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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 17: Lunar Lunacy

 

Mopping up –

It was a bit anticlimactic. As the massive cloud of missiles from Titan approached, the enemy finally detected them with their newly available radar. They fired their missiles but, as soon as they did, someone over at Titan sent a remote command and the missiles made random changes in their direction. And though the anti-missiles caught a handful, the rest were able to get through. Right behind them followed an adaptation of bomber aircraft of an earlier time - Eagle fighters stripped of all extraneous material with large missile warheads strapped to their bellies.

The “bombers” easily broke through the enemy ships’ newly reactivated deflector shields, dodged their weapons and “dropped” their deadly cargo right on top of the enemy ships’ hulls.

After a few seconds, their warheads detonated. One cruiser exploded while the other two were almost broken in half.

-----

When there was no more observable activity in the cruisers, Seeker and her three smaller sister ships started moving in. It had now become a recovery and rescue mission. There were several straggler Detterex fighters, however, but the remaining Shrikes from Titan zoomed in to take care of them and waited to be relieved. It took time because Seeker’s other fighters and Mud Turtles had to be refueled/recharged and re-armed. The Shrikes’ jury-rigged rail guns had to be taken out and they needed to be re-armed with their regular weaponry.

The three smaller Titan cruisers started making for the disabled enemy ships on the other side of the rings while Seeker and her Turtles started moving to the ones on their side of the rings. Seeker’s Shrikes eventually finished off the remaining enemy fighters - clearly the enemy pilots had lost their will to continue the fight and most of them just surrendered.

Seeker was able to capture the fighters intact and their pilots unhurt, and passed them on to Titan’s recovery forces.

Hours into the operation, however, they received word from the Commodore. Seeker was ordered to abandon her mop-up operation and to leave the enemy to the incoming troop carriers and tow barges from Titan.

It was like another wave, but this time it was military cargo transports.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Saturn Sector’s Commodore Oshiro said over Phase-Wave, “but the Admiral wants you elsewhere.”

“Aye, sir,” Mia said flatly.

“I completely understand, Captain,” Governor Kushenko said, noting Mia’s tone. “Everyone knows of Seeker’s important mission. Leave it to us to clean up. Yeshche. Spasiba. Godspeed, Captain. And it was a pleasure to have met the First Ambassador. Please tell him that he has a standing invitation.”

The First Ambassador stood on his hind limbs so as to be seen on the monitor.

“It was also a pleasure to have met you, Governor,” he said using his jury-rigged translator. “Thank you. Perhaps we will meet again under better circumstances. Until then.” The Ambassador bowed.

The Governor tried to hide his uneasiness, and tried to be gracious. He bowed as well.

“Captain,” Commodore Oshiro said. “Saturn Command thanks you as well. Subete no go kyoryoku itadaki arigatogozaimasu. Taitanha eien ni kansha surudeshou.”

“Domo arigato, Commodore,” Mia responded and switched off.

“That sounded like yet another language,” the Ambassador said. “What did the Commodore say?”

Mia shrugged. “Oh, it was nothing, Ambassador. He just expressed his thanks.”

“How many languages do Earthers speak anyway?”

Mia laughed. “I’m sorry, Ambassador. Next time, I’ll make sure you’re your translator will manage all Earther languages. As to your question, that’s difficulty to answer. After all, how do you differentiate a language from, say, a dialect. But I would estimate there are about... 15,530 Earth languages.”

“Or seven thousand in Earther decimal.”

Mia laughed. “You’re getting good at that.”

“Thank you,” he said, and moved his arms in circles, the gesture that Mia now knew denoted something similar to laughter.

Mia gave orders to finish the transfer of all of their captured personnel and material over to Titan’s forces, and as soon as they were done, they made preparations to depart.

“Well, it’s time to go and meet up with the others,” Mia told the First Ambassador. The Ambassador nodded, and Mia asked to be connected to Engineering.

“Chief,” she said. “How are we doing?”

“Quite fine, Captain,” the Chief Engineer said. “All DC teams have reported in. There wasn’t any damage that we couldn’t manage. We’re in good shape, sir. Repairs continue, but we can depart anytime.”

“Great news, Chief. How about the engines?”

“All speeds available at the Captain’s discretion.”

“Excellent. Thank you, Chief.”

She turned to her bridge crew. “Helm,” she said to her helm officer, “set course to rendezvous with Constellation. Best speed.”

“Aye, sir. By the way, sir, Hermes has already rendezvoused with her as well.”

“That’s good. You have the con, Lieutenant, and secure from General Quarters. We’re going to check on Commander O’Connell.”

“Aye.”

-----

Mia and the First Ambassador took a Marine escort with them and went to the medical bay to check on O’Connell. They found her sedated and in bed, looking a bit banged up. Mia asked the doctor about her condition.

“It isn’t serious,” the doctor said, “but she does have a mild concussion, some contusions, a broken rib and broken arm, and she’s also suffered from extended kinetosis... motion sickness. We’ve given her some painkillers and a strong sedative to help her sleep. We’re running a mild EM analgesic field so she can sleep despite the concussion. She’ll stay in sickbay tonight for observation, but she’ll be okay by tomorrow.”

Mia looked through O’Connell’s chart and saw the same things as well. She was an MD, too, after all.

“No radiation,” the doctor continued, “and no burns. But I’m afraid she’ll have to be on light duty for at least a week, and she has to have regeneration treatments for her rib and arm at least once a day.”

“I concur, Doctor. Thank you.”

Mia looked down at her exec. O’Connell looked tired and awfully pale but she had a gentle smile on her face. A bit of drool started trailing down her chin. Mia chuckled. She reached for a tissue and wiped her lips and cheek.

“Mmmph,” O’Connell mumbled, waking up. Her eyes fluttered open.

“Hey, Skipper,” she said sleepily. “I take it we made it?”

“Yes, we did, Beth,” Mia said gently, and sat down beside her bed. “All because of you.”

“Nahhh. I was just followin’ orders.”

“Yes, you were. Yes, you were, and you did well.”

“Thanks, Skipper.” She yawned bone-crackingly. “I’m real tired...”

“That’s all right, Beth. Rest. That’s an order, my dear.” Mia smiled gently.

“Aye, sir...” And she innocently fell asleep again.

That she had a mild concussion, and a broken rib and arm despite her armor indicated how bad it was. And how long did she have motion sickness? Did she vomit in her helmet? “She should have told me,” Mia thought. But they needed her up there, and even if she had ordered her to come back in, Mia knew she wouldn’t have. Mia wouldn’t have been able to do anything.

She took O’Connell’s hand in hers. It felt a little dry, but warm.

Dehydration, maybe, Mia thought. She could imagine the kind of hell Beth had to endure, but she had let everyone think she was having the time of her life.

