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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 18: Lunar Lunacy II

 

Complications –

Most of the things onboard Seeker seemed to be the same as before. There were a few changes though, most notably that Mia wasn’t standing watches anymore, but it made little difference as she was still on the bridge a lot of the time. Mia was careful though not to give command instructions, and coursed any through the watch command duty officer.

She also commandeered Seeker’s smallest conference room, which happened to be on the deck below her quarters, and just two cabins over.

She had it converted to her new office and had Chief Haskell install command communications facilities. Haskell had also taken the initiative to cut through the two adjacent cabins, and cut through Mia’s own cabin so she’d have direct access to her new office. (The occupants of the now-smaller cabins were moved to more spacious refitted cabins, the old contents of the refitted cabins moved to the now-smaller unusable ones.)

As soon as her new office was ready, Mia moved in, much to the relief of the entire bridge crew, and conducted most of her work from there. The First Ambassador was a frequent visitor, and Nick practically lived there - he found the communications facilities extremely convenient when working.

There were now guards posted at the door of her quarters and office, not really for security, but to control access to her. As a sign of the times, many senior officers preferred having personal security. Mia did not like to have any but she at least acknowledged the need for having a few guards, if just to give her office that much-needed touch of ceremony. But Silverman and Romarkin did insist she at least find an assistant.

Since there was no way around it, she chose Nick since she had him around almost all the time anyway.

Nick accepted the position of Mia’s Aide-de-Camp eagerly - he said it wasn’t too big a change from his current work anyway, and besides, he wasn’t too used to military life, and this would probably be a little better, and closer to what he was used to before being drafted. Mia joked that he probably just liked the gold-and-blue braided aiguillette that he’d get to wear.

Once all of that was set, Mia started developing a routine, and she spent the remaining weeks they still had before arriving on Earth in her office, finishing up some more details before they got near Earth.

Her first meetings in her new office were spent working with Commander Devereaux, Commodore Oshiro and Marta Running-Stream’s people, as they got a handle on the EM Suppression Field technology. It was mostly Phase-Wave videocons but her new office’s comm facilities were great.

In her latest meeting, she found out Commander Devereaux’s people had quickly finished their investigation of the abandoned escort ship and carrier, boosted them into a slow course towards Titan, and had started making their way back to Seeker.

Devereaux’s people had found many key components of the cruiser’s FTL systems were taken out, mostly the large electromagnetic generators of the engines. This rendered her engines inoperable so they'd abandoned it, along with the empty fuel carrier.

As for Titan’s engineers, they found these subsystems retrofitted into the drive of one of the Tiros hulks, and Marta’s people confirmed that their interaction caused the field effect. Marta’s people also concluded that there would be some kind of Cherenkov-like effect, similar to a badly tuned FTL field or maybe like their inertia converters. This might be why they called it the “Curtain of Light,” but they wouldn’t know until they made their own prototype.

Oshiro’s people also found out from the captured Empire personnel that the slap-dash nature of the retrofit was problematic for its Tirosian crew. Microwave radiation burns caused by poorly assembled microwave shields affected a lot of their engineers. One of them died while they were interred because of untreated and unreported burns.

Microwave burns are similar to electrical burns - but they run deeper into tissues than normal thermal or chemical burns. They were simple to treat, actually, but with what they were dealing with at the time, not many of the affected Tirosians were able to get their burns treated even while they suffered more burns. Many died during their journey to Saturn, and a few more died while interred, mostly from infections, fluid loss or nerve damage.

The captured Tirosians readily gave up their secrets and their ships, and Marta’s people were able to quickly replicate the effect on a small scale. They were now in the process of building their own safer and far more compact versions. Marta herself was, in fact, unavailable for the meeting since she was concentrating on creating their own prototype EM suppression generator. There actually very few captured Tirosians, and Mia wondered why.

As for how to protect against the EM suppression field’s effects, they were not successful. For now, there were no known ways of protecting against the EM field.

Mia left it to the PRC people to find out how to combat the field effects. For now, what she needed to work on was weaponry that worked inside the field.

During the Titan encounter, the things that they were able to use were rail guns, rockets and missiles, so she thought using rail guns would be a good idea.

As an older ship, Seeker still had rail guns - a total of eight individual rail guns in fact, each capable of firing projectiles at up to several thousand meters per second, giving each over 4,000 megajoules of energy, or over a kiloton of TNT. Their destructive energy was basically from the projectiles’ kinetic energy, but that could be increased if explosive projectiles were used.

