Wasp-like aliens kill all the senior officers of the starship fleet led by the Battlestar Lepanto. That puts Ensign Jacob Renselaer on the spot. Can he find out why the aliens killed his ship’s officers? Can he take command of the Battlestar? Does he want to be the leader of ten heavily armed starships that never expected to encounter aliens? Deep in the Kepler 22 star system, mutual misunderstanding between two peoples who cannot speak to each other leads to multiple space battles. Somehow Jacob becomes the leader he never wanted to be. His close friend Daisy the pilot helps him, as do other friends on the Battlestar. On the alien side, Hunter One is determined to kill the invaders who threaten his new colony world. His people the Swarm have never been defeated. Now, he faces Soft Skins who do not flee at the loss of their leaders. In a distant star system, people human and alien die, scheme, and fight for survival. None of them have ever faced combat before. But now, both sides learn what it is like to have someone seek your death and the death of your friends!
Being in the Star Navy was not something Jacob Renselaer had ever wished for … or wanted … or needed. But as the son of Earth’s only five-star admiral, that was his destiny from birth. The orders fell on him like an avalanche. Read naval warfare histories. Learn NATO tactical brevity codes. Study the India-Pakistan nuke war. Attend Binghampton High School in New York. Then attend the Stellar Academy at Colorado Springs. He’d graduated, barely. And then, as a fresh ensign, his father had called in a favor. He’d gone into space as the personal ensign to Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, presently in command of the Battlestar Lepanto, BBG-5 and its battle group of sister starships. Which were now in orbit above the fourth planet of Kepler 22.
It was a status that the admiral had ordered after the fleet exited from Alcubierre space-time transit, some forty-three hours ago. They’d detected an alien satellite out at the edge of the system’s magnetosphere, which lay 45 AU distant from the system’s yellow sun. The sat’s broadcast signals had been a mystery. The ship’s AI failed to decipher them. Same for the Science Deck’s algorithm twisters. What wasn’t a mystery was the presence of a dozen alien ships in orbit above the system’s fourth planet. The admiral had been super excited. This was humanity’s first encounter with spacegoing aliens. They had headed in at one-tenth lightspeed. Upon arrival near planet four, the Lepanto’s AI had reported a visual signal from the aliens. The visual showed a simple graphic of people exiting the Earth ships to meet aliens leaving their ships, for a spot on the planet’s equator. The other ship captains, their XOs, the Lepanto’s admiral, captain and XO, and some ensigns had gone downplanet to meet with the aliens.
Jacob didn’t care. Dealing with aliens was not a task for ensigns like him. Instead, he was doing the job he’d been assigned as the admiral’s ensign. Which was to make the man’s personal quarters look clean and well-kept. He thought briefly of putting a pad from a nearby beaver-tail cactus under the sheet just where the admiral’s butt would rest, but he passed. He’d seen the Lepanto’s brig during the Stellar Academy’s boarding orientation. It was a dump and smelled of urine, shit, sweat and sour milk.
His small quarters at the far end of the Command Deck hallway were luxurious by comparison. Looking around at the private bedroom, which opened onto a conference room that was the only exit to the hallway, he wrinkled his nose at the hand-blown glass miniatures that lined one wall shelf. They were of Earth critters. Not one was a horse, like the one he’d ridden with his mother.
At least the wall wasn’t filled with antique paper books, like his father’s study in Binghampton. That was the place where the man spent most of his time, leastwise since the death of his Mom. The thought filled his heart with sorrow and his mind with her image.
She had been a middle-aged woman with curly brown hair, a narrow chin, perky nose and amber eyes that glowed every time she saw him. Her love had been the only thing that had kept him from OD’ing on crystal meth at Binghampton High School. But she’d died three years before he graduated, leaving Jacob and his father alone in the brick and stone colonial that occupied two acres on Binghampton’s west side.
To escape his father’s hectoring and put downs of his anthropology studies, he’d enrolled at the Stellar Academy. Where he’d learned ship systems, basic stellar astronomy, space battle tactics and formations, the reasons for the Weapons Deck and the details of Earth’s seven star colonies. Most of it bored him, but he’d learned what he had to learn in order to graduate.
