torture as soon as possible.
"Okay," said Wildstar. "Venture...Dash...I'm sure you briefed these two officers on how they're to handle disputes?"
"We did, sir," said Dash. Mark just nodded.
"All right, then...I'll keep this as brief as possible...just to underscore the point. Mister Rosstowski...I know that passions sometimes get a little heated on this vessel, especially when we're in some disagreement over tactics and strategy. The thing I need to underscore is that you don't let them get too overheated, especially not in public, and especially not as an officer and a gentleman. You're older than some of the others here, Mister, since you're in your mid-to-late twenties. I know you had a lot of time and a lot of experience in the enlisted ranks and a lot of distinguished prior service. So far, you've been a fine officer. Just don't tarnish your record by letting your personal differences with Miss Parsons...who does outrank you by one rank... go too far. Is that understood?"
"Yessir," said Paul with a sad look on his face.
"Very good. Now, as for you, Junior Lieutenant Parsons, all I can say is...I thought you'd know better, too. Look at you. Not long after you got that prized SFTS ring on your finger, you were with us on the way to Iscandar. You served well, and with distinction...and then, if you forget, you ended up serving together with Mrs. Wildstar before she became Mrs. Wildstar. Now, based on what Nova tells me, you two never got into fights because one of you had a Space Fighters' school ring and the other didn't...right?"
"No, sir...we didn't."
"Officers and gentlemen don't rag on each other's professional education...particularly if they respect each other, sir," said Holly in a sad tone.
"Do you respect Ensign Rosstowski?"
"Well, why did you have differences with him, then?"
"We don't have the same backgrounds... and we never moved in the same circles, sir," said Holly. "To be candid, sir, I was always analyzing things and taking notes, while Rosstowski was always in turret country, shooting at things, sir. There's bound to be a conflict in regards to that, sir."
Face it...you're a Preppy Soc, and I'm a Greaser from South Philly...thought Rosstowski in a depressed fashion. Clarissa clearly thought I was Low-Class, boorish Greaser Scum after a while. She was probably right. What kind of damn officer am I ?? I'm a joke, that's what I am! A joke of an officer. I'd almost be happier as a damn Sergeant again. I don't belong up here in Officers' Country! No way, buddy.
"I'd like to ask you something, Miss Parsons," said Wildstar.
"Do you think that everyone's station in life is predestined? Like their Karma?"
"There might be some validity to that, sir. I grew up with a nice family in Colorado, and..."
"I spent two years of my life in a Catholic orphanage during the war owning precisely two school uniforms, one pair of jeans, one pullover shirt, four T-shirts, and two pairs of gym shorts. I also owned just two pair of shoes, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of shower sandals, along with my textbooks, a Bible, a Missal, three paperback novels about World War II, Vietnam, and the early part of the Wars of Unification, and one picture of my dead parents," said Derek pointedly. "Nova also told me that there was a period of time during one summer break during the war when she went through a growth spurt and went without any shoes for a few weeks because she had outgrown a good part of her wardrobe and the government allotment for girls' shoes in her new size in the underground city of Denver was messed up. Did you escape all that, Miss Parsons? Surely you must have been through some privation during the Gamilon War, Lieutenant? In case you haven't caught on...you can't grade a person's worth by their credit balance, social standing, race, religion, or anything like that. You just don't do that sort of thing with another officer." At that Wildstar paused, shaking his head angrily.
"Both of you, " said Wildstar..."shake hands, and apologize to each other now."
"I'm sorry about my temper, ma'am," said Rosstowski.
"And, I'm sorry about my poor attitude, Ensign," said Parsons. "I hope this patches things up."
Rosstowski just nodded. "Permission to depart, sir?"
Derek nodded. "Both of you are dismissed..."
Rosstowski and Parsons left.
"Well, good that's over with," mused Venture.
"Yeah," said Wildstar. "Mark...just keep a good eye on them...you too, Dash."
Both men nodded.
"Derek," said Venture after a moment. "...about our difference of opinion over what to do about attacking Gernitz...I'm sorry if I took it too far. It was a bad example to the others. I'll support any action you take over this command, sir," said Mark formally.
"Yessir," said Dash. "We've followed you before, Wildstar. We'll do it again if we have to, sir..."
"Me too," said Nova.