Hermes and Constellation, like all Type-Ones and Type-Twos used more modern weaponry, but they did have at least one rail gun that fired through ten tubes, capable of firing projectiles at velocities that gave each about half the kinetic energy of Seeker’s. The rail guns were used to supplement their energy weapons and missiles - after all, FTL ships had enough power to generate the millions of amps needed, and the guns themselves were small enough and easily manufactured.

The ease with which rail guns could be manufactured made the humans wonder why the aliens didn’t use them, which was confirmed by the alien hulks.

As for Earth fighters, they couldn’t have rail guns - the energy required was just too much for the little spacecraft to produce. It was lucky Titan had several small, mothballed eighty-year-old rail launchers that had independent power, so they were able to equip some of the Shrikes. But, Okonkwo complained, where would they be able to find enough of the outdated mechanisms to outfit all their planes?

As for individual hand weapons, that was easier. Many handguns that used bullets propelled by exploding or expanding gases were still in wide use. There were none on board any of the ships, however, but it would be an easy matter to fabricate similar weapons.

The last item on their daily agenda was the problem of communicating without using radio or Phase-Wave. Except for light and laser communication, the crew of the Seeker found no other ways that worked.

So they decided to look further into laser comms.

Other than that, everything else that they tackled was mostly administrative, and they breezed through those items quickly: Mia hurried those along to keep her staff meetings down to a few hours only, so she could attend to the conferences that were still continuing - the so-called Channels “A,” “B” and “C” meetings.

Before the meeting broke up, though, O’Connell brought up the matter of the “admiral’s barge” as their last housekeeping item.

The term “admiral’s barge” was taken from the old 20th-century maritime term for the flag officer’s personal boat that he’d use to get ashore, or move from ship to ship. It would have been a “captain’s gig,” but since it was for Mia, and since the Seeker was the flag carrier of the fleet, naturally, they’d have an “admiral’s barge.”

And that’s what she called the Mud Turtle that Mia had asked to be refitted for her use when she needed to get around. Since the Fifth Fleet would be traveling between systems most of the time, it wasn’t unreasonable that they’d need a ship’s boat dedicated for officers to move around, hence the “admiral’s barge.”

O’Connell flashed a picture on their screens.

The Barge was a Mud Turtle, like O’Connell said, but it was re-done so that it now sported a radome on its roof, round Crystalline ports at the corners for laser comms, extra ports on the sides that she explained were mini-rail gun tubes, and a couple of round, stubby wings. They weren’t wings, actually, but the housing for maneuvering flywheels.

The ship also had a new paint job. It now sported a darker gray color than the normal gunmetal gray of Seeker’s shuttles and Shrike fighters, and had a narrow red trim running around its hull. The red trim wasn’t just for aesthetic purposes – it actually hid the piping for a spruced-up, reinforced Structural Integrity Field, or SIF.

On its port and starboard hulls near the bow, it sported two admiral’s sunbursts, and beside the painted sunbursts the words “01, Galileo – DSC Seeker.” The hull towards the stern had miniatures of the U.N. Flag, and the rear boarding hatch had the words “EDF FIFTH FLEET – DSC 05 SEEKER, FLAG.”

“We have never had captain’s gigs and admiral’s barges on any Earth spaceship. The only one that has something like that is Earthship Two. So my people had to do some research. These are authentic colors and livery for a barge.

“Anyway, the Galileo is ready to go. And the reason I’m showing her to you is that you might want to look her over – the modifications may be useful, and you might want to retrofit the other ships in the same way.”

“The Galileo,” Dupont mused. “Where did you get the name, Capitaine O’Connell?”

“It was suggested by the Admiral’s Aide-de-Camp. He says it’s from an old twentieth century television show. Also the name of an old Renaissance scientist.”

“I like it.”

Mia grinned. “Thank you, sir.”

-----

Though the tech briefings on Channel “A” continued, the pace of the briefings had significantly slowed down. There was still a lot to learn from each other, but most everyone had suggested to end the briefings after a few days. The whiz-bang nature of the talks had petered out, and the researchers wanted to work on other things. So the briefings were discontinued.

To substitute for the briefings, the people from CETI transmitted to the aliens several translated encyclopedias. They explained these were actually just books that everyone could buy. They just translated them. Together with the documents Mia gave before, they suspected the aliens would take at least a few months getting through the books.

