Room Without a View
22.03.2268. 1545 GMT
Saltlake Naval Base
Lt. Dupuis had fretted away his entire last day before departure, wondering why he'd been singled out for this kind of misfortune. The Independence War was about to cease being an abstraction for analysis and data flow modeling. It was about to become a very real and dangerous thing for him. He left more than an hour early for boarding after a miserably bland lunch. It took him ten minutes to get from his quarters to the docking ramp included in his orders, and he had to wait fifteen minutes to go through security. He had not seen a security screening of this depth since anywhere except Naval HQ.
He had arrived at the dock for boarding call several hours early in hopes of gaining some sense of orientation in the whirlwind of events that had him going out on active duty for the first time. From the looks of it, everyone else involved had had the same idea. The area was already busy with activity with marines, ship crew and station personnel transferring and securing everything from food stores to data files. He wondered if they had all suffered the same kind of shock at the announcement of this mission. It didn't seem likely, as they all went about their business with an air of normalcy. He found himself wondering who these people were, that they would choose such a life. It made him think of his own choices, which, of course led him to thoughts of Corinna, and the path not chosen.
Three years ago, his career ambitions won out over love, and they had separated, going their separate ways. She had her research career to pursue and she said she would accept his choice, but she also seemed to be harder hit by it than he had expected. She seemed to recover quickly though. She took a research position at a secure Naval research facility somewhere in AC-24. It was supposed to be a top-secret project at a top-secret facility, but she sent him a message or two forcing him to swear he would never reveal that she had broken protocol to contact him. He kept his promise, but being in the Intelligence Branch, he did a little digging, and he figured out where she was, more or less. He discovered she was at the hitherto unknown SRF or Singularity Research Facility.but exactly where it was located remained a mystery. He still didn't know much about Corinna's research but he knew it had something to do with materials testing. Knowing she was working on ultra secret Navy research projects just made her feel more lost to him than ever. Staring at the hatch opening to the Redoubt's interior made him wonder if he would ever see her again.
He wasn't sure why it mattered to him, but three years later, he still found himself thinking of her more than he cared to admit. He'd only heard from her twice since, but he thought of her a good deal more than that. Had it really been three years already? She still invaded his thoughts often, and this was one of those times. Fear, he realized was one of the triggers. Whenever he felt fear, he thought of her, and of how she could make him feel so much less afraid. He fought now to shut his mind to thoughts of her as he prepared to board a Dreadnaught-class corvette for the first time. He was unwilling to entertain regret about ending that relationship. Not now.
The Amarid disaster debriefing had scared him. The orders he received at the end of that day hit him like explosive decompression. The mission briefing he witnessed two days ago, though much smaller in scale, was even more disturbing, mostly because the reality of what he was about to do hit him that much harder. He had a new respect for the officers and crew who routinely went out in star ships, traveled across vast distances at unfathomable speeds, jumped to other stars via the even more unfathomable physical shift of capsule space, and faced death in exchanges of missiles and beam cannons with some unseen foe. He was an analyst; a desk jockey; a station-bound, strategic problem-solving kind of guy, not one of these man-of-action types getting ready to go out there and do battle.
He was flat out terrified.
He was greeted at the entrance to the UDC personnel hatch by one of the few faces on this ship he knew to be familiar. She was petite and small of frame, her skin velvety brown, and her eyes were so large and so completely dark they seemed to dominate her face.
"Lt. Ravindran. Thanks for meeting me here. I'm not sure I'd be able to find my way to where I'm supposed to be without an escort."
She flashed a smile that brightened her face remarkably from the business like expression from a moment before. "No trouble at all Lieutenant, and welcome aboard. It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you've seen how she's laid out, it won't seem complicated at all," she said warmly as she pointed inward. "Shall we?"
She led him into the cavernous main UDC shaft and through a hatch that opened directly into the port accommodation module. They oriented to a new up-down arrangement, and walked with a casual stroll down a short but very wide main corridor. "This module is where you'll be most of the time," she said. "If, for some reason, the Captain wants to meet with you personally, he'll either come to you, or send someone to escort you to his office or maybe the briefing room. I doubt you'll ever need to go to the bridge. In general, I would suggest you refrain from any unauthorized explorations," she leaned in a little closer and lowered her voice a notch. "We've got a full load of marines aboard this trip, and we don't want you wandering somewhere you shouldn't."