As she looked at O’Connell’s face, she felt a feathery touch on the back of her neck. It was the Ambassador’s antennae.

“You seem sad, My Lady,” the Ambassador said. “Is Commander O’Connell not well?”

Mia cleared her throat. “Oh, yes. She’s recovering well. It’s just...” Mia voice trailed into silence.

The Ambassador reached out and put the three fingers of his armored upper left limb gently on her hand.

“My Lady,” he said, “she did what was necessary. As did you. Who else could have done what you and she did? It was the right thing to do.”

Mia shrugged - a gesture that the Arachnian knew by now.

“Who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?” Mia said. “I’m sure if you ask the Detterex...”

“Princess Tasha also had to face such doubt several years ago,” the ambassador said, referring to his Elyran friend. “She had come back from a campaign at the edge of Federation territory, where she and her warriors had taken their turn in enforcing a defense perimeter against supposed pirates, who were really rebel Tiros invaders. Their relief was overdue and they were running low on supplies when the enemy decided to commence a final push.

“Whatever might be said of that day, what the Princess and her people were able to achieve was almost like a miracle. Most of her fighter craft were grounded by then as most of them had used up their fuel, and her people were outnumbered by the thousands. Even so, they lured the enemy planet-side, engaged them in a ground action, and held them until reinforcements arrived. With an incredible piece of luck, some of her people boarded and took over one of the smaller ships and used it to defeat the others. It was a coup for Elyra as they were able to capture three Tiros and Detterex squadrons including capital ships and fighters mostly intact. But the Princess had to use her warriors ruthlessly. She lost two thirds of her people, and many of those that returned home were badly hurt.

“In the end, Tasha reconciled herself with the fact that she was able to stop the enemy from gaining a foothold on the planet and halt their encroachment into Elyran and Federation territory. She had an objective that she knew needed to be accomplished, that she knew to be right. Also, the three-eights, I mean ‘twenty-four,’ cruisers that she helped capture now account for almost one third of the current Elyran fleet, and have since been deployed to good use. And the loved ones of her fallen warriors now proudly claim her as their ‘Chu-ahn Tru’ - their valiant defender.”

Mia sorrowfully looked down, but the Arachnian lifted her head gently with a light touch under her chin.

“True, many of the enemy have perished today, but it was necessary. And no Earthers, Elyrans, Dixx or Arachnians have been hurt further. And what is more important, you, Commander O’Connell and the crew of the Seeker have saved the people of Titan.” He shrugged. “Who knows, My Lady, perhaps the people of Titan might call you their ‘Chu-ahn Tru’ as well.”

Mia looked at the alien and smiled sadly. She couldn’t help herself and reached over to hug him.

“You should stop, My Lady,” he said. “Ren will be jealous.”

Mia laughed. “Oh, all right,” she said, and let him go. “I think I’ll go to my quarters and get a fresh set of clothes.” She ushered the Ambassador out of the Med Bay.

“That is a good idea, My Lady,” the Arachnian said, and moved his limbs in circles.

“I don’t understand,” she said quizzically. “What’s so funny?”

“Well,” he said, still “laughing,” “I do not know for sure, but your crew is having a hard time staring at you, yet they are trying to appear not to.” He gestured at her skin-tight pressure suit. “If Elyran and Earther aesthetics are even remotely similar, I can understand why.”

Mia blushed. She asked the Marine to escort the Ambassador back to their quarters, took her leave and hurried to hers. She had completely forgotten to change.

After being on her feet for more than a day, she was dead tired. As soon as she got to her quarters, she flopped down and groaned in relief.

After a few minutes, she turned over and sighed. She reached for her CC.

“Captain to bridge. Status report, please.”

“Aye, sir. DC teams report ninety percent of ship’s damage repaired. Repairs should be completed within eight to twelve hours. All Shrikes and Mud Turtles recovered and are now undergoing maintenance. Engineering reports all systems are nominal.”

“Aha. So, no change since I was there thirty minutes ago, then,” she said drily.

“Ahhh, yes, sir,” the deck duty officer said sheepishly. Mia recognized the voice as one of the ship’s new ensign recruits from Triton. She sighed and decided to let the young man off the hook.

“What is our course and speed?” she asked.

“We are on course to rendezvous with Hermes, Constellation and the Federation fleet, at point seven light speed.” He sounded slightly amazed. It was probably the fastest any Terran… Earther ship had flown other than Hermes and Earthship Two. Mia couldn’t blame the young man for being excited. “ETA is oh-nine hundred.”

“Thank you, ensign. Continue sending regular updates to HQ.”

“Aye, sir.”

She switched off and dropped her CC on her desk. Sitting up, she pulled off her boots and walked over to her mirror. She also took off her belt with her sidearm and hung it in her locker.

She inspected herself in the mirror. She had to admit that she looked good.

The pressure suit was tight all over, and she had to say she was a knockout. She blushed, realizing she had inadvertently been displaying herself to everyone. She didn’t know if that was a mistake, and if it would affect her relationship with the crew. At least she didn’t think it did today - she felt the crew functioned exemplary today, better than any time before, in fact. But, still, she couldn’t help but worry.

She struck several poses in the mirror, giggling, imagining the kind of effect she had on the crew. Smiling, she shook her head. Better minimize this kind of thing. Not good for discipline.

But deep inside, it didn’t really bother her. She was proud of her crew, and felt her self-image as a female appropriate now. She hoped that her crew was okay with her performance as well. Though she was seen as a physically attractive woman (and was objectified a little bit for that), people still treated her professionally, and with respect and consideration.

In fact, everyone followed her orders with more alacrity, and seemed eager to do so.

She unzipped her pressure suit, dropped it in the laundry chute, took off her button earrings, watch and new Arachnian medallion, and dropped them in a little jewelry box on her desk (she'd had her people analyze the medallion and chain, and it turned out to be a normal little medallion and chain, with simple raw shards of quartz embedded into the embossed picture of some tree. The only difference was that the alloy the chain and coin were made of was something they didn't see often. But that was nothing – many of the metals that they use were alloys that humans hadn’t created before).

She went to her cabinet and got a towel and toiletries. She luxuriated in a hot shower and washed the tiredness and tension out of her. She wanted to stay in the shower longer but guilt finally chased her out when she realized she was using more than her allotted share of hot water.

Before sleeping, she decided to wear something nice to bed for a change. She found the three negligees that the people at the hospital gave her. Picking the powder blue one, she put it on over her panties and nothing else.

She marveled at the feel of it, the lightness and the sheer luxuriousness of it. With a sigh, she slipped between the sheets, and fell asleep almost instantly - the best sleep she’d had since she boarded Seeker.

 

Back to the same routine –

It was a joyous reunion. The congratulations of the Prince and Princess were more than effusive, as were those from Admiral Daxx, but Mia was anxious to get back to normal and insisted on continuing where they left off right away, to start catching up on things.