What the CETI people didn’t tell them, of course, was that these were the original references made by the researchers responsible for the original transmission sent to the Federation. Those researchers had combed through the material beforehand, of course, removing any sections or references that Mia (when she was still Bill) wanted to keep secret: like things about Phase-Wave, spacecraft numbers and details, weaponry, population distribution, et cetera. The CETI people had been working on these since the original transmission was sent, and by now, they were so sanitized that they held no strategic value for the aliens whatsoever. They never did transmit them, and Jenn thought this was the opportune time to send them.

The Elyrans and Dixx accepted them gratefully, and reciprocated by transmitting their own version of an encyclopedia as well. These were so much better than the first books they gave, and Jenn and her staff were glad to receive them. What was more, they were also given Dixx as well as Elyran technical references on various subjects, allowing Jenn and her people to cross check/cross-reference them with each other.

To reciprocate, Sahsha sent some other stuff - she sent copies of some fashion and entertainment magazines.

There were a few magazines still publishing regular printed issues and Sahsha thought it might help the aliens understand them better if they could get copies. Jennifer approved it so they did quick scans and translations and sent them off.

Ren and many of his friends in Talon were quite excited about the magazines, and they pored over the pictures and articles, amazed at the Earthers’ ideas on fashion and entertainment. It seems an interest in celebrity gossip was something common to both races.

To Ben and his friends, Earther fashions seemed quite suggestive and risqué, and sometimes they found them scandalous. But they were professionals and made allowances. There was no accounting for taste, especially for aliens. But one thing they agreed on: they learned a new Earther word, and that word was “sexy.” Earther fashions were sexy.

They wanted to reciprocate, and Ben, the Prince’s closest friend on board, went though the entire science staff and scanned copies of their magazine “collections.”

Most publications on Elyra were still print-only so Ben had to scan them first, but that wasn’t a problem, and he was able to transmit them in short order.

Sahsha was excited to receive the magazines, and could hardly wait. And when she received them, she was over the moon, and started poring over them as soon as the computer spit them out. She took half a day, and she was like a little girl looking through an old-fashioned fairy tale pop-up book. To Sahsha, Elyran styles looked very similar to seventeenth century French court fashion, and in her mind, she imagined herself dressing like Cinderella or something, walking the halls of the castles of Elyra Prime.

She even went through the trouble of tuning in to the conferences and thanking Ben personally.

Mia, as did most that were there, listened in on their conversation, and she couldn’t help but smile. It was like listening to two giggly adolescents excited by the idea of a shopping trip to a mall on Earth (she wondered if Elyra had malls). She could easily imagine these two becoming best friends. Maybe she could bring them on a shopping trip to the New Mall of America in Minnesota or the New Mall of Asia in Manila. Goodness knows she owed Sahsha at least one shopping trip from when she was still Bill.

She whispered to Nick, to make a note to ask the Secretary-General to make Sahsha a permanent member of the contact team, and to replace her translator device with a smaller, more portable version. Her rapport with Ben could be very useful, and they definitely needed someone who was a good documenter.

-----

On Channel “B,” the newly reformatted channel “B” briefings had now morphed into what amounted to a social science and history class. Prince Ren, his assistant Ben, their staff, and Professor Priestly now jointly managed it. Their efforts were supplemented by Jaxx, a Dixx scientist from Admiral Daxx’s staff, Cale, the Dravidian from the Keeper’s staff that they first met during their encounter with the Keeper of the Heritage, plus two silent Erocii, also from the Keeper’s staff, that seemed to be there to assist Cale.

The attendees were usually the science staff of Fifth Fleet, Earther and Federation alike (Daxx and Reena assumed they were part of the Fifth Fleet, and Mia went along), plus a large contingent from CETI and many from the Earther universities.

Cale did a masterful job, and his portion was by far the most visually interesting. His presentation was thorough, and the graphics and illustrations his Erocii assistants put up gave everyone a lot of information, which covered Dravidian and Erocii history and culture, as well as a Dravidian’s take on the various major races in the Federation (the portions on the Dravidians and Erocii were particularly detailed, of course).

