Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Seven

2701. – α Orion; CFV-B Pallas

The first three weeks of our patrol had been deathly quiet, which at least gave us time to practice the extreme-range mass driver combat scenarios forwarded to us by Captain Fforde-Hughes. They looked promising, despite the inherent difficulties of firing unguided projectiles at relativistic speeds at moving targets across a couple of thousand kilometres of space. The problem wasn't so much in the distance between the mass driver and the target - after all, the projectiles could travel hundreds of thousands of kilometres per second - target/object parallax wasn't really as great a factor in the accuracy of the shot than the fact that the mass drivers themselves were slightly unstable and that the projectiles did not always leave the accelerating rail on a completely parallel path. To make matters worse, the sheer momentum of the projectiles when they were fired caused instabilities in the flight path of the ship, due to the law of conservation of momentum, effectively making the vessel stutter or stall in its flight path. This effect had the effect of magnifying the tiniest error when aiming the projectile at a distant target. An error of just a hundredth of a degree could result in a projectile being nearly 200 metres away from its intended impact point over a distance of 1000 kilometres, more than enough to cause a clean miss, even on a large capital ship target like a cruiser or a dreadnought. The problem wasn't quite so serious for Tartarus and Erebus, given that their mass drivers had longer, more accurate guide rails and that the dreadnoughts had four times the mass of Pallas and the other Titan-class battlecruisers in my expedition force. Fforde-Hughes's figures had checked out for the dreadnoughts, with an impressive 80% hit rate at engagement ranges of 2000 kilometres, dropping to an acceptable 65% at 3000 kilometres for a cruiser-sized target, but her prediction of an effective 1000 kilometre maximum engagement range for a Titan-class battlecruiser proved to be way off the mark. Despite our best efforts in hundreds of simulations, we hadn't been able to score more than a 15% success rate on cruiser-sized targets at ranges of 1000 kilometres. We had managed acceptable hit rates of 50% at a target range of 600 kilometres, rising to 72% at 400 kilometres, which did mean we could double our engagement range without wasting too much ammunition. I had put out a general message to the task group to challenge the tactical and engineering teams to come up with ways of boosting those accuracy figures, but hadn't heard anything for a couple of weeks. Then a solitary message came through over the fleet extranet.

CPT. Nyhs#11886793 -{Recommendation from Beppe: Try using mass driver salvos of 50, rather than 100.}-

Weps seemed annoyed that he hadn't come up with the idea himself when I relayed the message to him, but the results were impressive. Using shorter bursts substantially reduced the errors introduced by fluctuations in the flight path of the ship caused by recoil from the mass drivers, boosting hit rates to 60% at 600 kilometres and 85% at 400 kilometres. This was fantastic news and would have a massive impact on the survivability rate of the task group's picket ships. In even the most pessimistic simulations, the greater effective range of our mass drivers potentially reduced losses in the corvette and frigate squadrons by half, simply by reducing the amount time they had to act as beam cannon shields for the larger capital ships. Delighted with the result of the exercise, I sent a congratulatory message to Captain Nyhus.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Nova, tell Marciano that he's a very clever young man.}- 

Nova's response was as swift as it was succinct.

CPT. Nyhs#11886796 -{I told you he was good, Admiral.}-

Running twice-daily combat simulations livened up what had been an unusually dull patrol so far. In the three weeks since leaving Wolf 359, we had visited ten star systems, without encountering a single enemy ship. Part of me was relieved, but the pessimists amongst the crew (and there were even worse ones than me) had decided that this was conclusive evidence that the Thrinax were building up their forces into an unassailable fleet, which they would unleash upon us when we were too far away from the core systems to get quick reinforcements. Kat had taken a few of these rumour-mongers aside and sternly reminded them that such talk was corrosive to morale and did the Thrinax's work for them. This had stopped the disquieting whispers circulating about the ship, but there was still an atmosphere of unease about the crew. I was secretly hoping that we'd run into a couple of enemy cruisers just to relieve the nervous tension.

I was at my desk in the Ready Room, filing the daily readiness reports and getting ready to hand over the deck to the night shift, when there was a soft alert from the door.

"Come in." I responded, pushing aside the terminal screen on my desk. Kat walked in, appearing ashen-faced and distant. "What is it, Commander?"