Thinking of how helpful the First Ambassador had been in giving them insights on the enemy, Mia had suggested a change. The First Ambassador and his people had guided the Earth forces to a winning strategy of splitting up the enemy cruisers. The fact the Detterex lead ship was not with them implied to the Ambassador that the Detterex forces would be less than cooperative with their Tirosian partners, and would be less coordinated in their tactics. And this was proven to be correct.

Furthermore, the Arachnians and Earthers seemed to be cooperating more closely than they expected. Mia smiled and expressed her thanks to the First Ambassador. The Arachnian stood and performed a credible imitation of a curtsey - something he undoubtedly saw on TV, and all the Earthers laughed. The Elyrans and Dixx smiled, clearly not understanding it but could sense the friendly humor of the moment.

From their success, Mia therefore concluded there was great value to knowing more about their friends as well as their enemies, not just their facts and figures but who they were as people, and what they were about. Channel ‘B’ was therefore changed to a tutorial class for Federation, Earth and Empire history and culture. Ren and his assistant, Ben, readily welcomed the chance to lecture, and offered to manage it. Ren also suggested to get the assistance of one of Admiral Daxx’s people as well as the assistance of one of the Arachnians, to perhaps give their own perspective on things.

Dr. Priestly thought that a good idea and innocently suggested that, if there were qualified individuals available, maybe some of the Dravidians and Erocii from the staff of the Keeper of the Heritage should be invited to lecture as well.

Daxx was taken aback by the suggestion. How could she even presume to ask His Excellency? But before she could find a way to politely deny her request, a message came from the Keeper’s staff accepting the suggestion. They completely forgot about the fact that the Keeper was also tuned in to the meetings.

The Admiral acceded to this, and promised to arrange things.

But for this first day, they spent it by briefing everyone on the current status of the Empire ships and prisoners.

-----

Transmitting from Earth, true to his word, Admiral Silverman reported that his people had continued to search for the five missing Empire ships.

They were able to spot two of the five, but the last three continued to elude them. Silverman instructed Mia to send a ship to the two they found, since hers were the closest. Mia ordered Constellation to check them out - she thought that the mission would be a welcome break for her crew.

As for Hermes, it was successful in delivering the Arachnian life signs detector belts, and Earth scientists had started their analysis of them.

They had a great start because of all the information they were provided beforehand, and they had high hopes that they could start producing their own version of a life signs detector, and help open up the galaxy for the Earthers.

Commodore Oshiro had sent a report that over three hundred of the enemy had been captured, and Silverman said all of them were going to be interred in refitted cargo barges that were being fixed and then towed into Saturn orbit. Their debriefing would start as soon as CETI sent representatives. Jennifer Priestly said that her CETI breakers will be working with the ATAC people, and she would send them over to Saturn as quickly as possible.

Admiral Silverman asked if the Federation would like to make claims on the recovered Empire ships. Admiral Daxx said, per Federation rules, they would not make any claims as they were Earth’s property now. However, Daxx drily said that they only asked to share in any discovery they might make, say, for example, in information on the so-called “curtain of light.”

Silverman laughed with the Admiral, and said he'd see what he could do. They understood each other perfectly. Clearly, the two were cut from the same cloth.

In the meantime, Silverman had his people transmit the logs of some of the ships they had captured courtesy of Commodore Oshiro. Daxx and Ren set their systems to record, and Mia promised the First Ambassador copies as well.

The Secretary-General then took over and talked about developments on Earth.

It seemed that, in the twelve hours since Seeker had gotten back in contact with Earth, and word of what had happened in Saturn System started to spread, the population had become even more obsessed with the aliens.

The proposed referendum was a hot topic now, and the Secretary-General said this pressure had accelerated their timetable. Her people now believed that the referendum might have to be moved to next week.

Views on the aliens seemed to have polarized. The majority of the population was excited to now be acknowledged members of a larger galactic community, and were intrigued by the aliens. Information regarding the aliens was gobbled up as quickly as it came out in the popular media. The Prince and Princess had become very popular, for example, and fans avidly shared around pictures of them.

But a significant minority also blamed the government for dragging them into a war. The official line of the government was that they couldn’t have avoided it in any case, and it was better this way so they could pick sides and maybe get some help, if at all possible. Still, a few didn’t believe that, and insisted that they could still remain neutral.

The Secretary-General was confident, however, that they would get the required fifty percent-plus vote necessary to pass the referendum. The ambassador asked what kind of system they used, and Mia tried to explain their federated government’s electoral college system.

The basis for this was the voting system of the original U.N., where each nation was given a vote, thereby allowing even small countries the same impact on a vote as other countries. In the current U.N., this was modified so that each kingdom, or rather country, was ranked on a ten-point scale according to the size of their population, and were allotted “electoral votes” based on this. Each country’s votes would be cast together like one ballot.

As to how a country determines this depends on the their rules. This system would prevent territories or countries as large as North-Am or China to cause votes from always breaking their way, and allow small nations like the United Satellites of Neptune to be relevant during a referendum or election.

There were, of course, many who thought vote counts should be directly based on actual vote count, but there were others who argued that smaller countries would be routinely disenfranchised if this was the rule.

However, a move to amend the U.N. charter to allow this was still to be proposed.

As she was explaining this, Admiral Daxx interrupted and asked what were the items to be voted on.

The Secretary-General didn’t mind being interrupted, and explained that her people had boiled it down to four items: one - to approve sending representatives to Colossus and provide all the information they had about the events in Earth System since the arrival of the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians; two - to submit an application for membership to the Federation; three - to approve an alliance with the Federation or, if membership was not forthcoming, to limit it to an alliance with the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian nations; and four - to declare war on the Detterex and Tiros Star Empires, which would grant EarthGov martial powers.

Daxx nodded sagely. “Difficult matters, indeed,” she said. “I agree completely that it needs to be decided on by all your people. I suppose all I can do is to offer encouragement. Please let us know how we can to assist you.”

“You are most gracious, Admiral,” she said. “Thank you. Perhaps we can talk more about it tomorrow.”

“I am at your service, Excellency.”

Daxx would have preferred to continue, but the Secretary-General insisted that they adjourn for the day, in time for the Earthers’ mid-day meal, and to allow everyone to review the Tiros and Detterex logs.

“Oh, well,” Daxx thought. “There’s still tomorrow.”

-----

Secretary-General Romarkin got everyone in the briefing to stay on a pretext, and waited for the Dixx and Elyrans to switch off, and for the Arachnians to leave the room. When she was sure only the humans were left, she sighed.

“All right, everyone. Thank you for staying. I have some news. Jennifer?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Professor Priestly replied. “The people from the PRC have a theory about that so-called ‘curtain of light.’ They’re waiting on Commodore Oshiro’s people to confirm it when they go though the Tirosian hulks. If they confirm it, then that means we know how the Tirosians did it.”