Unlike other cadets, he’d never made friends with his two roommates or anyone else at the academy. While there had been plenty of young women in his graduating class, he’d avoided them. Jacob’s high school prom disaster had cured any thoughts of romance. His month on the Lepanto since leaving Earth had brought him a few friends, mostly guys except for Lori on the Science Deck and Daisy, the admiral’s personal pilot. He’d briefly thought of asking Daisy to join him for Dance Night, a weekly event on the Habitation Deck. But he’d held back. He’d come to know her since she always transported the admiral from the Lepanto to another ship, or downplanet, as pilot of her Landing Craft Assault. He admired her piloting skills, a field in which he’d gotten miserable grades. Her looks were also fine. Trim, pleasantly curvy and with blue-black hair that was full of tight curls, he’d been tempted to go beyond routine banter. The fact she was a mixed race woman, the offspring of an Anglo dad and a Black mother from Chicago, meant nothing to him. Or to their friends. Only the Marine boarding team had acted as if her racial mix was an issue. Which was silly beyond belief, considering that forty percent of the ship’s crew were female, they came from twenty nations and represented all the ethnicities of Earth, even though the ship was an official member of the American Star Navy.
Jacob left the bedroom behind, entered the conference room and turned left for the Food Alcove and the fridge that occupied one corner. It held twenty types of craft beer, six bottles of white wine, cheese, sausages, lunch meats, fresh greens and the drink he was looking for. Ice tea. He could drink that while on duty. He opened the fridge door, pulled out the ice tea dispenser, and poured the golden brown liquid into a tall crystal goblet. There was no plastic in the admiral’s chambers, a fact he’d discovered upon first arriving to perform upkeep in the chambers. He lifted the goblet and sipped slowly.
“Jacob? You in there?” called a female voice over the hallway announcer.
Daisy. Why was she back on ship, rather than downplanet waiting for the admiral and the top brass to finish their alien talk-talks? He put down the goblet, turned to face the gray metal door that opened onto the central hallway of Command Deck, checked his Navy dress blue uniform with a quick glance, then spoke.
“I’m here. Door, admit Ensign Daisy Stewart.”
A hiss sounded as the titanium metal door plate slid sideways into the room’s wall. The hallway’s yellow light shone softly on Daisy, who was dressed in NWU Type I blue and gray camos. She wore them even though she was an ensign with the rank of O-1, just like Jacob. She must have put them on for the downplanet landing. Putting aside his musings, he spoke.
“What’s up? And why are you up here, rather than downplanet with the admiral?”
She stepped inside, her arms swinging easily in the one gee artificial gravity produced by the ship’s gravity plates. Her brown eyes glanced around the room, then fixed on him. Her manner was one of impatience.
“He sent me back up an hour ago, right after we landed,” she said, her soft mezzo-soprano voice reminding him of the first time he’d met her, while they were still in low Earth orbit. She frowned. “Have you heard anything from him? My tablet is silent. And I can’t get any signal from him. Which worries me. Every tablet—”
“Sends a constant carrier pulse to every other tablet on ship or downplanet,” he finished. Then regretted interrupting her as he saw her expression move to irritation. Then back to worry. “No, I haven’t gotten any text or audio signal from him since he left.” Jacob pulled his palm-sized tablet from his jacket pocket, thumbed it on, then stared as a blinking red dot filled the app icon that automatically linked him to the admiral’s personal tablet. He looked up. “Mine can’t link up with him either. Could the meeting site be beyond our line of sight?”
Patience showed on her dark brown face. “Jacob, every ship in the battle group launched spysats and comsats the moment we moved into geosync orbit. The tablet signals are automatically routed through the comsats whenever the subject is beyond line of sight. Like on the far side of a planet.” She frowned. “And the equatorial meeting location is indeed on this planet’s far side.” Daisy pulled out her tablet, glanced at it, then looked up to him. “Ensign, something isn’t right here. Call Captain Miglotti and XO Anderson on your tablet. See if their signals link through.”
