I woke up slightly bruised and a still a bit exhausted. Like it should be after a fun night. Tim was already gone, he did have the curtesy to untie me. Didn't have to tell him twice.
After a quick shower I set out for some breakfast before the scheduled meeting that should get this mission started.
After acquiring some cereal I checked the coffee. It was a bit improved and stronger, definitely going in the right direction. Checking my PDA for the time I quickly inhaled my cereal and made a run for it.
Quickly descending the ladder to the command deck housing the bridge, the captain's cabin and a conference room, among other things, I headed straight for the conference room.
It was almost packed to capacity with 8 people already present. I took one of the free chairs noting the empty one at the front of the conference table where the captain was still missing. I glanced around, noticing some familiar faces, like LTs. Smike and Sunblast, but mostly strangers.
Counting myself, five people were dressed in the ships overalls, the others were wearing civilian clothes. To my surprise and delight Sarah was sitting next to an older man, likely one of the researchers.
We made eye contact but had not much time for anything else as the door was closed shut by a small and energetic woman of middle age carrying a large pad. She was also dressed with an overall, proudly displaying the ships name on the back. She crossed the room and came to a stop at the head of the table behind the empty chair.
"Good morning ladies and gentleman. My name is Emilia Wong, I have the privilege and hopefully the pleasure of being your Captain for the foreseeable future."
With that she was finally taking a seat, placing her pad in front of her.
"You all have signed a non-disclosure-agreement, so I don't have to remind you to keep things to yourself."
Confirming nods from the people around the table encouraged her to continue.
"To make things short: We are to visit planets and evaluate their potential for colonization. Long range scans are hinting on a couple of likely candidates, but we'll be mostly on our own out there. That'll be when Dr. Schmitz will come into play."
The older man nodded.
"For this mission we took on a science-crew. They'll be housed in cargo bay 3. The bay has been converted into a combination of lab and living quarters. The latest report shows that the upgraded live-support systems are online and working?"
LT. Smyke nodded.
"Yes Captain, the science bay is good to go as are all other systems. We have a slight variance in the deflector assembly that I was hoping to address after this meeting."
He glanced in my direction.
"If you could lend a hand, ensign? I'd appreciate it."
"Of course." I managed to answer without any delay.
"Our operations plan calls for us to leave as soon as we're ready, ECS wants us to leave within 48 hours. Any objections?"
The Captain looked around the table, inviting any challenges. Sunblast answered:
"We should be pretty much good to go. All the equipment is stored, the hydroponic units are set up. All small craft are secured. As soon as the science-crew is settled in, we should be good."
"Dr., how is the science-crew?" Nervously Dr. Schmitz answered.
"Ah, yes. We're short one exobiologist, he should arrive within the hour. The lab is functional, all storage units are good to go. We should not have any problems to leave in the next day or two."
As there were no one else seemed to raise any concerns, I raised mine.
"What about the course?"
"Excellent Question. Let me show you."
Pushing some buttons on her pad the Captain dimmed the lights and a star chart lid up on the monitor behind her.
"As you can see we are here."
The chart zoomed in on Earths surrounding, highlighting Alpha-Centauri and Vega in the vicinity and Vulcan quite some lightyears away. Some more input zoomed out quite a bit, Earth-territory was only a small blue dot.
"This is our destination." A small cluster of stars was highlighted with a green circle.
"Cluster 4A17, also knwon as Tartarus. Dr. Schmitz would you care for an explanation?"
The screen zoomed in on the cluster, highlighting several of the stars. The screen spilt, scrolling data on the right side, stars on the left.
"Cluster 4A17, contains about 50 Stars from a wide variety. The detailed make up is very interesting and has been provided to you to study later. Our long-range sensors indicated that about 20 of these stars have planets in the habitable zone, that would mean about 20-40 planets that can possibly support human live!"
There was quite some silence after that.
"What about indigenous live?"
"Are any of them already inhabited or even colonized?"
Several people asked, beating me a fraction of a second.
"We don't know yet. There have been no traces of subspace communication or traces of warp-travel in the region as we can detect. Problem with that is the distance. At more than 50 LYs, Sensors can only tell us that much. That's why we have to take a look."
"What about the Vulcans, they don't lay any claim to planets there?" I managed to ask.
"Not as far as we know. They don't travel very far from their home system and they usually don't colonize far out either. Very much unlike us." I interjected.
"Could you please zoom out and show the corridor that we'll travel?"
Focusing on the monitor only very few stars come up.
"Ok, that might be one reason that cluster does not get much attention." Noticing some blank and some carefully neutral faces I continued.
"There is not much between the cluster and known space. According to this data only one probably inhabitable planet – and that is on the low percentage for it." A lone star was highlighted.
"Add to that the distances involved it makes it quite remote and out of the way." Some people exchanged glances. The Captain spoke up first.