For the First Ambassador’s people, they did it together - four of them did the lecture in what an Earther would have said was a combination lecture and pantomime. The information was not as rich in reference material since everyone knew the Arachnians had lost everything, but they did their best, with the able assistance of Nick as friendly translator/go-between, and all of the resources of Seeker at their disposal. It was surprisingly entertaining yet informative. The Arachnians were puzzled by what they were told was a “standing ovation” until the First Ambassador explained. So, under the First Ambassador’s direction, they did a respectable version of a curtain call bow.

It was, in fact, very entertaining, and Jennifer was happy they did it that way. Any xenophobic feelings that people may have had were surely washed away by the humorous drama-sketches that they performed, with Nick as their straight man.

As for the Elyrans, during Ren’s lecture, he included a blackboard and pointer in his lecture, although he didn’t use the traditional Earth-style green board and white chalk. What he used looked like a yellowish papyrus or some kind of woven straw mat tacked to a board, and what looked like charcoal sticks. He behaved like the absent-minded professor that Earther schoolchildren would instantly recognize. His part, Jennifer thought, was the most popular, especially among Earther females. He and his assistant Ben were extremely cute, after all.

Not to be outdone, during her part, Jennifer did the whole schoolteacher shtick as well. She couldn’t find a blackboard or chalkboard so she used a standard Crystalline display board and several UV markers. She finished it off with the stereotype teacher look - a long ruler in her hand, eyeglasses on a chain, long-sleeved white blouse, pencil skirt, tights and black pumps.

Jennifer made sure, though, to keep the top buttons of her blouse unbuttoned. She also picked her favorite patent-leather high heels and one of her shortest short skirts. She wanted to play up to her Elyran audience, too, after all. The Earthers laughed when Jennifer did the stereotype stern schoolteacher look, but she was sure she had as big an effect with the Elyran males as Ren did with the Earther women.

Mia took a little time to explain to the non-Earthers the cultural references for Jennifer’s outfit, and they seemed to understand. Ren explained that they had a similar male archetype in modern Elyran culture.

“Young Miss Amelia!” Jennifer mock-exclaimed, and slapped her ruler in her hand several times. “What do you think you’re doing? Stop chatting with your classmates! Back in your seat!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Mia said contritely, playing along. She scurried back to her seat, and everyone laughed.

Needless to say, Jennifer’s lecture was the most popular among the Elyrans.

-----

Upon Jennifer’s recommendation, Secretary-General Romarkin had shared recordings of the raw, unretouched recordings to all the legitimate news agencies with an audio translation channel and a subtitle channel built in. There was, however, a thirty-minute delay before they sent it off so that CETI had time to cut out any security-sensitive material. The breaks caused by the deleted spots were quite irritating, actually, so most of the networks took the raw feeds and edited them, adding appropriate commentary and commentators, music and other things to give them more glamour and pizazz. They also re-transmitted them at more convenient viewing hours, and in more palatable, re-cut and rearranged fifteen-minute chunks. This also gave them a chance to sneak in their commercials in between. Ren and the others watched the edited versions of their “history classes” and were bowled over by the quality of the shows. Ben giggled and said he was a “video star” now.

The “classes” became the most popular transmissions on the Solar Network at the time. The entire human population was very curious about the aliens, and any material about them was gobbled up. But, more than that, these transmissions were the most popular ones since people had a chance to see the aliens live. They were especially popular among the younger viewers - they thought the Elyrans very attractive, especially Ren with the girls, and their accents were thought of as very cute (most preferred watching the videos subtitled instead of dubbed).

Some of Jennifer Priestly’s people were worried about xenophobia, and they thought broadcasting the classes was a risk, but they were relieved when there were very few signs of this, as Jenn predicted there would be. She attributed the people’s acceptance to the Seeker staff’s friendly, casual and cordial relationship with the aliens, especially Mia, which was so obvious in the class. If a beautiful, intelligent, glamorous person like Mia could be close friends with what superficially looked like a large orange-and-white spider, they couldn’t be all bad. There were even rumors that Mia and the First Ambassador had actually become close friends. Plus, the Elyrans were cute, the Erocii were like large, colorful ladybugs, Cale the Dravidian looked like a big, cheerful bear and the Dixx looked like tall, regal birds with bright feathers.

Jennifer was actually a little worried about the reverse. Xenophilia wasn’t really something she prepared for, but there were lots of signs, especially for the Elyrans. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, some may even say it was a good thing. But any good sociologist (and Jenn was the best) knew that this could be as bad as a xenophobic wave. Images of the cults and fanatics of Earth’s past were in her mind, and those were not good.