Jacob did that, ignoring the cool lavender scent of Daisy as she stepped closer, stopping just a meter from him. His quick thumbing produced two more red dots on comlink icons. “Nothing. Same failure to link.” He looked up. “Only time I recall that happening was during a solar flare, when our academy cohort was on the sun-facing side of the Moon. We got under cover quickly at the nearby Moon buggy hangar. We didn’t regain comlinks until fifteen minutes later.”
Daisy, nearly as tall as Jacob, pursed her dark brown lips. “I’ve been trying to reach the admiral for the last thirty minutes. While I was getting the LCA refueled and set for relaunch from the ship’s Hangar Four. While I would never interrupt the admiral in a big confab like this, I always recheck my tablet link with him whenever we are apart. Now, I can’t. I’m worried. What do we do?”
He felt shock. Then understood why she had come to him. The other Command Deck ensigns had gone down with Captain Miglotti and Admiral Johanson. While there were a lieutenant commander, a lieutenant and a lieutenant JG running other decks, he was the only Command Deck officer still on the Lepanto. Which theoretically put him in command of the Bridge, a place he’d visited just three times, even though it lay at the front end of Command Deck. Those visits had been in company with the admiral. Daisy, while an ensign like him, was not part of the Command Deck chain of command. He was. Crap.
“Let me call Osashi at Communications on the Bridge,” he said hurriedly. “Surely he’s heard from the admiral or the captain or the XO.” He tapped the ear-shaped app icon for the ship’s comlink station. “Osashi? Jacob here. Daisy and I can’t reach the admiral on our tablets. She’s concerned. So am I. Are you in contact with our ground party?” He thumbed on the speaker function and looked at Daisy.
“No,” grumbled the elderly Japanese-American chief warrant officer. “We’ve been out of touch for the last forty minutes. Cruiser Hampton Roads says her spysat sensors report an electrical storm above the meeting site. Or something with lots of electrical turbulence. We’re waiting for it to clear.”
Jacob’s heart began thumping fast. “We’re coming up. Daisy and I.”
“If you insist,” the man grumbled. The green dot of his icon went white on Jacob’s tablet.
He stored the tablet, stepped past Daisy and headed for the room’s exit. “Door, open,” he said, briefly glad that the voice-activated functions of the Lepanto still worked normally. Touching a sensor plate to open a hatch, a door or a chamber had gone obsolete in 2071, when voice recognition circuits had become the standard on all American Star Navy ships. That had been twenty years ago. Back then, no one had expected some geek at the CERN lab to discover the means to generate an Alcubierre space-time bubble. But that had happened. In 2073 Earth had gone from a fusion pulse-powered exploration of the Solar system to being able to reach other stars. Now, eighteen years later, humanity had seven star colonies and was exploring distant systems known to have planets. Like Kepler 22. He stepped into the hallway and turned right.
“Jacob,” Daisy murmured from close behind him. “Have you seen the holograms of the aliens at the meeting?”
“Nope.” “I did. Also in person. They’re weird critters.”
He had twenty more meters to go before they reached the Bridge entry hatch. “How so?”
“Well, from what I saw from the pilot bubble of my LCA, they look like giant wasps. Mostly yellow with black and red stripes on their bodies,” she said quickly. “They walk on four limbs, two at the rear and two in the middle, with the front limbs acting like arms. Their head and thorax segments are upright, kind of the way a horse’s front end is upright.”