"Thanks," said Derek softly. "But...I've been doing some thinking, too. Mark....you're partially right, too. We're not one hundred percent certain Gernitz is going to attack immediately. Until we are...I'm going to keep everything in readiness...but wait to move until I have a better idea what he's planning...Anyway...we're not going to know for sure until we hear from Desslok and see what he has to say about this...until then...."
Suddenly, Wildstar's intercom signal went off, startling all of them a little. Giving a rueful smile, Derek stood up, went over to the console near the vast, sweeping window in the cabin, and picked up the phone. "Captain's Quarters...Captain Wildstar speaking."
"Wildstar, this is Homer. I've just picked up a very strange message that I had the presence of mind to record."
"Who is it from?'
"Desslok. It seems his fleet is near Io. He wants to see you and Nova ASAP ahead of schedule on his command cruiser. I've got the coordinates. How we should we handle this? We can't launch a shuttle or landing craft out of the lower bay..."
"Are there any gantries near any of the upper aft catapults?"
"Sandor says the port side one's free..."
"Great. Have Miss Hartmann prep a strike fighter for Nova and I on the double, and have the Gamilons prepare for our arrival on one of their ships. Last of all, have Ganymede Flight Control clear me for takeoff at 1320. I anticipate meeting with Desslok not long after that."
"Will do, sir," said Homer. "Over and out."
Derek and Nova looked at each other, a little surprised, and then they both looked at Dash and Venture... all were sure they'd be meeting with Desslok the next day.
"Venture, take the conn on the bridge," said Wildstar.
"Roger," said Venture as he left, followed by Dash.
"This is sure sudden," commented Derek after they left.
Nova opened up her locker and got out her helmet and gloves. "Yeah. I was going to wear a dress and heels to meet with Desslok. I guess that's not appropriate wear for the back seat of a Tiger, is it?"
"No, guess not. Wonder what's so urgent...?"
"More important, I wonder what Desslok's up to?"
"Me too," said Wildstar grimly.
IV. PREPARING FOR A PATROL
January 9, 2202
1248 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
At the Officers' Club, the Inter-Fleet scuttlebutt express was beginning to pick up steam, given the sudden arrival at the base of the new Andromeda and the six ships that had followed her. Not to be forgotten was the arrival of the Akagi, and, last but certainly not least, the Argo at the base. The Argo's sudden arrival...with battle damage, was especially viewed as a herald of doom at the base, even as pilots, staff personnel, and dockyard repair officers mingled with elements of the two regular Fleet vessels' companies, and, most ominously, members of the Star Force on base liberty in their distinctive uniforms.
Dac Windfield wasn't at all cheered by the mumbled conversations he heard around him as he sat in his flight jacket sipping at a big glass of tomato juice as he nursed a table for two and waited for his better half to arrive. He shook his head and stirred at his tomato juice with a celery stalk as he strained to hear the rumbles of the scuttlebutt express all around him.
"I heard a rumor that the rest of the Fleet...what there is of it...has been summoned here for a last-ditch stand against the Cometine bastards the Star Force met up with."
"It's gotta be war. Why else would Admiral Falworth be here?"
"I heard that the Star Force got mauled out there."
"Nah, we just got moderately chewed up," said a Star Force member from the Combat Group.
"I heard there was another Comet ship at the edge of the solar system."
"No, it's just a big black dreadnought. I was there."
"I heard it was so bad that Wildstar had to wave-gun the bastards."
"But we still got damaged."
"Heard the Gamilons are involved, too."
"Yeah, whose side are they on?"
"I heard some scuttlebutt that Zordar's not really dead. Wildstar, Sandor and Falworth are supposed to be trying to figure out how he got past Trelaina."
"I heard that the Gamilon leader, Desslok, helped you guys out"
"He did. Rumor has it he wants an alliance or something. Wildstar's supposed to see him tomorrow to negotiate."
"I heard it myself. This is no shit."
"I heard the Gamilons have a huge fleet they're bringing in to help us."
"Yeah, sure. They're probably here to help kill us off once and for all."
"Heard the same thing. I hear they're out to screw us but the brass doesn't know it..."
"Yeah? I hear the green guys are at war with them, too. We're in this together, buddy."