"Agreed," he nodded vigorously. "I saw them at the dockside. They're huge, and so.bald."
She smiled again and stopped outside a door halfway down the corridor, on the right hand side. The door was one of two doors on either side of the corridor facing one another. "This is the forward alternate bridge officer's suite," she nodded at the closed door. "We've had to juggle a few accommodations, but this is where you'll be billeted for the duration. I'm sure you'll find it comfortable. If you have any questions, or need anything, consult the manual, or just ask one of the crew in this section. I'll have to leave you now and return to my bridge duties, but it has been a pleasure to see you again Lieutenant. Enjoy the ride." With that she returned the way they came, and exited through the hatch to the UDC. It took him a moment to realize that they likely wouldn't be seeing much of one another during this mission. Pity, he thought. She was one of the few members of the crew he'd encountered that were nice to him, and even nicer to look at.
He stepped into a common room that served as a sitting space and office for two officers. It wasn't as small as he thought it might be. In fact, aside from the somewhat utilitarian décor, it was downright commodious. Two doors on opposite walls, one to the right, one to the left, would lead to individual officer's quarters. He didn't care which, so for no particular reason, he opened the one on the right. The hatch slid open and Yves stepped in to the darkened room, and touched the controls of the dimmer. The lights revealed an occupant on the bed, with a kitbag on the floor next to him, arm flung over his eyes to shield them from the light.
"Who's there?" said the squinting officer, starting to peer out from under the crook of his arm.
"Dupuis. I'm Yves Dupuis," he answered. "I, ah, guess we're bunkmates. I didn't realize you were in here. I'll just take the other room, then." He started to step out, and reached to turn the lights back down.
"No, that's alright," the voice from the bed replied. "Leave it on. In fact, you can have this one if you want. I don't care one way or the other. Oh, by the way, I'm Skarsgaard. Lieutenant Commander. Formerly of Vice Admiral Wexler's staff, now Chief Engineer. Don't worry, I was a Chief Engineer long before I went to join Wexler's staff."
"Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant Commander," Dupuis said awkwardly. "I'm Lieutenant Dupuis. Actually, I'm newly promoted to Lieutenant so I'm still getting used to it. I'm with the Intelligence Branch. I'm what they're calling a mission specialist." He started to say more but stopped when he realized that this man, swinging his feet around and sitting up, was the Vice Admiral's aide from the briefing; the one with the translucent skin. He winced in pain as he sat up, and continued to hold a hand up to his face, shielding his eyes from the light.
"I was just catching a few moments rest before getting back to familiarizing myself with this ship. It's been awhile since I served on one of these."
"This is my first time even on board one," Dupuis replied. "So I apologize if I've broken some unwritten rule about quarters or something. I fit in here about as well as those freaks in the other pastie." He instantly regretted the use of that word, intending to refer to the strange appearance of the perfectly hairless marines.
Skarsgaard chuckled. "I'm usually the one being referred to as a freak. And if you want to get into a contest with me about who fits in worse here, you're going to lose."
"No, I didn't mean that, I just." Dupuis was feeling more and more lost. "I'm just way out of my element. I thought I might have broken some unspoken navy rule barging in here."
"There are no rules I know of except first come, first serve, and survival of the meanest," said Skarsgaard. "Oh, and I care even less than you do about quarters, so take your pick. I'll throw my kit in the other one if you like."
"No, no. You're already here. Stay put. I'll just go across to the other cabin."
Dupuis was about to leave when Skarsgaard added. "There's a first time for everyone on board one of these. I wouldn't worry about fitting in. I'm not just new crew; I'm a new bridge officer. Bridge crew are a very tight knit lot. They get to be almost like family. So breaking into one of those is no easy task. Especially when you look like I do. We're all here to do a job, though. Just do your job right, and you'll fit in fine.
"As for those marines, I doubt they fit in anywhere, except their combat armour and their drug dispensing sleep pods."
Dupuis decided to brave a comment. "Your. the.skin thing.doesn't bother me a bit."