His mind filled with images of yellow jackets and mud wasps. He’d seen both types building nests under the eaves of the old wooden barn that lay at the back of his parents’ property. Two horses had been stabled there, until his Mom died. His father had quickly sold the horses, removing one more memory of his mother. It had led him to spend hours alone in the barn during high school. It was a quiet place in which to use his school tablet for homework and for writing papers. And to research anthropology. He’d long wondered why other people acted the way they did. The discovery of cultural anthropology in his early teens had revealed some answers to the questions that had bugged him ever since second grade. That was when the bullies had discovered him to be an easy target. The bullying had only stopped in ninth grade, when he’d used his newly learned judo and karate lessons to drop three bullies. The broken arms they’d suffered had gotten him suspended for a week and caused his parents to pay their hospital bills. He hadn’t cared. After that, everyone left him alone. The way he’d been alone ever since understanding how different his family was, compared to corporate exec families or the political types in gated exurbs. Unlike the urban ghetto folks, he’d always had plenty to eat. And his own bed, versus the street. The invention of fusion reactors in 2043 had reduced worldwide poverty, thanks to mostly free power. But castes still existed. And class levels were official now. Often ruled over by the super rich, which his family was not. But military it was. A fact that always set him apart from fellow students.
“Interesting,” he finally responded to Daisy. “Kind of explains why we are meeting them on planet four rather than three.”
He stopped before the eight foot high hatch that gave access to the Bridge. She stopped close behind him.
“How so? I just assumed since this world is Earth-warm with oceans and oxy-nitro air, that the aliens chose—”
“Gravity,” he interrupted, recalling a high school biology lesson. “Large insects in Earth’s ancient past happened only when there was lots of humidity and the oxygen level in the air was way higher than now. Some fossil insects reached two feet in length. To get bigger, the gravity has to be lower. Like the half gee on planet four. Planet three is close to two gees. That’s because of their chitin-based limbs and exoskeletons,” he said. “Hatch, open.”
“Opening for Command Deck Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the hatch’s response circuit replied. He put aside the reminder that only crew and officers registered as Command Deck personnel could enter their deck. It was standard on all Star Navy ships as a guard against invading boarding teams. Daisy had been added due to her piloting work for the admiral.
The hatch swung out toward him, then came to a stop in a whirring of gears. Bright yellow light shone from within the large circular room that lay at the front of the Lepanto, deep below its armored hull. He stepped through the open hatch and headed for the front half-circle of function posts. Automatically he inventoried those present. Women and men sat before the Power, Tactical, Weapons, Engines, Navigation, Communications, Gravity, Life Support and Science posts. Osashi was in the middle of the arc, facing the curving front wallscreen. Which was filled with the blue, green and purple colors of the planet below. One of the world’s four continents lay below their geosynchronous orbit. The green of jungles, the blue of lakes and the purple of three mountain ranges showed. Ignoring the curious looks he got from half the folks on duty, he headed for Osashi. To get there he had to pass by the central elevated pedestal that contained three heavily padded seats with armrests that sparkled with embedded control patches and studs. The two lower seats were where the captain and XO always sat. Behind them was the admiral’s seat, elevated slightly so anyone sitting there could look past the two in front. He stopped just behind the Communications chief. Who was staring at a holo that floated in front of his control pillar. The holo showed the far side of the planet as seen by the electro-optical scope on board the Hampton Roads’ spysat. A purple-black thunderstorm filled the middle of the holo.
“Osashi, what does the phased array millimeter radar say about the landscape under that storm,” he asked as he peered at the thunderstorm that covered the mountain meadow that was the alien-chosen meeting place.
“Oh!” the man said as he jumped, clearly startled by Jacob’s arrival. The fifty-year-old chief warrant officer swiveled his function seat around to look at him and Daisy. The man wore an NWU woodland camo uniform of shirt, pants and cap with visor. Ribbons filled the area above his left pocket, while his right pocket name tag read A. Osashi. Thin black eyebrows lifted.
“As I said . . . we’re waiting for the storm below to clear,” the man said, his tone exaggerated in its patience. “No need to radar ping them below. Might upset the aliens.”
Jacob’s peripheral vision told him all the people on the Bridge were now looking his way to see what the admiral’s clean-up boy did when faced with defiance by a warrant officer. Who held the pay rank of CWO5, the last level before ensign. Daisy looked surprised by the man’s attitude.
“Do as I just suggested. That’s an order,” Jacob said firmly, recalling his father’s way of giving him orders morning, noon and night. “Or ask Tactical to work the spysat if you don’t know how to change sensor settings.”