But that was probably not going to happen. “Guess we’ll see,” Jenn thought.

-----

As for Channel “C,” the closed-door meetings were ably managed by Secretary-General Romarkin (when she was available, which was seldom), Sahsha Delyer, and Admiral Daxx herself.

The discussions were fairly well along already, so the meetings usually lasted only for an hour or so nowadays. That was because the work they did lately was mostly to review and refine the wording of the treaties and other documents they had been working on. The documents were all mostly done, and they just needed to be finessed and approved. Their days were now spent mostly going over suggestions and modifications requested by various interest groups or certain Earth politicos.

The advantage the humans had over the aliens was that when a decision had to be made, the humans authorized to make decisions were available to them, and therefore the decisions were fairly easily made. As for the Federation envoys, they were only empowered to approve certain things, and they were already at their limit. They had to disapprove most of the new changes pending comment by their people back home.

They were also working on another document, something they were calling the proposed “Terran-Federation Treaty,” or what Marc Bidwell called their “wish list.” It was their working draft of the treaty they would propose in case Terran membership to the Federation would be approved, patterned after the existing treaties currently enforced in the Galactic Federation, and predicated on best-case scenarios and the things the Earthers wanted: favorable trade positions, for example, right-of-way in trade routes, trade priorities, equitable mutual defense agreements, fair settlement rights and so many others. They had been heavily modifying this document using input from the First Ambassador, the Prince and Princess, and Admiral Daxx, about what they felt the other races in the Federation would or would not agree to. It was fortunate that the Arachnians were advising them - it was a common view in the Federation that Arachnians got the worst treatment from most. Not that there was anything remotely like overt oppression or discrimination among the races, but it was indisputable that the Arachnians had come out of most trade negotiations or arbitrations on the losing side. Things were improving for the Arachnians, however, as they were starting to become adept at how to deal with individualists instead of “team players,” as Earthers would say. Romarkin and her people were reaping the benefits of all of their hard-earned lessons. The resulting document was one they felt would find easy approval by the Federation yet stack the cards in favor of the Earthers, and to a significant extent, the Elyrans, Arachnians and Dixx.

During the frequent lulls in the discussion, when one or the other person needed to concentrate on reading a newly edited section, the others would chat about the Isles of Scilly. The aliens were excited to see their new home on Earth, and were bowled over to find out that they were part of a duchy of the Lady Amelia, which she was “allowing” them to use. And when she was free, they would usually ask Mia to dial in and talk about them.

Mia dreaded it when the Elyrans, Arachnians and Dixx wanted to talk about the islands, but she did her best to be a credit to the Secretary-General, and to help forward her scheme: she had dutifully researched the Isles of Scilly, which she was informed was her duchy now. How could she take this seriously, she thought. And with a name like Scilly... It didn’t really matter that the islands were supposedly hers - since they were mostly deserted, especially after the Third World War. There really was no real difference to anyone whether they were Mia’s or not.

There were still, however, several hundred hardy individuals who made the islands their home while they managed them for the British government and performed patrol, erosion prevention, agricultural recovery and weather monitoring work, as well as managing the next-to-nonexistent tourist facilities.

These hardy civil servants were surprised to find out just days ago that the isles they'd been living and working in was actually Mia's duchy. They were not too suspicious, though, and did not question this - many records were lost in the war so reconstructing records and returning property held in trust by the government to their rightful owners happened from time to time. They weren’t as surprised as Mia was, of course, but she didn’t contradict the British government.

The people living in and working on the islands were all given options to accept new government positions on the mainland or to be part of the soon-to-be embassy compound. Most jumped at the chance to stay, of course.

Admiral Silverman also had his people deploy personnel from the Seabees – the Navy Engineering Corps - to the islands, and started doing what was necessary to prepare them for occupancy, and to train the would-be embassy staff. They dutifully sent reports to Mia, and she dutifully committed them to memory.

In meetings, Mia would tell the aliens that they were mostly occupied by government personnel posted there to manage them. None were native to the islands since they were abandoned during the war, but all of their new residents were very fond of the place.

The global government had started preparing the islands, she said, clearing land and putting up temporary structures for their new guests.

She explained that the weather was mostly mild throughout the year, except when there were storms or in winter of course, and the Elyrans seemed excited as they listened to her.

Ren was curious about how Mia became their duchess, so Mia went into the song and dance that she had worked out with Romarkin’s people.

