Captain Howard was reading over the supply manifest as the bridge crew did a quick test of all the vital systems. He had thought it better they do that now when they were still relatively close to earth and still deep in human space, rather than when they were half way to the destination like protocol demanded.
Not that the ship hadn’t been thoroughly examined before it left earth orbit, but having the lives of numerous colonists on his hands was making him cautious.
Finishing up the cargo manifest, Howard waved over a bridge officer and handed her the manifest.
‘Everything looks good Lieutenant Yin. See that the department heads report in before the end of the day.’
‘Yes Captain,’ she said before turning around and leaving.
Standing up, Howard started to walk around the bridge. He stopped next to his first officer, Mark Jona.
‘Mark, what’s the status of our tests?’
‘Mostly coming out green.’
‘Mostly?’ Howard asked with a note of concern.
‘Yes, sir. There’s some latency in the command system for the conventional drives.’ Mark answered, looking up from his station.
‘It’s fairly minor, it shouldn’t give us any problems. We’ve seen this sort of thing before in ships that had just brought their Guardians online. I asked XO-33 if he had any idea what it was about. He told me that Samuel told him to run a diagnostic on all his higher level command uplinks. It’s probably due to that.’
‘Sam must have had the same idea we did. Better to work out all the kinks in the system while we’re still close to our home.’
‘Keep an eye on that Mr Jona, let me know if we run into any more oddities. We shouldn’t need those engines until we reach Veil.’
‘To think, crossing 400 light years in four months. Our ancestors would be amazed,’ Howard commented.
‘As our Guardians get more sophisticated, they help us design better jump drives and perform more in-depth jump calculations,’ Mark commented, ‘And it shows no sign of slowing down. We’ll keep going further and faster.’
‘I just hope we can keep on top of this kind of technology. Everything we make seems to have a habit of being both good and bad at the same time.’
‘Maybe sir, but we’ve made it this far. We’ve got thousands of years of human history and survival instinct behind us.’
‘Until we make something we can’t manage anymore.’ Howard glanced at one of Exo’s display monitors.
Mark followed his gaze, ‘We crossed that threshold a long time ago sir. Long ago we stopped being able to do everything and became specialised. I know more about interstellar jump drives than most of humankind, but I couldn’t write a song to save my life. I couldn’t start a fire with two sticks and some dry grass. But with our fast than light travel and communication systems, we have easy access to the people who have skills we don’t.’
Howard looked around the bridge once more, ‘As you were Mr Jona,’ he said as he turned to walk off.
He walked towards the display panel linked to XO-33.
The panel flashed to life and Exo’s narrow face appeared on screen, ‘Yes Captain Howard?’
‘Where is Sam?’
‘He is watching a movie, sir.’
‘Ah, okay then, thank you.’
‘Yes Captain,’ Exo’s face vanished and the screen shut off.
Not wanting to interrupt Sam, Howard decided to go check on the rest of the ship. As he left the bridge, he thought it might be good to check on the children’s schooling. He thought that it would be in session by this point. With twenty hours left until the next jump, the classes should just be doing an orientation session rather than a real class. They would probably wait until the next 12-day jump recharge cycle to start classes in earnest.
Knowing his ship inside and out, Howard knew where the closest school room was. He took the lift off the bridge and down to the deck where the room was.
He walked up to the door to the room and hit the open button. It slid open. Young children ages five to seven were scampering about the well-lit room. Toy’s were in a few piles around the room. The teacher, a young lady with brown hair looked up from talking to two of the children.
‘Oh, Captain Fredrick what an unexpected surprise,’
‘Hello,’ Howard held out his hand and she shook it.
‘My name is Mrs Lann, this is my classroom. To what do I owe the pleasure Captain?’
‘I’m just doing some rounds, I thought I’d stop by and introduce myself to some of the classrooms.’
‘What a wonderful idea. Give me a minute to round everyone up.’
Many of the children had stopped and looked at Howard. Mrs Lann turned and motioned them around.
‘Alright class, this is Captain Fredrick, he’s the captain of our ship. He’s the one in-charge of taking us to our new home.’
One of the kids looked up, ‘Do you fly the ship all by yourself?’
Howard smiled, ‘No no, I have many wonderful people working for me to help keep the ship going. It’s far too big for just one person to take care of on his own.’
Mrs Lann looked at Howard, ‘Will you be staying long Captain Fredrick?’
‘I can stay for a bit.’
‘Alright, class, who would like to ask some questions to the Captain?’
A few hands went up, Howard picked a little blond girl with hazel eyes sitting in the front, ‘You there.’
She lowered her hand and smiled, ‘My daddy is an Advocate. Do we have one on our ship?’
Howard smiled at her, ‘And what’s your name little miss?’