Kat waited until the door was closed and looked around self-consciously, double-checking we were alone, before walking over to my desk in silence and giving me a hug in my chair. I held her as long as I dared, breathing in the jasmine scent of her freshly washed hair. When Kat stood back up straight, I could almost see a tear in her eye.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Kat? What's going on?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{I've been feeling kinda ropey the last couple of days, so I went to see Doctor Brodar.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{And?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{It's official. I'm pregnant. Not just pregnant, but very pregnant. Twins.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Twins! Good luck getting any sleep for the next five years.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{You wait all this time for a baby, and then two come at once.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Just like Paris-London passenger shuttles... Happy?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{No. ECSTATIC. I’m so excited that I feel like I could fly back to Earth myself.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I'm sure we'll be able to find you a ship anyway. This is it, though. End of an era. How long do I have before you go back to Sol?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Oh, months yet. We can deal with that later. I'm more worried about the short term. Vanesa might ask you some tricky questions tomorrow.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Why? You didn't tell her who the father was, did you?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{God, no! Vanesa's the biggest gossip in the fleet! Anyway, I'm not obliged to say just yet. But it'll be obvious when the first DNA tests are done in a couple of months. I shouldn't really show until around then either, so my secret is safe for a while yet.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{How do you want to handle it?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{A picture of me and Itzal in mid-coitus on your desk, posted on the wardroom notice board with the caption 'I'M NOT FUCKING THE REAR ADMIRAL ANYMORE - DEAL WITH IT'?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{That could work. Not sure Admiral Strauss would approve, though. Any other thoughts? Beyond publicly-posted pornography?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Honestly? I've haven't even thought about it. It's hardly a secret that we're divorced. If the news gets out, and I expect it will eventually, it shouldn't raise too many eyebrows. Life goes on, as they say, and even XOs are allowed a sex life.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{We won't have any problems with the senior staff. But I don't want your authority undermined with the junior officers and enlisted crew.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{I've dealt with insubordination before. That's why engineers invented airlocks.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I'll have no spacings on my ship, young lady!}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{You're no fun at all, Gus. No wonder we got divorced.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Ouch, harsh!}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Oh, grow a spine.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Seriously though, we can't afford to have the chain of command undermined, for any reason. Not with the kind of potential enemy threat we're looking at on this patrol. Any reports of insubordination related to your pregnancy get passed directly to me. I'll have any repeat offenders packed up and transferred off faster than they can blink.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{I don't need you to fight my battles, Gus.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I know you don't. But if anyone's dumb enough not to take the hint from you, I'll shove a rocket up their arse so hard that they'll be coughing sparks by the time they reach Eagle.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Thanks. But I'm sure it won't be a problem.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I agree. The crew's disciplined and tight. I might set the tone, but you enforce it. You've done a great job with them over the last five years.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Keep saying things like that and I'll ride you right here in your chair.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{How does Itzal feel about the way you keep propositioning your ex-husband?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{He's not possessive. And he knows a good thing when its legs are wrapped around his face. Until we're married, he knows I'll make love with my ex if I want to.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Well, much as I'd love you to, I'm due to hand over the watch in ten minutes.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Ten minutes? We could do it twice.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{One more comment like that and I'll demote you to Midshipman.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Yeah, yeah. Promises.}-

Kat smiled and gave me a long kiss on the lips. In all the time I'd known her, I'd never seen her look as contented than she did at that moment.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I'm so happy for you, Kat.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Thanks, Gus. It means a lot knowing you're okay with this... I’M GOING TO BE A MOM!}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Let me know if you need anything. Anything at all. Day or night.}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{I will. Oh, I almost forgot. Lieutenant Mitchell said she's finished reviewing the footage and sensor telemetry from our engagement at 111 Tauri. She thinks she may have identified the location of the antimatter storage tanks in Thrinax dreadnoughts. She'll have the report ready for you first thing tomorrow.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Great. Nothing yet on the stardrive jammer?}-
CMR. Jmsn#11894118 -{Not so far. Mitchell's cross-checking a few things with recent battle records from Tartarus and Ajax The Lesser. She might have something in the next few days. I'll keep you informed.}-
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