The man’s pale white lips opened in surprise, then muscles tightened in his face. “How dare you question—”
“This grants me the authority,” he said, reaching up to tap the single brown bar of an ensign that filled the point of his collar. “I am the only Command Deck officer now present on the Bridge. Perform your duty.”
Osashi was just five years short of full retirement. Perhaps the memory of that prompted the change in his manner. Which went from ‘irritated by a child’ to ‘obeying as ordered’. He swiveled his padded seat around to face his control pillar. The man reached out both hands and tapped in a sequence on the left side of the pillar.
“Spysat retasked to scan landscape below,” the CWO said succinctly, his tone now completely neutral.
Jacob looked at the holo in front of Osashi. The imagery changed from stormy mountain landscape to black and white pixels in the thousands. They beam painted the two nearby mountain peaks, a small lake lying two kilometers to the east of the meadow meeting spot, and the flat meadow area itself. Eleven oblong shapes showed in the millimeter wavelength radar return. Nine of them formed a half circle a few dozen meters out from the glass meeting dome he’d seen in a brief image of the meeting site just after they’d arrived in orbit. He had been with the admiral at the time. The dome location showed as a circular ring, which must be where its metal rim met the meadow soil. Glass was invisible to radar. The other two oblongs lay on the opposite side of the dome outline. Osashi looked back to him, expression very formal.
“There you are, Ensign Jacob Renselaer. All shuttles accounted for, including the alien craft.”
Jacob nodded slowly. There were ten ships in the battle group led by Lepanto. The eleventh oblong had to be the weirdly shaped alien shuttle that had departed from the largest alien ship in the cluster that geosync orbited above the meeting site.
“Looks like they are still meeting,” he murmured. “Any ideas on how to punch through that storm so we—”
“That’s wrong,” Daisy interrupted from the left of Jacob as she leaned forward a bit, a frown on her face. “My LCA is up here. There should only be ten shuttles down there. Our nine plus the single alien shuttle. When did number eleven arrive, Osashi?”
A chill ran down Jacob’s neck. He should have realized what Daisy pointed out, before she spoke. But he hadn’t, even though he’d been on the Bridge during their arrival in orbit, on the side of the world opposite from the twelve alien ships. He’d seen the spysat imaged meeting site, noted the clear glass meeting dome, seen an electro-optical image of the alien shuttle descending to the site, then had ignored the pending meeting as Johanson dismissed him from the Bridge. The last he’d known of the meeting events had been hearing Johanson order each fleet ship to send down a shuttle. Which was later joined by Daisy in her Landing Craft Assault. She and the LCA had been sent back to the Lepanto shortly after dropping off Johanson, Miglotti and Anderson. Which indeed meant there should only be ten shuttles showing in the radar return, not eleven. He looked away from the holo and met the black eyes of Osashi, who had looked their way with surprise.
“She’s right. When did number eleven shuttle arrive?”
A brief grimace of irritation showed in the man’s face, then he shrugged and turned back to face the black and white radar image. “Uh, about forty minutes ago. Just before the storm started up. It came from a smaller alien ship. Perhaps the aliens wanted language techs to help with setting up a common chat-chat lingo?”
Jacob took a deep breath and did his best to ignore the intense looks of the folks at the other function posts. He could not ignore Daisy, who stood just a few centimeters to his left. Her question had merit. The man who had decades of experience in communications had responded to her question. Still, Jacob felt uneasy. Why had the thunder and lightning storm begun just after the arrival of the eleventh shuttle? Was Osashi’s speculation the answer? Or was something else going on down there? He looked left to the middle-aged Anglo woman who sat at Tactical.
“Chief Petty Officer O’Hara, do we have a Cloud Skimmer available to take a look at that site?”
The woman looked surprised, then thoughtful. She pushed back her red ponytail as she leaned forward to scan her control pillar’s touchscreen surface. A milk white finger touched a spot on the pillar top. She looked his way, green eyes fixing on him.
“No, we do not. No battle group ship has launched one. We have six in inventory. Shall I launch one?”