“Well, Your Highness, I am not completely sure, actually,” she said. “Many records were lost in the war, and families lost touch with each other. All I know is that the islands have been passed on to me because an ancestor on my mother’s side was a duke, and I inherited the title and property. Truth be told, I haven’t been to the islands in a while,” (“try never,” she thought) “but I know how beautiful they are, and I am sure that you will enjoy your stay.”

She then showed them pictures of the islands, most particularly St. Mary’s, which she claimed was her ancestral home (she actually got the pictures from the Cornwall Tourist Board), and talked about the features of St. Mary’s and the other islands, taking most of her material from the tourist brochures she was given.

To Ren and Tasha, her explanations were all proof positive of Mia’s credentials, and they treated her from then on as a royal peer. Taking the lead from them, the rest of the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians all referred to her as “Lady Amelia” from then on, or “My Lady” or “Lord Captain.”

Mia sighed. With everything that was happening, she now had to endure this as well. And she knew her people would start doing the same. She sighed again. Complications... Life really was full of complications...

 

Innovations –

Over the coming days, Mia’s people would make headway in developing EM suppression-proof equipment, and they did their best to push innovation to the edge.

The teams did the easiest things first. In order to provide their people with communications, even if comparatively short-range, they retooled the helmets and armored headpieces of all their people and, using off-the-shelf components, put sixteen laser emitters and detectors in a silvered ring. The idea was, when the laser system was engaged, it would fire invisible, harmless message-encoded laser beams in a global pattern (they confirmed with the PRC people that the frequency of light they used was not affected by the EM suppression field). When a beam hit a detector on another helmet, that other helmet would re-transmit the message as well as transmit its wearer’s own message beams. In this way, the wearers would create their own real-time laser-based communication relay network. The user could even switch “channels,” and listen to specific people since everyone had their own encoding, or listen to everyone at the same time.

They also replicated the same concept onboard the three ships, their fighters and their shuttles, and if they received any of the encoded messages from the suits or the other ships, they’d act as repeaters as well.

One of the big things with laser communication was that the parties needed to be precisely lined up and targeted. Not with this new system. The two main limitations with their system however were that their communications could easily be intercepted and they had to have a minimum number of people to create a network and relay messages. But this shortcoming was thought a small trade-off to not having any communications at all.

The next thing that they tackled was the individual sidearms for the crew.

When Mia asked what they had come up with, she was presented with two tubes - one of them six inches long and the other about a foot and a half long.

They were based on an idea someone from Hermes had. Essentially, they were blowguns powered by super-pressured gas cartridges, allowing precisely machined metallic slugs to be propelled at around two hundred meters per second. In the prototype, there was gas enough in each cartridge to fire up to two dozen rounds, and it was a simple matter to swap out a cartridge for a fresh one, with a protective valve that allowed it to operate in vacuum.

The tubes were to be mounted to their existing weapons, and would be fired by the same trigger. They also intended to mount a low-powered laser sight so all they need do was to shine the laser’s red dot on their target and fire, and they’d hit it every time (the frequency tuned to a filter in the soldier’s visor, so she would be the only one to see her gun’s laser dot). It was an old-fashioned twenty-first century innovation, but one that had the virtue of working long-distance yet remaining impervious to the EM effect.

Mia wondered that, if lasers worked, why not make laser ray guns (Nick snickered at the term). The Hermes’ chief engineer explained that any beam with sufficient power to be used as an offensive weapon would just break down.

The more difficult item was the last one they tackled - equipping their small ships with rail guns.

The first thing Beth’s people did was to break down one of the twenty antique rail launchers that the people from Titan had installed in the Shrikes. The gun itself was easy to fabricate but their problem, as before, was the power supply. They couldn’t figure out how the old launchers were able to store the necessary power to make them work. They seemed to be made from regular components, but no one could figure out the trick. That is until they cracked open one of the enormous, ancient battery cells.

Each cell had a wire made of some alloy that wasn’t used much anymore due to their brittleness in vacuum. They were wound around and through an armature made from a powdery substance compacted into a cylinder in a kind of crisscross pattern no one recognized.

Through experimentation, they found the cell was actually a capacitor, able to hold an enormous charge but only for a short period, which could only discharge it all in one go, and if not discharged in, at most, a minute, was liable to explode. Used as a battery, it was a failure. That was probably why the technology wasn’t used anymore and why there were no references about it available.