"Ever feel what it was like to be at Pearl Harbor on December 8th several hundred years ago? Or in New York City on September 12th 2001? You know, after the hammer hit in both attacks? That's where we're goin', Ensign. "
Dac felt as if he just wanted to leave when the doors whizzed open and Anya appeared. He smiled...not only had she gotten liberty, she had dressed for the occasions, too. She was wearing a long purple skirt, purple jacket with white turtleneck, and light grey belt with matching boots, all clothes that complemented her waist-length blond mane well. (They were also things that she knew Dac liked).
"Table for two, sir?" she smiled.
"Right here, milady," said Dac gallantly as he got up and pulled out her chair. "How was your day so far?"
"Could've been better...we needed to replace four more base programming RAM modules in the core. I almost didn't get out in time to meet you, and I'm sorry."
"Well, I'm glad you did," said Dac as he held her hands. "Whatever you do, don't listen to any if the conversation around ya in the background. The Scuttlebutt Express is running at full tilt, and most of the poop I'm hearing is bad...real bad."
"Then I guess you don't want to hear what I heard."
"Is it from a reliable source?"
"If you consider our skipper reliable...yeah...it's reliable."
"Okay, Anya...what is it?"
"Falworth hand-delivered him new orders that he cut. Our refit trials have been prematurely cancelled with the concurrence of the Commander. We're going right out on patrol in Area Four in the next two days. We're supposed to meet with the Hermes next week...since Falworth cut her new orders, too. She's going on patrol in Area Five. What they're expecting is big...real big...."
"He told you all this…?"
"Well, me and my Group Leader. The Captain knows that if it wasn't for my work on double shifts over the past few days, we might not have even gotten the Akagi through her first warp! God knows what they used to piece together our computer core and automation cores so soon..."
"Did you tell the skipper that thing you told me about your bubble gum and Cosmo Glue?"
"I did. Luckily, he appreciated it," said Anya as she opened up and began to peruse one of the two vinylite-covered menus sitting on the table in the formal dining room.
"You had to tell him that?"
"It worked. It got me three more ratings to help out in reassembling the big model kit known as spacecraft carrier Akagi," smiled Anya as she sipped at the water on the table. "Could you please try to get us a waiter, Deke? I'm hungry enough to eat a horse."
"If you don't, Tiger, I'll start blowing bubbles right here in front of all the senior officers," smiled Anya as she demurely pulled a little paper-wrapped package out of her purse.
"No. No! I can't let you do that!" said Dac. "Trust me, Anya. I will get you fed. Waiter!" said Dac as he raised his hand.
"Yessir," said a steward as he came right over.
"We'd like you to take our orders, please."
"Do you need some time, sir...ma'am?"
"Well, give me a minute, and...."
"I'm ready," said Anya. "Prime Rib. Medium rare, with baked potato, sour cream, and broccoli, with a tall tomato juice and celery. Please be sure it comes quickly, I had a hard work session on my ship today. And please make sure you give me some of that special spicy steak sauce with it, please," she smiled.
"All that?" said Dac. "But it'll make you f..."
"It won't. I'll work it off," said Anya brightly. "And didn't you promise to feed me real Texan chow someday, Group Leader?"
"Yes, I did. I'm not sure how Texan that is...."
"Isn't Prime Rib Texan?"
"Welll...yes...'specially if you get in from this place they rebuilt around Amarillo."
"Isn't this a fine time to do so, Dac?"
"It is. You're right."
"What'll you want, sir?"
"Same thing. My budget can manage it."
"Our budget can manage it," said Anya.
"My budget can manage it, Anya," said Dac. "I swore to you that someday I'd fed you Prime Rib. I might as well fulfill your wish now, darling."
"Wonderful," said Anya with a winning smile as the waiter left. "But, you know that's not my only wish..."
"I know that...I..."
Anya then whispered something in Dac's ear that made him blush.
"Yes...I promise you...I'll fulfill that wish of yours, too. One way or another...if there's a war, we're gonna survive it...together."
"That's the spirit, Tiger," said Anya brightly. "That's exactly what I like to hear."
SPECIAL FAN CREDIT----
The characters of "Dac Windfield" and "Anya Windfield" are Copyright (c) 2000 by Derek A. C. Wakefield. All rights reserved. All references to and usage of these characters here was done with the express permission of Mr. Wakefield.
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