“That’s good,” Commander O’Connell said. She was a little subdued, probably still a little off from the medications, and probably a little embarrassed by the cast on her arm. She was still supposed to be off the duty roster, but she insisted on joining the briefing.

“But, Ma’am, why didn’t you bring this up earlier? I’m sure Admiral Daxx and...”

Mia raised her hand to stop her. “I think the Secretary-General is trying to say something else, Beth.”

Romarkin sighed. “Commander, we aren’t even sure we want to share the information with the aliens at this time.”

“Ma’am?”

“Commander, we aren’t sure we want to lose a tactical advantage.”

“But they’re our friends, Ma’am. We’re even trying to make an alliance with their governments.”

“That’s right. In fact, since the beginning, we have been sharing everything we could with them to see us through this time when we need to prove ourselves deserving to be part of their federation. We’ve only held off sharing things that gave us clear strategic advantages, such as Phase-Wave et cetera. Now we find ourselves in the unenviable position to be the ones judging, and seeing if they deserve to have our new information. Sounds arrogant, yes. And some may even question that view. But let’s put that aside for the moment.”

While she was speaking, Jennifer Priestly excused herself and switched off for a minute.

The Secretary-General didn’t let that distract her and continued. “We are now about to acquire new knowledge that will give us yet another advantage. And the government has not seen anything to change our current policy. In fact, the events at Pluto Orbit and Saturn have given us more cause to make sure that Earth System protects any advantage it has. Admiral?”

Silverman turned to O’Connell as well. “You are a military officer, Commander. I am sure you understand the need to maintain numerical, technological, and tactical superiority, as well as not to surrender the initiative. Am I correct?”

“You are correct sir,” O’Connell said. “Standard Military doctrine. I understand. I apologize for the question.”

Silverman nodded. “Not at all, Commander.” Silverman then addressed everyone. “That brings us to another topic.”

He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “The men and women of Task Force 41/18 have proven themselves supremely capable, and a credit to the entire race. We are proud of all of you.” Everyone was pleased but puzzled at this apparent non sequitur.

“I don’t say this frivolously,” Silverman continued. “I say it only to show that the Admiralty has the highest confidence in you all, and have no reservations in your following orders. As your commander, I know that I do not need to explain myself, but I am doing so now because we want not just your obedience but your active cooperation as well, and we want you to share your ideas on how to manage the situation we find ourselves in.

“Officially then, you are all under orders not to discuss this with any unauthorized personnel outside of this group, and to directly contact your captains if you have concerns or ideas. As for the civilians, you are all officially notified that the Official Secrets Act has been invoked, and shall be in effect until further notice.

“Captains Steele, Okonkwo and Dupont, you are under direct orders to enforce this order, and to forward all information pertinent to the matter of the Empire’s EM suppression field technology directly to my office. Are we clear?”

All the military personnel on the circuit said, “aye” almost simultaneously, and everyone laughed at that (politely, of course - they were talking to the Admiral of the Fleet, after all). It helped break the tension.

“Ummm, Admiral,” Professor Priestly interrupted, having come back. “I’m afraid I have some news that changes everything...”

There was a silence.

“Is it good news or bad news, Jenn?” Romarkin said.

“I don’t know, Ma’am.” She switched to a different audio channel, obviously to tell Romarkin.

Romarkin nodded as she listened.

“Well, enlighten us, Doctor,” Silverman said, after they switched back.

“Yes, Admiral. Doctor Thorpe just called me from Triton Center, about an audio intercept they got from Elyra. It seems the Elyran scientists have finally cracked the EM suppression field...”

The silence was overwhelming.

“You mean...”

“Yes, Admiral. To be sure, they are just refining their theory on the field suppression effect, but they are well on their way. So there is really nothing to hide from the Federation.”

“That changes things...”

“Yes.”

“Madame Secretary-General,” Silverman said formally, “do you have any orders?”

“Admiral, let us stay the course for now, until we have more information.”

Silverman nodded. “All right, then. All orders stand. But before you are dismissed, I have four more items.”

 

Orders –

“First,” the Admiral said, “it has been decided that Task Force 41/18 shall be a permanent fleet, to be designated as Earth’s Fifth Fleet, and shall be assigned to first contact missions, and our vanguard fleet to push the boundaries of Terran influence and become ambassadors for the race.”

“What?” O’Connell said in the silence.

Silverman chuckled at this response, ignored it and continued. “Second, DSR Seeker, Hermes and Constellation, as well as four additional Type-One FTL cruisers, shall be permanently assigned to this new fleet. Pursuant to this, Hermes and Constellation shall be upgraded accordingly, in order to fulfill their new and important roles. Captains Okonkwo and Dupont.”

“Sir!”

“Orders shall be sent to you through channels within the day. Congratulations.”

Everyone applauded.

“Third... where is Commander O’Connell?”

“Sir!” O’Connell responded.

“Third, Commander Elizabeth O’Connell is hereby formally reinstated as Captain, and is permanently assigned as master of DSR Seeker.”

This was greeted with a loud and enthusiastic response from those present that were part of Seeker’s crew. In O’Connell’s head, she felt gratified by this - an open acknowledgement from her superiors and her peers. She looked at Mia sitting beside her, clapping as enthusiastically as everyone.

She realized that Mia truly had no designs to supplant her. This realization had slowly been coming for a while now, actually, simply because she'd noted how Mia worked with her and the crew. Plus, Mia had consistently said her assignment onboard was temporary. Besides, over the months, O’Connell had come to believe that Mia was the right person for the job, and might actually be the rightful captain. Seeing her in action, first in the “Pluto orbit” engagement, and then in Saturn, just confirmed it. Mia belonged here, maybe even more than her. Mia would be leaving the service eventually, but it wouldn't be because of her.

“Sir, I respectfully decline.”

Silverman was surprised, to say the least.

“Can you explain the reason for your decision, Commander?”

“Sir. I wish to remain at my post, and remain as Captain Steele’s exec.”

“Well...” Silverman chuckled, “before you do, perhaps you should wait for me to finish, first?”

“Ummm, sir?”

He waved her down and continued.

“Fourth, Captain Amelia Catherine Steele, in recognition of her command capabilities, unparalleled skills, intelligence, and unwavering dedication to the cause of the Human Race, is promoted to Rear Admiral, and is assigned to the command of the Fifth Fleet. Congratulations, Admiral.”

Mia’s jaw dropped. She stood up, not believing what she heard, while everyone in the room, and those hooked to the circuit, applauded long and enthusiastically.

“Well, what do you say?”

“I... thank you, Admiral.”

“Ummm... Admiral,” O’Connell said. “I respectfully retract what I said, sir, and gratefully accept the reinstatement.”

