Location: CFB Constitution, Sol System, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Commonwealth Fleet Base Constitution was the heavyweight champion of the Sol System. It was a living breathing organism more complex and confusing than any tiny human body. Fleet personnel, infantry men and women, and Ministry of War contractors moved through the fleet base like cells through the human body. Everyone had a job, everyone had a purpose, and most importantly everyone was on the move. Millions of people moved through the station every day, and they all had somewhere to be.
It was easy to get lost in the ten kilometer thick, fifty kilometer high central spire surrounded by its six levels of docking yard rings. Those rings housed about seventy percent of First Fleet. A few assault carriers, squadrons of battleships, battlecruisers coming in and going out on patrol, regular and missile cruisers, and enough destroyers to protect commerce in the galaxy’s most populated system.
The CFB gave any first time visitor a severe case of shock and awe, and Ben found himself the unlucky victim this time around. Despite having reached the rank of lieutenant commander, he’d never been to the Sol System’s major hub of warships. The irony didn’t escape the young skipper as he set foot off the shuttle and into the massive complex. Luckily, he had a guide.
“You’re down on F-ring. That’s usually where they keep the smaller ships, or ships that are finishing their yard time.” Commander Wythe, now almost exclusively referred to as Sarah, was dressed in her CMUs.
The two golden stripes of a commander tended to offer a small bubble of privacy on the bustling anchorage, especially when she had a newly awarded red command stripes between the gold. Ben’s parents Memorial Day celebration hadn’t just been their first kiss. Sarah had also made a few contacts and secured herself a new position. Ben didn’t know how she’d done it, but a week after the party orders came down giving her command of a brand new cruiser.
She had the rank, time in grade, and experience for the position. It was the suddenness of it that was surprising. But Ben didn’t care. Not only was she the skipper of a new cruiser, but the cruiser’s mission had also suddenly changed. The new warship, just recently out of its maintenance qualifications, was headed to the York Sector with its sister ship.
As a result, Ben had given Sarah a private briefing on the Star Kingdom of Windsor. A very private and extended briefing. It was tough to beat how everything was magically falling into place, but then it got even better. Not only were they serving in the same sector, in the same task force, but the cruiser was giving his gunboat a ride out there, which meant even more time they could spend together.
Sarah had been quick to tell him that they probably wouldn’t get any time at all, but Ben still held out hope. His innocent crush might just be turning into something more.
“You are docked up in C-Ring. We can see your ship on the way to mine.” It felt a little weird talking possessively about multi-billion dollar pieces of naval warfighting technology, but he loved that she lit up every time he mentioned it.
Two skippers walking together created a path like Moses parting the Red Sea, but even with that it took nearly half an hour to get from the shuttle bay at the tip of the central spire down to C-Ring.
“There she is.” Sarah involuntarily gripped Ben’s bicep. “That’s my girl.”
There were no windows on the CFB. Windows made of polyplast or even the stronger armorplast were a tactical liability. Gunners on an enemy ship would target the feeble material and blast hole after hole into the CFB. So, instead of weakening the structural integrity of the base, designers utilized sensors to maximize the view for the base’s inhabitants. Thin, clear polyplast panels were everywhere on the inside of the thick duro-steel walls, and acted like the windows that everyone desired.
“She is beautiful.” Ben split his attention between the cruiser and the officer ordered to command it.
“She’s a new Virtue-Class. She’s got thicker armor than other cruisers; three and a half meters instead of three. She doesn’t sacrifice any speed either, and she’ll still outrun a battlecruiser. She packs a punch too. A dozen energy cannons and sixty-five missile tubes. She can throw around her weight if it’s needed.” Sarah was practically bouncing up and down on her toes. “We’re going to be a pivotal addition to the task force.”
“Yes you will.” Ben looked at the ship’s crest for CA 663 Fortitude.
<The CWS Fortitude. It is a fitting name.> The name wasn’t written on the side of the ship in white paint. That would compromise the hull’s nanite stealth function, but he’d heard Sarah gush about the ship enough over the past few weeks that he’d never forget it.
Despite her being the captain, and having the orders to prove it, the half dozen marines standing guard at the entry hatch had standing orders that no one was allowed to enter. Not even the captain, and they weren’t compelled to give a reason why.
“How about we check out Argo and then come back.” Ben stepped in when Sarah started to puff up at being denied entry to her own ship without an explanation. “I know you are looking forward to those new aspects in the design.”
That did the trick, but Sarah made sure to get the soldiers’ names and ranks.
“Sure.” The NCO in charge didn’t even hesitate. “Won’t matter though, we aren’t part of the ship’s marine detail.”
Ben half guided, half dragged Sarah away from the sergeant.
F-Ring was different from C-Ring. First off, there were a lot more berths. C-ring held the mid-class ships, mostly cruisers. The average cruiser was five hundred meters long. A gunboat was only one hundred, which meant that even with some destroyers present there were about three or four times as many ships on this ring.
“I cannot find her.” Ben pulled up the registry to find what berth Argo was sitting in.