“Do it,” Jacob said, telling himself the winged drone could make it to the meeting site in less than twenty minutes, thanks to the speed it already had due to their ship’s orbital velocity of 7.4 kilometers per second. As it dropped lower it would gain speed.
Osashi slowly shook his head, as if disbelieving Jacob’s sudden flurry of orders on the Bridge. He ignored the man and looked past Daisy to where the Tactical woman sat. She tapped her control pillar top, looked at the status holo floating in front of her pillar, then acted surprised.
“Armory Six refuses to launch the bird,” she said, frowning. “It cites the ship status as Alert Orbital. Which prevents any release from the armories or the weapons banks.” She looked his way. “The admiral ordered all ships of the group to assume Alert Orbital status once we entered orbit. I recall him saying something about not wanting to make the aliens nervous if their sensors picked up an accidental Weapons power-up.”
A new chill ran down Jacob’s back. The varied ship status conditions were intended to reduce human error or the action of a single crazed crewman. To change a ship status condition required the cooperation of the ship’s AI.
“AI Melody, respond to me.”
“Responding to Ensign Jacob Renselaer,” the AI spoke from its ceiling speaker as his voice matched the AI’s record of him in its voice recognition memory block.
“Change ship status condition to Alert Unknown Enemy,” he said, working to keep his voice calmer than he felt. “Provide ship status change code,” the feminine voice of the AI said.
Despair filled Jacob. The ship status change code was known only to the admiral, the captain and the XO. Which was also the case on the other ships in the fleet, except just the captain and XO were in the change code loop on the other ships. Of course, the code was also present in the digitally locked safe in every captain’s sleep room. But forcing open a safe to look at the piece of paper, or the thumb drive with the stored code, would take time. And . . . a sudden memory hit him. An image filled his mind. Two weeks ago, during Alcubierre transit, he’d been cleaning up the conference room while the admiral sat at his fold-down desk in the bedroom. The man had just opened his comp pad. But a call came over the room’s loudspeaker from the XO. Anderson had asked the admiral to join him and Captain Miglotti on the Weapons Deck for some issue related to the Smart Rocks railguns. The man had stood up, pulled on his dress blue jacket and left the room in a hurry. Jacob, in keeping with his clean-up duties, had gone into the bedroom to close up the comp pad computer and return the work desk to standby mode. On the comp pad’s screen he’d seen the twelve alphanumeric symbols that were the ship status change code. It had puzzled him until he recalled the admiral saying he wanted the ship crew to prepare for Alert System Entry status. The man had failed to shut down the comp pad before he’d left. Bringing the memory to the front of his mind, Jacob realized he was the only person on the Lepanto with knowledge of the vital code. He looked to Daisy.
“Uh, I happen to know the code. The admiral shared it with me. Do you think this silence really is—”
“Do it,” Daisy said, her tone firm. Sudden sympathy showed on her dark brown face. “If something has happened to them, the Lepanto could be in danger. And so could the other ships in the fleet. We have to know our senior officers are all right.”
Jacob knew that. He’d spoken only to delay the inevitable. He licked his lips. “I agree. We have to know, not guess or assume.” Turning away from Osashi, he fixed on the three padded seats where the admiral, XO and the captain always sat whenever they were aboard the ship. Of course they rotated shifts so it was rare to see all three in the seats. But now, they were gone, the other Command Deck ensigns were gone, and none of the higher-ranked officers on the other decks knew what he knew. While he could order the AI to admit any ship person to the Command Deck, it would obey only Command Deck officers and personnel. Like Osashi and O’Hara and the other function post folks. None of whom were O-rank officers. With a sigh he kept mostly silent, Jacob walked toward the central group of seats. He stepped up to the low pedestal that held the XO and captain seats, then stepped up to the rear half that held the admiral’s seat. He turned and sat in the wraparound seat. Looking ahead, he saw Daisy still standing beside Osashi. The two of them had joined the rest of the Bridge warrant and petty officers in staring with surprise at him.
“Bridge, I am assuming temporary command of the Battlestar Lepanto as Acting Captain, until relieved by the XO, the captain or the admiral.” He looked down at the touchscreen inset into the right armrest. A keypad lay just under it. He tapped in the ship status change code, then tapped Activate.