Silverman laughed out loud. “Are you sure this time, Commander?”

-----

Mia had propped up her CC on top of the desk in her quarters. She had Romarkin, Silverman and Jennifer Priestly on her personal phone via Phase-Wave.

“You can’t do this to me, Ben,” she said to Silverman’s image on her CC. “You knew that I took the job with the understanding that it was only temporary.”

“Temporary?” Silverman responded. “You changed sex, for God’s sake, Bill... I mean Mia. Doesn’t sound temporary to me.”

“It was necessary! There was no choice!”

“And it is our estimation,” Romarkin said, “that we have no choice now.”

“Jenn! Help me out here.”

Jennifer shook her head, refusing to take sides.

“Mia,” Romarkin continued, “tell me who else can do the things you do? Give me a name and, I promise you, you’ll be back to being a civilian so fast, it’ll make your head spin.”

“Allie...”

“Mia, I’m serious. Give me a name.”

Mia sighed.

“I thought so. So, in the meantime, Admiral, suck it up and soldier.”

“Smile, Bill,” Silverman smiled. “It’ll be all right.”

“Ben, just you wait...”

“If you’re thinking of ratting me out to Allison or Tara, they already know. And they actually like the promotion. Tara is actually asking when you can come by the house.”

“Who’re Allison and Tara?” Jennifer asked.

“That’s the Admiral’s wife and daughter,” Mia said.

She decided to change tactics. “Allie, how will the public take the fact that your most-recently promoted officer handling first contact is a woman who used to be a man?”

“It’s actually common knowledge now. The news on the net is that you decided on changing genders because it was necessary to your work, that the Elyrans would find it easier to relate to a woman, and since no one else could do it, you decided to undergo sex reassignment for the sake of the people. Everyone finds that selfless and brave.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“You clearly haven’t been following current events.”

Mia groaned in exasperation. “I can’t believe it. Don’t they think I’m some sort of pervert, or...”

Romarkin shook her head. “Other people have changed their sex, Mia. It’s not exactly unique. Besides, no one cares about people’s sexual orientation anymore. It’s not the Twenty-First Century. Sure, there are still people out there who get off on doing things society thinks are perversions, but with the demystification of gender dysphoria, its stigma has been erased. That’s one less perversion available for people to obsess about. We’re beyond such prejudices, Mia. You know that.”

Mia nodded impatiently. “Even so, that must have been some kind of PR campaign you guys did.”

“It wasn’t a campaign! Some people in the know just gave interviews when the media approached them. The public already knew who Doctor William Steele was, so they were naturally curious about the new Captain Amelia Catherine Steele.”

“And who, pray tell, gave these interviews?”

“Well, that would be Captain, excuse me, I mean Admiral Steele’s commander, of course - Admiral of the Fleet Benjamin Silverman, and the person that took full chairmanship of the CETI council when Dr. Steele resigned - his good friend, Professor Jennifer Priestly.”

“Of course...”

“But, you know,” Jennifer said, “I think your acceptance by the people is the least of your problems.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone here in CETI got ahold of some pictures and were showing them around to the people here. They’re from Seeker’s log. And somehow they’ve leaked out into the net.” Jennifer pressed a key on her CC and sent some of the pictures over.

“How did they get them anyway?” Mia asked. “Video logs are confidential navy... what the...?”

Jennifer had sent four pictures, all of them cropped from Seeker’s bridge video log, and she had them on the screen. They were all pictures of Mia on Seeker’s bridge during the Titan encounter. She was in her skin-tight blue pressure suit and knee-high boots.

One was of her with her fists on her hips, looking exasperatedly at someone off-picture and looking very cute at the same time. Another was her standing by her command chair holding down a button on the armrest, with an intense look of concentration on her face. Another was of her in action, pointing at the main view-screen off-picture and giving orders while trying to keep her balance by holding on to the back of her chair, her hair flying over her shoulder. There were other people in that one, and they were strapped to their chairs and trying to hold on against the movement of the ship as well. The framing of the picture was even artfully set at a fifteen-degree angle. It was almost like a frame from some old “action movie.”

The last one was a blown-up picture of her from the waist up, smiling at someone off-picture and looking radiant. She had her head canted a bit and was using her left hand to fluff out her blonde hair.

Jennifer giggled. “You’re a babe, Mia!”

“Who the hell took...”

Jennifer raised her hand. “I’m already tracking down whoever did it, and as soon as I find out who, be assured I will deal with him, her, or whoever.”

“But the damage is done!”

“I’ll say,” Jennifer giggled again. “You’re the new It Girl, Mia!”

“I’m thinking of calling Recruitment and get them to use those pictures,” Silverman laughed.

Mia sighed, and bonelessly sank into her chair. “I’ll get you guys...” she mumbled, and everyone laughed.

“Okay,” Mia said. “If I’m doing this, I want something in return.”

“Yes?” Silverman asked.

“I want carte blanche on how to put together my fleet.”

“Absolutely, Mia,” Romarkin said. “How you want your ships outfitted, which new ships you want, your crew complement. Everything - it’s up to you.”

Mia couldn’t find any other excuses to turn down the position, other than her not wanting it in the first place. She groaned again and gently hit her forehead on the desk over and over. Everyone laughed again.

“Oh, Mia,” Romarkin continued, “since we’re talking, I think I need to let you know that I talked to my friend Peg, and...”

“Peg? Arrrgh!”

“Wait.” Jennifer interrupted. “Who’s Peg?”

“Peg. The queen...” Mia mumbled into the desk.

“What!” Jennifer said. “The Queen of England? Her Royal Highness, Margaret the Second?”

“Peg’s one of my best friends, Jenn,” Romarkin said.

“You’re kidding... And you call her ‘Peg?’”

Romarkin shrugged, smiling. “Anyway, I told Her Royalness,” she giggled, “about Mia’s little snafu during the dinner onboard the Talon, and...”

“Oh, no...” Mia groaned.

“Well, she understood the situation completely, so she got her secretary to churn out a Letters Patent, and per law and custom, had it quietly published in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes. And, with her sponsorship, in closed session, the Parliament also unanimously approved your nomination as a British citizen. So, once you sign your citizenship papers, I’m sure you will get a letter from Her Highness a day or so after, for the ceremony and accolade for your formal Knighthood. It’s just a formality, but I’m expecting an invitation to the knighting, of course.”

Romarkin’s grin was ear to ear. “By the way, Ben said that you are under orders to accept the citizenship and the knighthood. Isn’t that right, Ben?”

“That’s right, Ma’am,” Silverman said, chuckling.

“Wait, wait!” Jennifer said. “Knighthood?”

“Yes, Jenn. Meet the soon-to-be Lady Amelia of Saint Mary, St. Martin and St. Agnes, Admiral of the Fifth Fleet of Earth.”

