Sunday, June 05, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Twenty-Seven

2702. – In transit; CFV-B Pallas

"I've looked at this with Ally in every possible way, Admiral. Forwards, backwards, sideways, dorsally, ventrally, around corners using mirrors... It's impossible." lamented Marciano as I watched an elaborate combat simulation play out at high speed on the holographic screen that covered the rear wall of Science Laboratory #1. "Unless we can find some way of corralling all of the behemoths within 2000k of each other and we jump the fleet into an optimal position where both our dreadnoughts are within engagement range of all the behemoths, I rate our survival chances about as high as a snowflake's in Hell."
"You're too young to be a pessimist, Commander." I admonished him. "We just haven't found the piece yet that'll let us solve the puzzle. People used to say that faster-than-light travel and communication was impossible and they turned out to be wrong. Nothing's impossible."
"Not true, Admiral. Breaking the laws of thermodynamics is still impossible." objected Mitchell. "Sir, we've run thousands of simulations. Using the estimates Number Six gave us of the friendly and hostile Thrinax forces we're expecting to have when we reach Crab and the models of the behemoth's realspace engines, beam cannons and stardrive jammer capabilities we created from the reverse engineering of the behemoth derelict at ε Gemini, the best case scenario we’ve seen has a casualty rate of 90%.”
“You’re going to have to do a lot better than that, Lieutenant. 50% would be a tough sell to the task group. 90% isn’t going to fly with my squadron leaders, nor with me.”
“I’m sorry, Admiral, but that’s as good as it gets if you want to take out the entire Elder loyalist force.” said Marciano. “We could finesse a bit and reduce casualties if we had more time to work with. Two hours isn’t a huge amount of time to take out a force that size. We have to be a lot more direct. There's no time for fancy fleet manoeuvres that would allow us to break up the enemy forces into smaller groups. I believe the technical term for what we'd end up in, Admiral, rhymes with fustercluck.”
“Hang on, Commander. I thought our corvettes and frigates only had 55 minutes of effective combat time in the nebula. Shouldn't that be our time limit?”
“That’s right, sir, they do.” Mitchell confirmed. “But our projections show that with all the drone activity in the battlespace, our corvettes and frigates are unlikely to survive longer than thirty minutes. Not having fighter cover is really going to hurt us.”
“There’s no way at all we can get our Sirens operating in the nebula?”
“No, sir. The synchrotron radiation is too intense. The pilots wouldn't last ten minutes before they started bleeding out of their eyeballs.” Mitchell replied.
“We could try slaving their control systems to ArtEMIS and flying them by remote via the training simulators." suggested Marciano. "They wouldn't be as effective as having real live pilots on board, but it's better than nothing."
"That would reduce the amount of computational capacity ArtEMIS has for coordinating our defensive grid and electronic warfare suite." Mitchell warned.
"It's worth simulating, at least. See if the benefits outweigh the extra risk. Run some trials when we reach Caldwell 50. Nice idea, Commander." My eyes drifted back towards the simulations playing out on the back wall of the lab. "We're going to have to radically rethink our tactics. Number Six said that a lot of the warriors at the Swarm World were ready to defect to the rebels. Maybe we could sway more to our side if we take down the Elders quickly. How quickly can we eliminate just the Elders, if we ignore all the other targets?"
"I don't know, sir. Give me a couple of minutes and I'll set it up." Mitchell turned to her terminal and configured a simulation with the new scenario, her fingers a blur on the haptic interface. "Do you want me to factor in targets of opportunity, sir?"
"Only for dreadnoughts, Lieutenant. We want as many of the warriors on our side as possible. They're not going to defect if we target them." I clarified. We watched in silence as red and green holographic icons danced and swirled on the screen as Mitchell ran the simulation through a dozen times to get a reasonable estimate, based on slightly different starting positions for the Thrinax loyalist and rebel forces.  
"An average of 68 minutes, with 75-80% casualties." Mitchell grimaced. "We're better off taking down the cruisers as well, Admiral. That would cut 10-15% off our casualties and only add an extra couple of minutes to the engagement time."
"Shit. Keep trying. This whole show's a non-starter unless we can bring those casualty figures down below 50%."
"Yes, sir. We've tried thinking outside the box. Now it's time to think out of the hypercube." said Marciano, drumming his fingers on the sleek casing of his terminal.