"That is exactly what we thought. That lone star is our first and hopefully only stop. So I'd like you to plot a course after you're done with the deflector. I'd like to get going as soon as we're ready. I'm sure you all have a lot more questions, it might be best if you'd study all the mission data first, so for now I'd like to conclude this meeting. Unless anyone has some concerns regarding departure?"
All shook their heads no, so the Captain stood and turned off the monitor.
"Thank you for your time. We'll meet again this afternoon to finalize our departure schedule."
With that she left the room. People started chatting in small groups. I noticed Lt. Sunblast approaching.
"Ensign, let's get to the Deflector."
I nodded confirmation and followed him out of the room. I manage a quick wink at Sarah, then it was off to the Deflector. We passed three identical passages of the basically empty spine before we stopped in front of an armored bulkhead, identical to the last ones. If not for the markings spelling "Deflector" in capital letters it would be very easy to get lost.
"What is in these cargo holds?" I asked, feeling the need for some conversation.
"They're empty for now. They're designated for stuff to bring back to earth in case we – the science staff that is – find something interesting." a distracted Sunblast answered, just now looking up from the pad he was carrying."
He opened the bulkhead, sealing it behind us while opening another one. After passing the airlock we finally entered the Deflector assembly.
"Normally this would be an integrated part of the ship, but here we have a very different approach."
I nodded, the whole compartment could be detached and another segment of the spine could be added, thus changing the characteristics of the whole ship.
"It must be a lot more flexible as the warp-geometry can change between flights." I answered.
"Yes, it took us 3 days to calibrate it for this configuration and we're good to go now. But there's still a slight phase-variance we can't seem to check out. It should not be any problem, but I could use a fresh set of eyes." He explained, handing me a scanner.
"Ok, let's get to it."
I analyzed the scanner-output, yes there was a slight phase-variance.
"Have you monitored this at warp?"
"Yes, it is stable up to Warp 4.5, so it should be fine." No big deal then, unless.
"Have you checked to polarization of the main dish?"
"That was the first thing we checked, turned out fine. Wouldn't hurt to recheck, I tried pretty much everything else."
With that we got to work. The Deflector compartment was pretty cramped but comfortable. During Operation at high Warp this place would be getting pretty warm, as it was the only thing between the ship and a huge amount of cosmic radiation colliding with the ship at high speed. A large amount of energy was used to keeping it that way.
After crawling around in the innards of the generator on our backs for three hours we were down to manually checking the connection cables for the feedback control.
"I found it!" Sunblast yelled excitingly, startling me so my forehead met a poorly placed piece of comfortingly stable metal.
"Ouch!" that really hurt!
"Are you ok?" he asked concerned.
"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."
"Don't worry, I'm fine. What did you find?"
After carefully crawling out of the generator backwards I found him sitting on the deck holding an optical cable with a huge grin!
"Bad cable. Looks like this somehow passed Quality Control but did sport a slight variance. It's gone now!"
I wiped my brow only to find some blood.
"You should get that checked out, looks nasty."
"My pride is hurt a lot more, don't worry."
"Thanks for the help, I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome, it's not like I helped a lot."
"That's where you're wrong. You performed a manual diagnostic for three hours. That allowed me to find this one. Could not have done this alone." He smiled at me.
"Get to sickbay, I'll finish this up here. Thanks again."
I waved goodbye, returned the scanner and headed back to the ship proper.
After returning to the ship I quickly found the medical compartment. It was actually large for a freighter, sporting a diagnostic bed, a scanner built into the wall and a large cabinet with lots of medical stuff I couldn't make heads or tails of.
Seeing no one at first glance I followed some noises coming from a small doorway at the side. I almost collided – again – with the chief when he exited it.
"Hello, you startled me. Can I help you?"
I took a step back allowing him to see my face.
"Yes, I had a little accident."
"I see, have a seat." I sat on the appointed bed while he fetched some gloved and other equipment.
"I bumped into a strut while crawling inside a deflector generator, happens."
"All right, I can fix you right up, won't leave a scar, don't worry."
He applied some disinfectant and an anesthetic.
"You're lucky, I won't have to stitch you up."
"Thanks, so you're our medic?"
"Yes. The science crew has a physician, she is over at the lab setting things up. I can go and get her if you want."
"No, don't bother, I'm confident in your care."
He grinned at me and got to work. After only a couple of minutes he was done.
"There, all set. Try not to bump into stuff for the next few days and come see me tomorrow."
"All right, chief. Thanks."
With that I strolled outside into the corridor and thought about what to do next, read up on the mission data or plot a course for the first leg of the journey or catch up with Sarah? Without much thought I headed for the bridge.
Unlike many other vessels the bridge of the Hermes was not located on the outside of the ship with real viewports, I never understood why you'd do that. There's not much to see in space without magnification. A monitor is much more practical and does not propose a potential security hazard.