But for a device requiring a gigantic jolt of power, it came ready-to-order, provided, of course, one could generate the minimum power it required at the start. The capacitor that they cracked open for example, could only hold charges two hundred thousand amps up, but no less.

Another catch was it would take a second or so for it to charge enough to fire a round, even with a Shrike’s or an Eagle’s semi-FTL engine. The rail gun’s rate of fire would therefore be around thirty to forty rounds per minute, at best.

Mia’s people were able to scrounge up enough of the compounds they needed to make batteries for just a few of their ships, but at least now they knew how to do it. When they were docked, they were sure they would be able to requisition enough raw materials.

-----

Mia also had other meetings to help her decide on the rest of her fleet. She originally thought of requisitioning four more Class J cruisers and converting them to Class J-Ones just like Seeker, but apparently, there were no others. The last one was actually in the middle of being dismantled and recycled for its metal. Seeker was, unfortunately, the last of her kind.

Mia called up Marta Running-Stream for advice, but Marta said the other Legacy ship types were too much trouble to convert, so she advised Mia to just select from the Type-Ones.

That reminded her about Hermes and Constellation. She checked on their required upgrades, but Marta said it was a fairly straightforward upgrade.

Type-Ones didn’t differ much from Type-Twos - they were basically the same design, except that Type-Ones had the larger FTL engines meant for light-year velocities, and were outfitted with fewer Eagle Fighters and less Cobra shuttles. In fact, she said they already had the Type-One engines for Mia’s ships ready, and were just waiting for them to arrive. Once they did, Marta’s people could swap the engines out in a few days.

As for the new crew makeup, Mia wanted to get as many social scientists and CETI specialists as she can get, but that might not be possible. Still, though Phil didn’t want to give up any of his staff, Mia felt she might be able to sweet-talk Jenn into giving up some of hers.

-----

Mia also spent a lot of time tuned in to Channel “B” and was fascinated by the material being discussed. It was a good idea that the briefings were reformatted. As for Channel “C,” after a few days, they had officially declared their work completed. They were only waiting for the Earthers’ referendum to ratify the treaty now. To cap their work, Mia turned over a prototype Terran-Elyran translator to the First Ambassador - one of many that the Earthers planned to use for the duration of the stay of their visitors on Earth. It was intended that the Arachnians test it out prior to their arrival.

The First Ambassador eagerly accepted the “duty” to test-drive the prototype, and Ren just had to giggle at his excitement.

On Channel “B,” the lectures went well. The last one to lecture was Jennifer. She took two whole days to lecture about the Earthers, and there were a lot of questions during and afterwards.

The lectures that the Elyrans gave also provided the Earthers with a lot of info, as did those of the Dixx, the Dravidian and the Arachnians. For example, they found that with the Elyrans, as with the Detterex, tradition and honor were important drivers for their lives. As for the Dixx, obedience to authority, and how well they were able to do so gave them their sense of fulfillment. For Dravidians, personal success was important, as was following rules. The highest honor was achieved by attaining the highest personal success yet still following the rules. As for the Arachnians and Erocii, to be part of a clan or family gave them their fulfillment, but the Erocii found the need to establish their own dynasties instead of just being part of one an equally important drive. As for the Tirosians, it was a common view in the Federation that they were cunning and ruthless, willing to do anything to get their way, but only committed to engage an enemy if they had the advantage.

The aliens didn’t see it, but the new information gave Earth strategists insights on how to manage them. Jenn said that the advantage of the human psyche, at least in this particular situation, was its multifacetedness. Compared to the Federation races, humans were unusually neurotic. But that was because humans were a lot less single-minded, which allowed them to second-guess the aliens, even to the extent of anticipating their actions.

Jenn thought, given a few thousand millennia, humans would probably be the same as the Federation - set in their ways and less willing to consider new methods of doing things. But as of this moment, the “Earthers” were the provincials that didn’t know table manners but were also the ones that weren’t mired yet in Federation cultural narrow-mindedness, allowing them to explore ideas and concepts that would not have even occurred to the aliens. Time would tell if Jenn was right.

For now, everyone was feeling good about the progress they were making, but the pessimist in Mia thought it couldn’t last. Unfortunately, she was correct.

Several days before planetfall, a full fifteen days before the earliest expected arrival of the Empire ships, they received a message. It seemed radio signals all across the board had disappeared.

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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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