“Classified projects won’t have their berth listed. Scan your GIC.” Sarah informed.
A soft beep and new information popped up on the subdermal PAD that projected the information through his CMUS and onto his forearm. The berth assigned to Argo was disguised as under construction. Dozens of people still walked past it every second, but they didn’t pay any attention to the workers in their contractor’s overalls, and the contractors didn’t pay any attention to them. The eight men and women went about their business until Ben and Sarah approached.
It was then that Ben spotted the weapons discretely placed within easy reach of the so-called workers.
<No one is getting onto my ship without clearance. Not unless they’d got a squad of marines as backup. Not even me.> Ben met the worker’s leader.
They didn’t exchange pleasantries. There was no, “Hello, Sir. What can I do for you, Sir?” The man just had a portable scanner. Ben held out his GIC and the man scanned it while his team looked ready to take them down if an unfavorable reading came back. Thankfully, a green light flashed and the man moved to scan Sarah.
“She’s the captain of the ship taking us to our destination, so I’m clearing her.” Ben’s words were unnecessary as the scanner beeped green again.
The worker inclined his head toward the hatch and turned back to his work. They never exchanged a single word.
“Intel guys have about as much personality as a bulkhead.” Sarah shot a look at the team over her shoulder.
“They are just doing their job.” He held the door open for her and then sealed it behind them.
Lights flickered on as the sensors identified their presence. Conservation of energy was key in space. Even on one of the biggest non-planetary structures outside of Earth-orbit they did everything they could to not waste any. The lights lead the way to a second hatch. This one was guarded by another marine with sergeant’s chevrons.
“Your GIC please, Sir.”
Ben got scanned again, and got another green light. When the soft green beep filled the air the marine slid his rifle into a clasp on his back and lifted the helmet off his head.
“Nice to finally meet you, Sir.” The marine braced to the position of attention. “I am Sergeant Cassius O’Neil. I’m the squad leader for the Argo’s marine detachment.”
“Nice to meet you, Sergeant.” Ben smiled at the infantryman and told him to relax. “Any updates I should know about?”
“The wrench-turners are finishing up the final checks over the next few days. The XO is already aboard and has worked with logistics to have them transport all of our provisions and gear in by the end of the week. She’s a brand new ship with that new ship smell, Sir. It’s blasphemous to ask for anything more from the good Lord.”
“Um…I suppose it is. Thank you, Sergeant.” The religious reference was a little weird, and Ben made a note to look into the Sergeant later.
“You recognize the accent?” Sarah asked as they opened the second hatch and entered CWS Argo. “I’m surprised you don’t with all your diplomatic studies,” she smirked when he shook his head. “That marine is from The Papal Planets, I’d guess Mark since they tend to supply the most soldiers.”
<Of course.> Ben knew all about the new home of the Roman Catholic Church among the stars.
A single system with four planets: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It was a member of the Commonwealth, and like most Commonwealth systems was largely left alone as long as they paid their taxes, both monetary and in personnel, and ensured their system’s security was up to standards. Outside of that, the Commonwealth didn’t care what they did religiously, as long as they didn’t try and interfere with other system’s religious laws and freedoms.
He was busy recalling a paper he’d done about integrating recruits from the Papal Planets in the Commonwealth Armed Forces, and the leadership difficulties it could present, when the ship said hello.
“Hello, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold. I am the Commonwealth Warship Argo’s Semi-intelligent ship’s interface. Please designate your voice preferences.”
“Please designate voice preferences.”
It didn’t help that the voice coming out of the ship was a sexy, female, Englishwoman. Ben shot a sideways glance at Sarah, who looked like she was ready to burst out laughing.
“You’re a proud daddy now, Ben. You need to name her and then you can make her sound however you want.”
“Designate voice as female, but less…forward…if that make sense.”
“Affirmative, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold.” The ship’s voice lost its sultry husk, and now sounded reasonably professional for a military warship. “Further settings can be designated on your PAD, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold.”
“Please just call me Commander Gold, captain, or skipper.” Ben didn’t want the ship addressing him by his full name and rank every time they talked.
“Yes, Captain. Please designate my identity.”
“You’re action to address you by an abbreviation of your full name and rank indicates a preference for brisk communication. Based on that preference my programing is ninety-eight percent confident that you will not wish to address me as the Argo’s semi-intelligent ship’s interface. Please designate my identity, captain.”
Ben looked around for inspiration, but there was only one thing that felt right.
“Designate yourself as…Sarah.”
“Very well, Captain. Please let me know if you require any more information.” The ship went silent.
He turned around with a grin on his face to see the human Sarah standing there with her hands on her hips.
“Really?” She tried to look irritated, but a grin kept pulling at her lips. “You just want to get laid don’t you?”
Ben thought it was best to keep his mouth shut.
“Fine.” She smiled that smile that got him every time. “But we aren’t doing it in this cramped tin can. We’re going to christen my cruiser, Gold. Understood?”
It was about as good a first day off Earth in an active duty military capacity as he could expect.
<Being a commander certainly has its perks.>