“Oooh!”

“Shut up, Jenn,” Mia said.

Romarkin looked worried. She was thinking that they may have overdone it, and pushed Mia over the edge. “So... Mia? Are we okay?”

Mia smiled tiredly. “Yeah, yeah. Now, go away... with respect, Ma’am.”

Romarkin felt relief. Everyone laughed again and signed off.

Mia sat at her desk, thinking. She couldn’t believe how much her friends had been picking on her. But then, this was always the way she and her friends bantered with each other. Why did she think it would it be different now? It’s like they were still seeing Bill and not Mia, or maybe they were just accepting Mia as Bill. She was touched, and she started to tear up. It might not last or she might be reading too much into it, but for now, it was like the way it was before the change.

She also knew that everything that Romarkin and Silverman did was necessary, so she wasn’t really as angry as she was behaving. Besides, she was fairly sure they saw through it and knew she was at least half joking.

“All in all, I know what my friends are doing, and I guess they’re right,” she thought. “I just wish...” And then she thought again... “My friends...” That phrase echoed in her mind. They joked with her just like in the old days, like nothing has changed, and she was grateful. She chuckled that she thought of a few short months back as the “old days.”

There was one other thing that she did notice - she didn’t react to their jokes like before, and wasn’t hurt at all. She was also more flirty and less... direct in her jibes. In fact, she wasn’t being as strong in her comebacks as before, and seemed to be more passive and self-deprecating... But she wasn’t doing it deliberately. It was all instinctual and automatic. Was it just in her head or was it just part of being female? Anyway, regardless, it was like they didn’t care that she reacted differently.

Someone buzzed her door. She checked who it was with her CC. It was O’Connell.

“Come in,” she called, hastily wiped her eyes and sat up.

O’Connell came in. “Good afternoon, sir.”

Mia motioned her in. “Good afternoon, Beth. What are you still doing up? You should be resting in your quarters. Well, anyway, what can I do for you?”

“I, ummm, just wanted to know how you want me to manage things, sir. Now that, ummm...”

“Now that you are back in charge?” Mia chuckled.

“Ah, yes, sir.” O’Connell smiled, and giggled as well. She was relieved that her boss was at ease with things.

“Well, unless you disagree,” Mia said, answering her question, “my thought is to keep all of the Admiral’s announcements under the radar. That way, there won’t be any disruptions in our daily routines.”

“I think it’s too late for that, sir,” she said, and explained.

Apparently, after the briefing, Silverman had sent the orders out to all three ships as a General Dispatch, and in the clear. He had also sent out a Fleet communiqué with all the details. He also contacted Admiral Daxx, Princess Tasha and the First Ambassador, informing them of the new developments. They had immediately sent their congratulations to the three captains as well as to the new admiral. Mia noted that she still had not received hers. O’Connell explained she had not forwarded it yet since Mia was in a meeting and she did not want to interrupt her. But O’Connell had made hardcopies and brought them over with her.

Mia read the messages. She was particularly touched by the message from the First Ambassador. She sighed.

“All right, Beth,” she said. “I guess we can’t keep this quiet. You take over full command of the ship immediately. But you will also be Fleet Exec for the duration. That may mean some kind of brevet promotion, but we can think about that later. All captains in the fleet will report to you, and you will report to me. Now, give me a sitrep on all new developments.”

O’Connell nodded, secretly proud of again being selected as Mia’s exec instead of Okonkwo or Dupont - both more senior than her.

“Seeker’s damage is almost one hundred percent repaired, sir,” O’Connell reported. “The Chief expects completion within the hour. All Shrikes and Mud Turtles are again fully operational and re-armed, and all pilots are available. Constellation is approaching the two ships they’re supposed to be investigating. We are expecting a report shortly. Everything else is shipshape. Hermes reports all well. The Arachnians seem to be happy and report all well, and the Elyrans and Dixx report all well, too.”

Mia nodded. “Good. I’ll expect a report as soon as the Chief says we are back to one hundred percent. Also ask her to look into equipping our squadrons with rail guns without compromising their current armament. What’s the spacecraft complement of Hermes and Constellation?”

“Each has twenty-five Type-One Eagles and twenty Cobra multi-role transports versus our maximum forty Shrikes and fifteen Mud Turtles. They were originally designed for patrol and ground action, after all, so they have more carriers, and less fighters, than normal.”

“All right. Inform Okonkwo and Dupont what we are doing with our ships, and tell them to do the same with theirs. Make sure that all of our engineers are working with each other. Also, select one of our Turtles and outfit it with complete radio communication facilities as well as EM-based navigation.”

“To replace its Phase-Wave systems, sir?”

“No - in addition to them.”

“The extra equipment will take up some space, sir...”

“That’s all right, Beth. We won’t be using that as a carrier. Since I know none of you will let me near a Shrike ever again, I’m going to need alternative transport. Still - make that Mud Turtle the last priority in your list.”

“We’re making a captain’s gig, sir?”

“Beth! It’s going to be the admiral’s barge!”

O’Connell grinned. “Of course, sir. The Admiral’s Barge - apologies.”

“Oh, and get Haskell to look into providing the crew with alternate sidearms that are projectile-based.”

“You’re worried about another EM suppression field situation?”

“Imagine it being deployed when we find ourselves in hand-to-hand scenarios. We need to be able to level the playing field when the aliens deploy the one single item in their arsenal that can negate our technical advantages.”

“Aye, sir. Anything else?”

“I’d like to see the bridge duty roster when you’re done with it.”

“Ummm, okay, sir.”

Mia sensed some reluctance from her. She reached out and held her hand.

“Beth, we’ve been working hand-in-hand for months now, and if you still don’t feel comfortable about speaking your mind, this will definitely not work. When we are with the crew, I understand. But when it’s just us, I expect it to be like it always was. So, what’s your concern?”

O’Connell sighed. “Nothing major, sir. I was just thinking that... it might not look appropriate if our admiral stood regular duty shifts... sir.”

Mia smiled. Was that all? She thought about it. “Well, you’re absolutely right. But you better get used to me looking over your shoulder all the time.”

“That’s all right, sir,” O’Connell said, smiling. “Admiral’s privilege.”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“Ah, one final thing. Really minor.”

“Yes?”

“Our Supply Officer will be passing by within the hour. Sorry, sir, but Admiral Silverman’s orders. He knew that if I didn’t remind you, chances are...”

“Why is he passing by?”

“He’s passing by to alter your uniforms, sir. You know? Admiral’s stripes? Stars?”

Mia laughed.

“He also has suggestions for ship’s patches, rocker tabs, UIMs, shoulder sleeve insignias, wing badges and such.”

“You’re not serious.”