"Stick with it, Commander. Lieutenant." I nodded encouragingly and left them to work.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{ArtEMIS? Where might I find Sub-Commander Harmaajärvi?}-
AI.#CFV-B Pallas -{He’s in the arboretum, Admiral.}-
I rode the lift down the conning tower to the engineering section and made my way to the arboretum. It was the largest single compartment on the ship, running underneath the flight deck for the whole length of the habitation spine. The space was filled with hydroponics bays and landscaped gardens that provided a recreational space for the crew, as well as an environment for growing fresh fruit and vegetables for the galley chefs. It was also a critical component in the ship's life support system. Vast reed beds filtered waste water for recycling and solid excreta was turned into fertilizer using biological composters in algae pools and fungi grottos. The plants also helped regulate the humidity levels of the ship's atmosphere and provided another method of maintaining air quality, scrubbing waste carbon dioxide and topping up oxygen levels. Without the arboretum on board, Pallas's deployment endurance would have been reduced almost by half, such was its importance to the ship's ecosystem. Not that many of the crew genuinely thought about how vital it was to the ship's life support systems; people visited the arboretum to enjoy the ambience of its fastidiously maintained gardens and reconnect with the nature of Earth, even if it was thousands of light years away. The arboretum was divided into five distinct sections: the recycling zone, the agricultural farm, the meadow, the landscape garden and the forest. I headed straight for the forest, knowing precisely where Kimi would be. I crossed the meadow, which was buzzing with honey bees, busy collecting nectar and pollinating the wild flowers among the long grass. I took care to avoid the four off-duty pilots involved in a disc golf match that appeared to be reaching a heated and overly competitive climax, ducking behind the line of apiaries that formed the border between the meadow and landscape garden. A few minutes later, I entered the cool shade of the forest, gazing upwards at the lavender blooms of the empress trees, breathing in their rich jasmine and vanilla scent. Empress trees had been chosen as the dominant species for the forest section not due to their beauty while they were in flower, but rather because of their hardiness, fast-growing nature and crucially because they produced more oxygen through photosynthesis than other trees by a factor of three. Other species of tree had also been grown in the forest to give it a more natural feel and improve the biodiversity and resilience of the ecosystem within the arboretum. It wasn't totally convincing as an organic space, especially given the regularity of the placement of steel mesh paths throughout the plantation to give deck shoes something to adhere to. Some of the tree and plant species would also never be encountered this close together in a natural setting, but I couldn't deny that the place had a particular serenity about it. I found Kimi sitting, eyes closed, with his back against a thirty metre tall Scots pine in the centre of a glade near the middle of the forest zone. I sat down, a quarter of the way around the trunk from Kimi, who silently acknowledged my footsteps with a nod, without opening his eyes.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Communing with the tree spirits, shaman?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{No. Getting rid of a migraine. Thanks for not breaking the silence, Gus.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Had a rough morning?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{I don't sleep well when we're in warpspace. Long transits like this one always give me migraines.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Have you spoken with Doctor Brodar about it? Maybe she can prescribe you something.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{No point. All the medications clash with alcohol. The smell of the forest works better for me, anyway.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I understand why you like this spot so much. It’s very soothing.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{It just needs a slight breeze to set the leaves rustling and it would be perfect. But I’m sure you didn’t come out here to discuss the view.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I don’t know. I could do with finding a nice calm place to hide in right now.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Why’s that?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I’ve just spent the last half hour with Commander Marciano and Lieutenant Mitchell looking over combat simulations.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{I take it they’re not terribly promising.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{That’s an understatement. They’re disastrous. If we get ordered into the nebula, we’re not coming out again. I might as well disobey the order and get executed at court martial. At least that way I can save the task group.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Is it really that bad?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Yeah. I’m hoping that there’s something wrong with our models for the capabilities of the behemoths, because fighting off five or six of those bastards in under two hours is going to be a massacre, unless all the loyalist Thrinax warriors go turncoat as soon as we enter M1.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Surely you should get more intelligence before we commit to operations inside the nebula?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{We’ll need some that’s whole lot more positive than what we’ve had so far. Otherwise you’re going to be treating a lot of people for depression in the next few weeks. If Number Six doesn't come up with the goods, I've no idea what we're going to do.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Speaking of depression, it’s been ten weeks since Katrina left for Earth and nine since Malia had her accident. How are you holding up?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Still no news about Malia. It's frustrating not being able to get regular updates. I've just got to hope she'll be alright, but the longer she stays in the coma, the less likely it is that she'll recover. I'm hoping for some good news when we reach the rendezvous point. As for Kat, I'm glad she's out of harm's way, but I could really use her input right now. Robson's a good officer, but he doesn't have Kat's experience. If I'm right, I'm going to have to decide on one hell of a dilemma when Gene Powell delivers our new orders at Caldwell 50. I could do with her opinion.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{What are you afraid of being right about, Gus?