I enter a quite busy bridge. The Captain was at the central station, reviewing some pads. On the port side a large Ops Station was manned by LT. Smyke and a young man in civilian attire.
Starboard the engineering Station is manned by a Rating I met at the meeting before. I make my way to the front of the bridge where the navigation console is located. It has a manual joystick for maneuvering at thrusters and a lot of equipment that was all new and shiny.
I took a seat, checking the controls to be in docking mode and locked. I used my pad to access the mission data, especially what was known about the lone start and the surroundings on the way there.
With that I started plotting a course.
An alert from my pad interrupted my work, it was time for the next meeting. That was fine, I transferred my work to the pad and got up to get to the meeting.
Apparently I was the last to arrive as the meeting was started with only the Captain, Sunblast and Dr. Schmitz present.
"All right. What's our Status, LT.?" Sunblast answered smoothly.
"Thanks to the help of Miss 9, we're good to go. All System at full readiness." She nodded, turning to the scientist.
"Yes, Dr. Pet'l has arrived and is settling in. We're all eager to start."
"Pet'l? That does not sound like a human name."
"That would be because he is Vulcan, a highly capable scientist. He already worked on Vega and Alpha-Centauri."
"All right, if he's fine with you."
"He is. I'm very confident and feel lucky to have him."
"Ok, that brings us to you, Ensign. Do you have a course for us?"
"Yes, with your permission?" As she nodded yes I projected my course on the bulkhead monitor.
"As you can see I was planning on not going in a straight line for the lone-star but more or less a corkscrew. That will allow us to get close to most of the stars that are in a reasonable distance to our course so we can perform some long range scans. We can then decide if we want to investigate if we find anything interesting. We can also just go directly for the lone-star.
The difference in travel time would be about 1 week, allowing for a short stop and a scan at each target."
"Yes, that looks very good to me." An enthusiastic Dr. Schmitz answered.
"How close does this take us to these Stars?"
"We come up to a distance of 2 LYs, which would allow our Sensors to show if there is anything of interest."
"Yes, this works for me. I'd like to take that back to my colleagues to get their opinion. They might want to skip one or two and investigate some further, if that's all right with you, Captain?"
"It sure is. This is basically your Mission, Dr.." He got up to leave.
"Dr. A moment?"
"Can we agree on the first leg of the journey? So we can get underway?" the Captain asked.
"Of course, I'll have that within the hour."
With that he left the meeting with my course data on his pad and without any further word to us.
"This is going to be a very long trip." The Captain sighed. I could not agree more.
"What is it with the rush, I thought we have the better part of 2 days to launch?" I asked.
The Captain glanced at the bulkhead that had already closed after the scientist.
"I'm urged from the Colonization office to get underway. Apparently there is significant political pressure to cancel this mission."
"So if we're gone, we're gone already."
"Exactly, Ensign. So please get to your station and prepare for departure."
"Yes Mam!" We all got up and left.
I arrived with the Captain at the Bridge, after taking our stations the Captain keyed the PA for a ship wide announcement.
"Attention, this is the Captain. All hands, prepare for departure in 56 Minutes. The Airlock will close in 46 Minutes. That is all." After a short shocked moment activity on the bridge went up quite a bit as everyone got ready.
The countdown went as far as 50 Minutes when Dr. Schmitz arrived at the bridge.
"Captain, I can confirm the first target as Ms. Nine suggested, we're ready to go."
"Very good Dr., please man a seat at the science station, we launch in 3 Minutes." The Caption replied.
"Confirm" LT. Smyke confirmed from OPS.
"All Stations confirm. Ship is ready for departure."
"Laid in, ready to launch."
"All right, undock us from the station, Ms. 9."
I issued the Commands, the umbilicals retracted and the docking clamps released.
"Undock confirmed, we're free to maneuver."
"Get us into position, thrusters only."
Carefully the thrusters fired to move the ship into position. I monitored the readouts closely, ready to intervene should something go wrong.
"In Position, ready for sublight."
"Ahead, quarter sublight."
The sublight engines kicked in, barely noticeable with the inertial dampeners.
"We are now in Position for Warp."
"All right, this is it. Take us out Ms. 9, the stars await."
With the press of a single button the ship lurched into Warp, a slight vibration noticeable.
"Reaching Warp 1."
The vibrations disappeared. LT. Sunburst form Engineering was quite busy.
"How are we looking, LT." The Captain asked.
"Looking good, warp field is stable, all systems nominal. We are ready for high Warp. Take us there nice and easy, Ms. 9."
"You heard him." The captain confirmed.
With that I started gently at the throttle, moving it towards Warp 2. Reaching Warp 2 I paused for a moment, as there were no alarming noises or anything else I smoothly tuned the ship up to Warp 4 with no problems.
"Congratulations. We are now officially the fasted cargo ship in Earth space." The Captain announced.
"Good Work everyone."