O’Connell laughed. “Oh, yes, sir. You can’t imagine how excited everyone is about the new fleet, and our new mission. They’re very proud to be on the Fleet’s flag carrier. And a lot of them have suggestions.”

Mia laughed again. “All right. In that case, get him up here as soon as he’s free.”

O’Connell nodded. As she stood up to leave, she paused.

“Sir… I don’t know if it’s my place to ask…”

Mia sighed.

“Beth,” she said, “we have gone through too much for either of us not to trust each other. Speak your mind, my dear.”

“I just wanted to ask… if… if you’re okay. The crew is worried. They say that you seem… sad somehow.”

Mia smiled at her in a melancholy sort of way. “Thank you for your concern, Beth. But I’ll manage. I guess it takes time to get used to… things.”

“I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I can imagine how difficult it must be. It’ll get better, I guess. Being female isn’t too difficult. In fact it can be great. Most of the time. It can even be fun.”

Mia looked at her and giggled. “And what is your idea of ‘fun,’ Beth?”

O’Connell shrugged. “I guess you’ll find out for yourself.”

Mia shrugged. “Thank you, Beth, but it’s not that. I guess I’m feeling alone.”

“It’s the cost of command.”

“Yes. But it’s not that. I feel lonely. I feel lost…” She shook her head. “But this isn’t your concern. I’m your commander, after all.”

O’Connell turned serious, as well. “Sir… Mia… you’re my commander. But I think you’re my friend, too. And friends are there for friends. If you need to talk about things, I’m here. And don’t worry that you will lose my respect. You’ll never lose it. You are a good commander. And your crew will follow you through the sun and back. But, I wouldn’t want my commander to doubt herself for something as small as her being a former boy. Your crew doesn’t care. I don’t care. But if you need to talk things through…”

Mia stood and reached out for her hand. “Oh, Beth. Thank you. And I think of you as my friend, too.”

Impulsively, O’Connell gave her a hug. “I’ll be there for you. Just let me know.”

After a while, though, the hug started to feel awkward.

“Ummm, Boss… I just want to let you know. I don’t, you know, swing that way…” But then, she heard Mia’s giggles, and then she let go, realizing Mia was playing a joke on her.

“You’re a stinker, you know that?” O’Connell, said, giggling herself.

“Yes, I am,” Mia agreed, still giggling.

O’Connell mock-frowned. “You’re hilarious, you know that?”

Mia smiled and shooed her away. “Go away, Beth. Take care of the ship.”

“Aye, Boss,” she said, saluted casually and stepped out of Mia’s office.

 

The Fifth Fleet –

Mia had called a meeting of the command crews of all three ships.

O’Connell was there with her new Number One (which was again Commander Kajima), Captain Okonkwo and his exec, and Captain Dupont and his Number Two, which was his chief engineer (at the moment, his exec was unavailable - she was supervising the inspection team of the alien ships they were investigating).

They spent an hour or so discussing Admiral Silverman’s orders, and how to manage the new fleet. Mia was relieved that Captains Okonkwo and Dupont, by far the most senior of the eight, were not resentful of Mia being promoted. In fact, they went on and on about the videos from the captured enemy logs, showing Seeker coming out of Saturn’s rings, or making the loop, or her Mud Turtles and Shrikes delivering the blow that shut down the EM suppression field.

-----

It was announced that Fifth Fleet’s command staff would be holding a fleet-wide briefing at eighteen-thirty hours, after the final dinner call. Admiral Silverman’s office was, of course hooked up, as were the Federation ships and the Arachnian quarters via video. Everyone was anticipating the meeting.

Promptly at eighteen-thirty hours, Mia stood in front of a video camera in her new uniform. Everyone checked out her new Admiral’s Stripes, and murmurs spread through the crowd when they saw the new miniature on her uniform. It was too small to see the details, but they still tried to nevertheless.

Mia cleared her throat and began the briefing.

“To the men and women of Earth’s new Fifth Fleet, good evening. I stand here before you now as your commander. Currently, the fleet is made up of the newly re-designated DSC Hermes under Captain Okonkwo, with hull number sixty, DSC Constellation under Capitaine Dupont, hull number seventy-four, and the first of the new Class J-One deep spacecraft, DSC Seeker. With that reclassification comes a re-christening. We are all excited to know what Seeker’s new name will be, and the Admiral assured me this will happen soon.

“Captain Elizabeth O’Connell is again the master of Seeker, and Commander Kajima shall again be doing double-duty as both her exec and Seeker’s Air Group Commander.

“Our fleet’s new mission is First Contact. We shall be visiting our new Federation friends and be Earth’s ambassadors to the Federation. We shall also be the vanguard of Earth defense, interceding during military engagements, and also be the frontline of EarthForce. We shall also be picking up where Earthship Two left off, and help discover new planets and new peoples, and go where no human has gone before.

“Our three interstellar cruisers will soon be joined by four more, which will rendezvous with us at New Copernicus, the PRC’s naval yards on Luna Colony.

“For the moment, we continue with our mission of defending Admiral Daxx’s ambassadorial fleet as they make their way to Earth and, depending on the results of the upcoming referendum, we may be escorting them back home.”

Mia took a deep breath. “As you know, we have just had our first encounter with the Empire’s newest weapon, and though they had the advantage of holding the initiative and attacking first, we still emerged triumphant.

“But it underlines yet another concern. We need more information on our enemy. Our comrades on Titan are working on it. They are studying the salvaged Empire ships, and our own Capitaine Dupont and DSC Constellation are even now investigating the ships they abandoned in the space between Saturn and Neptune.

“We have much to do, still, and I am excited to push on with our mission, as I hope you all are.”

All three crews applauded. “Vive la flotte!” some of the crew from the Constellation cheered.

“All right, then!” Mia said. “As this is an informal briefing, I am opening the floor to any questions you might have for myself and Captains Dupont, O’Connell and Okonkwo. Approach your deck officer and he will get it to us.”

The first question came in from Constellation, relayed by Dupont’s First Officer.

“Bonjour, Amiral,” she said. “C'est le Commandant Devereaux de Constellation. One of our crew would like to know if there will be any shifts in the command structure.”

“Bonjour, Commander Devereaux. Thank your crewman for the question. The answer is, no there will not be any change in command structure. Captains Dupont and Okonkwo shall be in command of their ships and crew as always, while Captain O’Connell shall again be in command of Seeker. The Captain shall also be Fleet Executive, and will be overseeing fleet activities. I shall be in command of the fleet and shall be reporting directly to Fleet Admiral Benjamin Silverman.”

Commander Kajima then came on. “Ummm, sir, there is a question from our Arachnian guests. They would like to know why we have been designated as the Fifth Fleet, as well as why our ships have new designations.”

Mia smiled. This sounded like a question from the Ambassador. “Thank you, Commander. We have been designated as a fleet because we have been made into a permanent group with a standing, permanent mission. We are now called the Fifth Fleet since there already are four others in the newly reorganized EarthForce.

