Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Fifteen

2701. – ε Gemini; CFV-B Pallas

Our reinforcements had finally arrived. Even though I had been forewarned by Fleet Command, I was vaguely disappointed that the Thrinax behemoth's discovery only rated another half dozen Titan-class battlecruisers and their sixty accompanying support ships; half of which were Hephaestus-class science survey vessels, which were, by common agreement, utterly useless in a balls-out ship-to-ship firefight. New orders from Hyades Fleet Command had accompanied the additional ships. I was about as impressed with our orders as I had been with our reinforcements. Kat and I were seated alone in my Ready Room and I watched her face carefully as she read a hardcopy of our new patrol orders. I saw Kat shake her head twice and re-read the message a good three or four times.  

"This is a fucking joke, right?" Kat spat contemptuously, throwing the datapad on the conference table. It clattered against the hard surface and bounced off to float in the air, spinning violently.
"I'm afraid not." I plucked the datapad out of the air and set it down gently on the table.
"The Rosette Nebula? That's four thousand light years away; right at the edge of our operating range."
"I know. But the bright sparks at Fleet want us to go there, so we go."
"These orders don't make sense." Kat picked up the datapad again. "Quote - Proceed at best speed to Caldwell 49, the Rosette Nebula, to investigate possible Thrinax activity causing anomalies in X-ray emissions from star formation in the Rosette Nebula. - unquote. Our nearest outpost to Caldwell 49 is nearly a thousand light years away from the nebula, so Fleet are asking us to investigate something that happened a thousand years ago. That's just completely fucking nuts. And how could the Thrinax be affecting star formation in a nebula?"
"I have no idea. I guess we'll find out when we get there."
"This stinks. I'm not sure of what yet, but I don't like it. What exactly do they think we're going to find out there that's worth sending a task force of this size? I think Fleet knows more than they're letting on, Gus."
"They always do. Who knows, there might be something in this. The Thrinax certainly seem to like nebulae."
"I quoth again - 'Rendezvous with Task Group Capella-IV at Caldwell 50, no later than 2702.04.01 before proceeding to Caldwell 49'. - unquoth. That's Commodore Powell's command, isn't it?"
"Gene Powell, yeah. I know him from the Academy. Good guy." I replied as Kat scanned through the list of ships that would be joining us at Caldwell 50, an open cluster of hot, relatively young stars on the edge the Rosette Nebula.
"That's a lot of ships to send on a wild goose chase. They must have some idea of what's waiting for us there. If the Thrinax have got the same kind of numbers of ships in the Rosette nebula as they've got in Eagle... I-" Kat hesitated. "I don't want to think about it."
"No sense worrying about it now, Kat. It's just as likely we'll get there and find absolutely nothing at all."
"We're not that lucky, Gus."
"I might not be, but you are. You'll be back at Sol by the time we reach Caldwell 49."
"I know. And I'm not happy about it."
"There's no pleasing some people. You were the one who said it was 'now or never', remember?" I reminded her. Kat touched her belly self-consciously. She was just starting to show signs of being pregnant, though no-one on the senior staff had commented on it so far, undoubtedly petrified of what Kat would do to them if they were idiotic enough to be so tactless.
"I don't like the thought of you being all the way out there on your own."
"It's not like I'm going to be flying a Siren-class interceptor into the middle of the nebula without backup. We'll be fine. I've no intention of becoming a chunk of frozen meat floating in space six and a half thousand light years from home." I winked encouragingly, and Kat smiled back, her hand still cupping her stomach, as if to reassure herself. "When can we get underway?"
"Captain Fforde-Hughes's scout group is due back in a couple of hours. Once they've had a bit of downtime, we can brief the task group tomorrow morning and make the jump to ε Orion at noon."
"Cool. We can top up our fusion reactors from the nebula and then make the next jump to the deep rim outpost at 119 Tauri."
"I'll make arrangements for the senior staff briefing tomorrow."
"Thanks, Number One. Anything else?"
"I have a scan this afternoon. You know, to check on the twins."
"Anything I can do?"
"Brodar's going to do the DNA check and register their paternity. It's not legal to put it off any longer. You might was well brace yourself now."
"Right. Thanks for telling me. Let me know how the scan goes."
"I will." Kat gave me a curt nod as she returned to her station on the bridge.

Tartarus and the rest of her scout force rejoined the task force at 1800 hours that evening, reporting no hostile contacts and no losses. Fforde-Hughes had sounded disappointed. The lack of action was making the crews antsy and restless. The tension was worse than if we'd been getting hit daily with enemy contacts. I felt it too, though mostly I was relieved that I still had we hadn't taken any losses so far and I'd be able to call on all the resources I had at my command when we inevitably encountered the enemy. We'd tried to keep the crews active with regular battle drills, but they were wise to the technique, and it didn't really do much to either improve their overall state of combat readiness or get them to de-stress. It would be good to be back on the move again. Staying put for a couple of months, despite the unquestionable value of the research that had been carried out on the Thrinax behemoth, was not good for the morale of personnel trained for the high intensity of ship-to-ship combat situations. Kimi was so busy that he had been forced to run group therapy sessions, rather than deal with crewmembers on an individual basis. The captains of several ships in the task force had told me that their counsellors were similarly overstretched, though the tension hadn't spilled over into ill-discipline as yet. I was hopeful that the new orders and getting the task force back on patrol would settle everyone back down into a more comfortable routine. It was later that evening, when I was tucking into a platter of sandwiches at my desk in the Ready Room, in the middle of my daily ritual of signing off the task group's readiness reports, when Doctor Brodar came calling. She knocked politely at the door, a rueful smile on her broad, Slavic features.

"Come in, Doctor." I beckoned her in, motioning for her to close the door behind her. I remained silent, waiting for her to sit down next to me at the conference table.
"You could have told me, you know." Vanesa told me, leaning forward to put her palm sympathetically on the back of my hand. "I'm sorry, Gus."
"Why? I'm delighted for her, Vanesa."
"I always thought one day you two would get back together."
"So did I, but if Kat's ready to move on, I guess I ought to be too. As long as she's healthy and happy, that's all that's important to me."
"Then you'll be pleased to know that she and the twins are in perfect health. Would you like to know the sexes?"
"Did Katrina?"
"No, actually. She didn't."
"Then neither do I."
"Fair enough. You should be able to tell if Katrina ever shows you the scans, but I'll let you two figure it out for yourselves." Vanesa smiled again. Brodar seemed surprised that I wasn't the father of Kat's twins, but she was obviously pleased that everything was proceeding normally. "It's been a while since we had a pregnancy on board. It makes a nice change. I don't get to give people good news very often."
"Is there anything else, Doctor?"
"I thought you would want to know Katrina's revised delivery date. 2702.4.13. She'll have to return to the core systems when we reach the forward base at 119 Tauri, if not before. We don't want to take the risk of her still being in transit if the baby is premature."
"What are the odds of that?" I asked, concerned at the possibility. It wasn't something Kat and I had genuinely considered.
"Relatively low. Most firstborns tend to be late, but Katrina's over 35, declined gene therapy and is having twins. It's not worth the risk of leaving it later. Better to have a few weeks' worth of leeway." The doctor said, standing to leave.
"Thanks for the update, Vanesa. I'll have a chat with her about it." I replied.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Kat, come and see me after your watch finishes tonight. We need to talk. I'll be in my quarters from 2200.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{You want to see the baby scans?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Not just that. We need to go over some logistics to make sure you get back to the core before the twins make their grand entrance.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Oooh, math! You sure know how to entertain a lady. I'll bring my slide rule and log tables.}-
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