Skarsgaard paused. It wasn't clear if he was taken aback or pleasantly refreshed by Dupuis' candour. "I've learned that that is indeed a rare thing. We may get along just fine, Lieutenant."
Dupuis nodded, and decided to save his questions about the skin for another time. He left and started across the common room. He dropped his bag inside his cabin and looked around. It was small, but nicely appointed; a true marvel of efficient use of space. He removed his tunic and kicked off his shoes to test out the bed. After a pause, he said much louder so Skarsgaard could hear him in the other room. "Have you noticed how some parts of this ship are too cold and others are too warm? At least the cabins are nicely regulated. I don't know about you, but I find this ship cramped, noisy, freezing, and altogether too fragile to be taking into combat. How.how safe or reliable are these corvettes anyway?"
Skarsgaard came out to the common room, and leaned on the doorframe to Dupuis' newly-claimed cabin. "Put your shoes on, Dupuis. I'm going to show you something about these corvettes that'll make you feel a whole lot better."
Dupuis emerged from his room a moment later, a little tentatively, but shod. "Call me Yves." He shrugged his tunic back on. "What are you going to show me?"
"Follow me, Yves," said Skarsgaard, as he strode out of their quarters back into the main corridor, and turned to the right. Dupuis hurried after him, shadowing him closely as he approached the hatch at the end of the main passage, leading to the control stations and the cockpit.
Skarsgaard keyed them through the double doors leading into the ENG suite, where four workstations were. Two of the workstations were occupied. The engineering crew sitting there were so engrossed in their activities; they never even looked up to see who was coming or going. They continued to the far end of the ENG suite and entered the cockpit. Beyond the command and control stations was a large set of windows looking out onto the port weapons pylon.
Skarsgaard worked his way a little closer to the window, and looked back at Dupuis, who stood there, staring out at the view with an expression of awe on his face. "It's a little different when you actually see the equipment, isn't it?" said Skarsgaard. He crossed his arms and stepped back to let Dupuis move up and take in the full view.
"That's incredible," replied Dupuis.
Looking down a little, he could see a few of the large square cover plates for the collider ring coils almost edge on. Beyond those plates, he could see part of the curved surface of the aft-facing Particle Beam Cannon. Its particle coil housing and tracking gimbals were huge. A little to the aft was the focusing and firing assembly of the PBC weapon itself, large radiator vanes could be seen clearly on its upper surface.
"That, my friend, is one of the many reasons you should feel very safe aboard a Naval Corvette," Skarsgaard explained, gesturing at the PBC. "Anyone who wants to give us trouble will have to reckon with the awesome destructive power that one of those can mete out."
"I've studied how they work, and I've heard lots about what they can do to a ship's hull, but I've never actually seen one," admitted Dupuis.
"One hit from one of those on an unshielded part of a ship, and you've got an awfully big hole. Clean through, most of the time. And that's just for the moments when the fighting gets up close and personal." Skarsgaard pointed at the larger rectangular-shaped structure beyond the PBC. "Most of the real fighting is won and lost by the damage done by missiles, and from a much safer distance. That multi-ordinance missile magazine out there can carry a variety of nasty machines, all designed to hit their targets very hard, and from as far out as we can detect," he explained. They watched as the bright red navigation lights flashed intermittently on the visible corners of the magazine's enormous structure. Dupuis stared in silence at the scene for almost a full minute, leaning in close to the transparent pane and peering to the sides to try to get a better view of their vessel. There wasn't much more that could be seen from here, though.
Skarsgaard could tell that the view of the aft-facing PBC and the port missile magazine had achieved the desired effect. Dupuis was now focused on something other than his own worries. "We'd better get back, and secure our belongings for manoeuvres," he said to Dupuis. "We'll be undocking in a couple of hours, and I'd better check in and get to my station before we do."
"Sure," said Dupuis without taking his eyes off the visible part of the PBC housing. "Thanks for the tour, Skarsgaard."
Skarsgaard nodded and gestured toward the door with a raised arm, meaning Dupuis couldn't stay in here alone. Yves glanced at the view one last time, before heading back to their windowless cabin suite.
To be continued . . .