“Melody, have you received my ship status change code?”
“I have,” the AI said, its melodious tone the reason for the name given it by Captain Miglotti, a man who loved his Italian operas.
“Change ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy. Confirm status change.”
“Status change confirmed,” the AI said quickly.
Above him yellow alert lights began blinking on the ceiling and on the walls that surrounded the Bridge. A low hooting sound filled the room. The sound and the yellow lights were now being repeated on every deck of the kilometer-long starship that was the Lepanto.
“Allow the launch of a Cloud Skimmer from Armory Six.”
“Allowed. New ship status now permits full range of defensive movements, drone releases and Weapons Deck activation,” the AI said redundantly, telling Jacob something he’d learned in class at the academy, but had never expected to occur by his own action.
He looked to O’Hara. “Tactical, launch the Cloud Skimmer. Send it into ground contour following mode right after atmosphere entry.”
“Aye aye,” the woman said quickly as she tapped on her control panel. A torpedo shape suddenly appeared in the true space image in the holo before her.
Jacob looked up front. “Daisy, come and sit in the XO’s seat. I will need your support in whatever happens in the future.” A thought struck him. His other friends might be of help in this situation. They knew tech stuff he didn’t. “Melody, advise Ensign Carlos Mendoza, Ensign Lori Antonova and Spacer Quincy Blackbourne to report to the Bridge for consultation with me. Add them to the approved Command Deck personnel list.”
“Directives sent. Personnel added,” the AI said briefly.
Daisy stopped before the XO’s chair and looked up at him. “Jacob, are we doing the right thing?”
What a question to ask in front of the other Bridge crew persons! Then again, she likely spoke what many of them were thinking. “I am acting on behalf of Rear Admiral Cornelius Johanson, who is out of comlink with this ship, as are the captain and the XO. A potential emergency exists. It is our duty to determine whether this comlink severing is due to natural weather events, or due to enemy action.”
New sympathy filled her face. “Agreed.” She turned and sat in the XO’s seat, tapping the left armrest to bring up the holo of all ship decks and status reports for all ship systems. That was one of the duties of an XO. It was something she, like Jacob, had learned at the academy. Which reminded him there was another duty that went with Alert Unknown Enemy ship status.
“Melody, send an encrypted neutrino signal to the other nine ships in our fleet that advises them to change their ship status to Alert Unknown Enemy.” The other ships would wonder at the order from the fleet’s flagship, but someone on their Bridge would go to their captain’s quarters, force open the safe, read the code unique to their ship, and order their ship’s AI to change ship status.
“Ship status change signal sent to each ship,” the AI said quickly, her tone moving from routine to intense. Clearly there had been an algorithm change in the smart AI’s interaction module. “Confirmation of signal received from ships Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, Tsushima Strait, Salamis, Philippines Sea, St. Mihiel, Marianas, Britain and Ofira.”
Jacob swallowed hard. He had moved beyond taking command of his ship’s Bridge. He had sent new orders to the two cruisers, three destroyers and four frigates that made up the battle group. Briefly his mind rewound a lesson from the academy that described why some ships were named after famous naval battles and others were named after famous aerial fights. Shaking his head, he remembered a final academy lesson.
“All Bridge crew, put on your vacuum suits. Prepare for environment disruption. Melody, send my vacsuit order to all ship personnel and all decks.”
“Complying,” the AI said sharply.
A hiss from below his left armrest told Jacob a compartment had opened. It held his own vacsuit with flexible helmet. Its clear fabric would darken at any exposure to stellar radiation. He pulled it out, stood up and joined everyone on the Bridge in donning the precaution against sudden air pressure loss.
As he did so, he wondered what the leader of the wasp-like aliens was thinking. Surely the alien ships had detected the radar scan of the meeting site. Those ships had put out their own spysats before the fleet arrived. Those sats would soon report the Lepanto’s launch of a Cloud Skimmer. What would the alien captain or leader or whatever passed for someone in charge now do?