Walking up to the bridge at the beginning of my shift gave me a strange feeling. I had been inside once, moving through it on the way to the captain’s private briefing room, but back then, I had hardly been in the frame of mind to take a good look around. I knew some of the cadets working on the bridge and I knew the voices of the tactical officers who had directed Carmine-Squadron during our missions outside, in the void, but now, I was supposed to move into their space and get oriented, whatever that would mean.
To gain entry, I needed to state my name for the computer and place my hand on a nearby sensor-pad which allowed the Merathron’s computer to read a plethora of biometric signs from me. Those biometric indicators and my voice-print were then compared to the database, a process that only took a few scant milliseconds and allowed the computer to decide that not only did the hand on the sensor belong to Cadet Horn but also that Cadet Horn was allowed on the bridge. If either of those hadn’t been true, I would have been in trouble, the depth of which depended on which indicator came back false.
Trying to gain entry into a critical area without being authorised could, at worst, get you executed for espionage and impersonating a military officer didn’t carry much less of a penalty. But luckily, the computer was convinced I was who I claimed to be and allowed me to enter.
Inside, I stopped for a second, looking around, trying to see where I was supposed to go when an officer approached. Reading her rank-insignia while I turned to salute identified her as a Commander Rianu, the Merathorn’s first officer, Captain Burris’ right hand. The one who took his place when he was asleep or otherwise incapacitated.
“Cadet Horn?” she asked, more pro-forma than anything else. There simply was no other female Starfighter Cadet on the Merathorn, and even if there was, they wouldn’t be on the bridge.
“Yes, Ma’am.” I responded dutifully, still holding my salute.
“At ease. Commodore Ryker asked us to give you an orientation and shift your duty-station to the bridge for the rest of your detached service because we are lacking a Starfighter, to no fault of your own, I am assured.” listening to her, I was reasonably certain that she was testing me. There was no way the first officer didn’t know what had happened to their Starfighter-Squadron only two a days earlier. Remembering the old adage about keeping your mouth shut and looking the fool instead of opening it and removing all doubt, I simply repeated myself.“Yes, Ma’am.”
She let me stand there for a moment, before gesturing me to move to a particular station.
“I’ve looked at your files from the academy, you seem to have some ability in Hyperspace-Navigation, so, if there is a call to general quarters during your off-shift, you will join Lieutenant Nural at his duty-station. I will leave the two of you to your introduction.” after another salute from Lieutenant Nural and myself, she left me there and walked into the office next to the bridge, probably dealing with paperwork.
“Greetings, Cadet Horn.” Lieutenant Nural greeted me and told me to sit at the station next to his.
“As you are coming from Starfighter-Command, I’ll explain general bridge-duty to you. The most important rule is that, unless you need to communicate something, you are to be quiet, especially during combat. Quick, concise communication is vital for the survival of the ship and chatter risks that. Normally, we would have completed your orientation near a fleet-station, where the ship is secure but doing it in hyperspace is almost as good.” he explained, speaking slowly, and, at least in my perception, quite arrogantly. He had a point but it was an obvious one, what did he think I was going to do, start a conga-line if we ever got into a battle? Maybe some music? Or hysterical screaming? But, given there was nothing I could do, I let it go, pushing my annoyance deep down in my mind, storing it for later.
For the next twenty minutes, I was instructed how to use the navigation-console I was stationed at, not that there was even the sliver of a chance that I would be able to use that knowledge, or that it was complex. The computer did most of the work, the only challenge was the clunky operating-system that made me yearn for the efficient way I could operate my Starfighter. Not that the system there was perfect but after almost four years of working with it, I had the routines and tricks down, pat. I doubted that I would ever get the experience necessary to work with the navigation-system of a Independance-type cruiser, which the Merathorn was.
Luckily, other than the difference in operating-system, the actual calculations were nearly identical to the ones I had learned for the use in Starfighters, which was to be expected, the underlying physics were the same after all. Well, maybe not so lucky, at the end of the day, I had been placed at the hyperspace-navigation console for a reason, most likely because it was the one I could use the most of my previous training. If I had been placed at one of the other stations, I would have needed a lot more than just twenty minutes of orientation to get even the vaguest idea of their operation.
Another thing I noticed during those twenty minutes was that the Lieutenant was the only one speaking on the bridge, the only other noise in the room being the soft breathing of other crew-members and an almost imperceptible hum of electronics. It made me yearn for the Starfighter-hangar and the camaraderie I had experienced with Carmine-Squadron.
Finally, the torture ended and I was dismissed and told that, if general quarters were sounded during my off-shift, I was expected to report to the bridge. Joy, oh joy, what better place to be during a space-battle than the bridge with its graveyard-atmosphere.
Once I was out of the bridge, I quickly made my way to flight-country, hoping to get some good runs in after the previous waste of time. Sadly, when I got there, Groups 3 and 4 were already in the simulators, flying against some foe or the other. Maybe even trying the Thermopylae-scenario again, there had been a few people who had aspirations to see just how far the designers of that scenario had gone. If, maybe fifteen minutes in, a Tellurian patrol appeared and another fifteen minutes later a complete battlegroup, what would happen after forty-five minutes or an hour? It was a morbid curiosity what insanity the programmers had included, for those who somehow managed to survive the battle to that point.
As I stood there, wondering for a moment what I should do, one of the maintenance-technicians approach me, quickly passing a message on. I should have expected that Commodore Ryker hadn’t just forgotten about me, the message said I was supposed to strap into the simulator and run a specific number. Nothing else, but it was enough.
Curious what the Commodore had cooked up for me, I quickly followed my orders, as any good officer should and logged into the simulator, picking the scenario he had prepared for me. What I found was not quite what I had expected, instead of the cockpit of a Raptor, I was greeted by the cockpit, or bridge, depending on your usage, of a Stingray-frigate, the simulator telling me that I was hurtling through hyperspace.
At least for the next ten seconds I was in hyperspace, giving me just enough time to orient myself, make sure that the various information-feeds worked and then, I was dropping out of hyperspace, emerging in a wonderful scenario that could only have been cooked up by the Commodore.
Near my emergence-point, the frigate was getting a plethora of signals, some of them from the normal scanners, others from the friend-foe receivers and finally, there was a distress-call going over the Federation emergency-frequencies.
Without clear orders, I followed standard-procedure, listen to the emergency transmission first. Once I had done that, and learned that the Commodore had a seriously evil streak, I was setting course towards the simulated Merathorn, trying to get a better picture of the situation. What the frigate-sensors told me didn’t fill me with joy, sure, there was a group of Federation-starfighters swarming around the Merathorn, protecting her, but at the same time, there were quite a few other signals, some of them looking suspiciously like Tellurian Starfighters but I was still too far away to tell. But I was getting closer, quickly.
Moments later, my communication-unit lit up and I was told to identify myself by the Merathorn. I needed a moment to find the name programmed for the frigate, having to stop myself from laughter when I did.
“This is FSN Horned Rabbit, we have heard your distress-call and are on route to reinforce you.” I said, managing to get it out without giggling, but it was a close call.