“The First Fleet is the primary group whose area of responsibility is the Earth System. The Second Fleet is the system’s Planetary Guard, in charge of police action and rescue. The Third Fleet is the territory fleet, in charge of patrolling the boundaries of Earth System in what we call the Oort Cloud, and beyond. The Fourth Fleet is our outbound missions command, which will handle all missions outside of the system. That therefore makes us the Fifth Fleet.

“As to ship designations, DSC refers to interstellar spacecraft and DSR refers to interplanetary or in-system spacecraft. Because of the change in our mission parameters, we shall now be operating extra-solar as well. They have therefore redesignated Constellation, Hermes and Seeker as DSC ships.

“And before the Ambassador asks about types and numbers, Commander, tell him that’s classified information.” They could hear the guffaws of some Elyrans and Dixx in the background. She smiled.

There was a wide assortment of questions that came up. Some were intelligent questions, such as those about their new mission. Others were less so, such as what “cheese omelet” was in French. It was a question that came from the Arachnians, most obviously an effort to “lighten the discussion.”

It seems the Arachnians enormously enjoyed the cheese omelet onboard Seeker. They were told proudly by Seeker’s chief cook that the cheese they used was authentic Reblochon cheese from France, hence the question. Far from being offended, Captain Dupont chuckled and said “omelette du fromage” in his very best French accent.

Some were very curious questions, like the question from that ensign aboard Constellation. The young officer wanted to know how O’Connell felt while floating above Saturn’s rings, and O’Connell talked about her awe at the amazing colors and lights, and the cotton-like surface of the rings one moment, and then her near panic as the Admiral sent the ship careening back inside the ring the next. Her audience laughed and hung on her every word.

One of the more interesting questions was the one about the miniatures Mia, the three captains and their first officers wore. The camera zoomed in on the one Captain Okonkwo was wearing, and it looked like a stylized metal replica of a knight from Earth’s history books, with space armor, a cape flapping in the wind, and a sword stretched out. The only thing lacking was a horse. Okonkwo said that it was actually based on a video they saw from some of the captured Detterex ship’s logs. They used an image from that video as the model for the Fifth Fleet’s new campaign miniature. They flashed the picture he was referring to, and it turned out to be of Commander Elizabeth O’Connell in her armor, as she stood in Seeker’s “crow’s nest” while she gave directions to Seeker’s crew and helped them navigate through Saturn’s rings. When it had first been suggested, Mia had instantly approved the idea over Beth’s protests.

The response was predictable. After several “ooohs” and “aaahs” and “wows,” there was a mad dash by everyone to grab their CCs and access the logs the Captain mentioned from ship’s memory. (They couldn’t, of course, since the files were still confidential.)

The questions continued for quite a while until Mia decided to adjourn an hour later.

After the briefing, the supply officers of all three ships were inundated with requests for Fifth Fleet miniatures, as well as fleet patches, shoulder sleeve insignias, wing badges, rocker tabs, UIMs and such (UIMs are “unit identification marks” – the navy’s equivalent to the army’s rocker tabs).

Unprepared for the requests, they would tell everyone that their orders would be ready for pickup the following morning, and they and their crews would spend the night stitching patches and printing up 3-D metal pins for everybody. It wasn’t that difficult, actually, since the fabrication was all automated, after all. It was just that there were too many requests.

After the briefing, Mia took a quiet, leisurely turn around the ship, and conducted an informal night inspection of all of the Chief Engineer’s repairs as well as casually visiting with the crew that was on duty. By that time, though, the crewmen from the first and second shifts were in their bunks quietly dozing. Mia decided to peek into one of the wardrooms.

Sensing something, the girl in the first bunk woke up. When she saw it was Mia, she jumped down. “Admiral on deck!”

“Shhh!” Mia shushed the girl. “At ease, crewman!”

Nevertheless, it was too late. Everyone was already awake. They had all gotten up and stood at attention by their bunks.

“I said at ease, everyone! And back to bed! Otherwise, you’re all going to stand double duty tomorrow!”

Almost as quickly, everyone was back in their bunks in a flash.

“Well... that was fast...”

They burst out laughing.

“I’m sorry to bother you. Good work yesterday.”

Before Mia could leave, the crewman who first woke up called out.

“Ummm, Admiral?” she said.

Mia turned back. “Yes, crewman?”

“I just wanted to say thank you for giving the ship back to the Captain.”

Mia nodded. “It wasn’t up to me, you know.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the crewman said nervously, worried that she had overstepped. It could mean her stripe. “We all think you’re a great skipper. I didn’t mean...”

“Stand easy, my dear,” Mia said. “You’re okay.

“What I meant to say was my posting as your captain has always been temporary. It is a privilege to have been your captain, but Seeker’s real skipper is Captain O’Connell. However, Command had determined I was needed for this emergency. It was important to the Earth, to everyone. I had to be the one to take care of it.”

She giggled a little. “As you see, besides being indispensable, I am also very humble.” Everyone laughed.

Mia sighed. “With your good work, as well as everyone else’s, a crisis was averted. The people of Titan are safe once again. But the emergency continues, and may continue for a while. A more permanent solution was needed. And that’s the reason for the Fleet.

“One good thing that has happened, though, was that your captain has been put back in Seeker’s command seat. The bad thing however, is that you are still stuck with me.”

Everyone laughed again, and the tension and seriousness finally lifted.

The crewman sat up and started asking about the picture of O’Connell that they saw earlier, so Mia explained why she was there outside the hull in open space, what the “crow’s nest” was, what Saturn’s rings were made of, and what was the implication of going through them with just a structural integrity field and no deflectors. She also described what it was like navigating with just eyes and telescopes, and managing to fight the enemy without any tracking aids and without most of their weaponry.

Mia was glad nothing happened to them, otherwise they would have been stuck there, making the Seeker Saturn’s fifty-fourth named satellite, at least for a little while, that is. She brought up the terms “shepherd satellite” and “shepherd moon,” and asked for volunteers to explain the terms. She was glad that many raised their hands.

No one got back to sleep right away that night and listened instead to Mia’s descriptions of their Saturn encounter, some stories that she knew of the aliens, stuff about their home planets, their languages, and anything else the crew could think to ask.

Many of them knew a lot already, and Mia remembered these people from the classes she used to conduct. She apologized that that particular practice had lapsed, but everyone had gotten busy. She said she'd see if the classes could resume again, and let them know as soon as they did.

After more than an hour, she decided to declare lights out and bid them all good night. She closed the wardroom door but, before walking away, she put her ear against it.

She could hear the crew chatting animatedly, and though she couldn’t really make out what they were talking about, she was pleased regardless. She went back to her quarters with a spring in her step.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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