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{That Fleet will order us to secure the Swarm World, even though they know our chances of success are about as remote as winning the Fomalhault sector lottery. It's like we're pawns in some grand game of galactic chess. We get ordered from square to square, but we never see the whole board.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Two battlegroups make for a very large pawn. I find it hard to believe that Fleet would be willing to sacrifice that many ships on a doomed enterprise.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{So do I, but at this point, I'm not ruling anything out. This mission never felt right from the outset.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{You're not turning into one of my conspiracy theorists, are you, Gus?}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I don't believe in coincidences, Kimi. Everything that's happened on this tour so far just seems to have been just that little bit too convenient.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Sometimes a coincidence really is a coincidence, Gus.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Perhaps, but what are the odds of finding a derelict behemoth and a friendly Thrinax cruiser on the same tour? Maybe I should start playing the lottery.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{I think you're reaching, Gus. Worry about the things you can control, no more. Everything else is going to happen regardless of how much you want it to or not. Save yourself an ulcer.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I guess you're right. Jesus, when did I become this insecure?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{If you go hunting for trouble, it has the tendency to find you first. Instead, do what I do.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Lock myself in my stateroom and get smashed on hard spirits?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Very funny, Gus. No. Relax. Enjoy the view and embrace the calm.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Next you'll ask me to start hugging the tree.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{You don't need to hug it. Just being close to them has demonstrable mental health benefits. I prescribe walks in the forest to patients with anxiety issues or attention deficit disorders all the time. It's very effective.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{I don't know. After the sims I've just seen, I could do with a hug right now.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Try one of the cork oaks a hundred metres to starboard. They're the most giving.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{You're not - you're joking, right?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{I'm just putting it out there as an option, Gus.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Wait, I remember now! This is the bit where I get to back away slowly from the raving lunatic! I like this part!}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Careful now. You're going to give me another migraine.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Sorry. One more thing. How's Robson's treatment coming along?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Very well. He's an interesting patient. He seems to be enjoying the sessions. Talks a lot about you, actually.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Really? What does he say?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{He's still a long way from getting over the Enyalius incident, but he has started to accept the circumstances surrounding it. Robson likes and respects you a great deal, and I get the feeling that he wouldn't mind your job in a few years. He's rediscovering his ambition.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{That's a good thing, isn't it?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Oh, absolutely. He's much more focussed now compared to when he first arrived.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Anything else I should know about?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Allyson Mitchell came to see me yesterday.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{What about?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Marciano proposed to her.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Wow. It is serious then. What did she say?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{That she needed time to think about it. But don’t be surprised if she asks for a transfer at the end of the patrol.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{My loss would be Nova’s gain. I could live with that. It would be a great move for her career.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Quite so. Other than that it’s just been the usual stuff. Inter-team disagreements, homesickness, relationship issues. Nothing juicy, like a nervous breakdown, or anything like that. If it weren’t for Robson and the ongoing battle to get Sub-Commander Randall to engage with the real world, I’d be having a dreary tour.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Hmm. Randall. A world class engineer, but I swear that he needs his own category on the autistic spectrum.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{He’s a cold fish, alright. Some people just shouldn’t be chipped. Giving people with severe ASD direct brain access to the dataverse makes it too easy for them to withdraw.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{At least he’s remembering to eat at least once a day now. That’s progress.}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{I was discussing getting ArtEMIS to restrict his neural uplink access to ten hours a day, but ArtEMIS said that wouldn’t be a good idea.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Why not?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{At the moment he’s hooked up to the dataverse almost 24 hours a day. Being able to process that amount of information and make coherent sense of it is amazing, but Randall’s become dependent upon the uplink. The psychological effect of restricting that access would be like asking you or me to sacrifice an arm or leg. ArtEMIS says that it would do more harm than good.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{What are you going to do with him, then?}-
SCMR. Hrmjrv#11884799 -{Treat his condition like any other addiction. Try and wean him off his use of the uplink and get to the bottom of why he developed the dependence in the first place.}-
RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Keep me informed. I'd love to know what caused him to become that weird. Anyway, I’d better get back to the bridge. Enjoy the quiet.}-
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