‘Well Ayla, we do have one on this ship, his name is Samuel. He’s a good man, and it’s his job to keep our Guardian working. Where’s your daddy Ayla?’
Her face fell a little, ‘Mommy say’s he’s gone far away. He used to work in the asteroids, but he got hurt bad and couldn’t come home.’
Howard’s own face fell a little as he recalled an incident about a year ago where a mining complex had been attacked by the Anti-A.I. League in a strike against the system. The Advocate on the complex had died, sacrificing himself by using the Guardian and all the mining equipment to hold off the attackers while the complex workers evacuated. Howard suspected that that had been her father.
It didn’t sound like Ayla knew that her dad died a hero, but Howard wasn’t comfortable with taking over the job of parenting. Her mother had that job.
‘I’m sorry to hear that Ayla. Would you like to meet our Advocate one day?’
She nodded eagerly.
‘I’ll get him to come to class one day. Then you can meet him,’ Howard looked at the rest of the children, ‘Who else has questions?’
Finishing up with the questions, Howard stood to one side as the class ended and parents started to show up and gather their children. As the classroom cleared out, Howard walked over to the teacher, ‘Excuse me, Mrs Lann, can I talk to you for a moment.’
‘Of course Captain, and let me say, the children enjoyed having you.’
‘I’ll be sure to call ahead when I bring Sam to see them.’
‘That will be delightful. Now, what would you like to know Captain?’
‘That Ayla girl, what’s her last name?’
‘Geer. Ayla Geer.’
‘That’s what I thought. So it was her father involved in the attack last year.’ Howard said thoughtfully.
‘Yes. Her father was the one who saved all the workers. Tim Geer’
‘I don’t suppose you know why her mother decided to come on this voyage do you?’
‘When I saw the child’s file, I had a meeting with her... I’m not sure I’m comfortable talking about it though Captain. Everything she told me is in strict confidence.’
Howard brought a hand up to his face and placed it over his mouth, as he pondered this, ‘Understandable. Alright, Mrs Lann, I’ve taken enough of your time. I’ll let you get back home now.’
‘Thank you, Captain. Any other time you want to stop by, please don’t hesitate, the children love it.’
‘I’ll be back soon with Sam.’
‘The students look forward to it Captain.’
‘Goodbye, Mrs Lann’
‘Good bye, Captain Fredrick.’
Howard nodded, turned and left. He looked at his watch, checking the time. An hour and a half had passed since he left the bridge. There were more classrooms in the ship, but there was no way he’d hit them all in one day. He’d have to get them later. The older students would be a different game altogether. They’d have harder questions.
‘Is Sam done with his movie?’
‘Where is he now?’
‘In one of the mess halls, with a friend.’
Howard raised his eyebrows, ‘Is this friend a woman by any chance?’
‘Carry on Exo.’
With a smile on his face, Howard walked down the hall, deciding not to go to the bridge. The second watch would be coming on duty in a few minutes. The third watch would be on duty for the next jump. Howard didn’t think much would go wrong. He didn’t feel the need to be on duty every time a jump happened. The crew was more than capable of calling him if the need arose. With Sam and Exo doing the lions share of the work, he didn’t think much would go wrong. However much he may dislike the state of affairs with mankind and Guardians, Howard knew when not to fight.
As much as he didn’t like to admit it, this mission would be much more difficult without Sam and Exo. The time cut off the journey meant they had more room on the ship for colonial infrastructure than if they had to pack for a longer journey.
Howard decided to take a walk down to one of the hydroponics bays. While the colonists learned how to farm on this new world, the massive bays would be the lifeblood of the colony.
His wife had had a garden back on Earth. Their home near Winnipeg had been out in the country.
Howard stopped in the hall for a moment as he thought of his wife. She had passed away four years ago. It had been hard on him, and to keep himself from being overwhelmed by grief at the time he had thrown himself into his work.
He thought about that with a twinge of bitterness, if it hadn’t been for his long voyages away, he may have had more time to spend with her.
As it was, no one blamed him for coming on this journey. Most thought he needed a fresh start. He had no children to want him to stay, and he had never been close with his family in general. He was more at home among the stars than with his feet on the ground.
But still, he missed her.
Putting one foot forward to break his melancholy mood, he started to walk again. A man of sixty-six, he didn’t have time to be wallowing in the past. He was hardly ready to lay down and die, though. Longer life span meant he still had time to make something for himself of Veil.
Sam would live much longer than him, though. Howard had a hard time thinking that Sam would be expected to hit two hundred. That must have an effect on Advocates and how they form relationships, Howard thought. He made a decision to ask him about that sometime.
Howard looked up from his thoughts. It was one of the civilian directors in charge of some of the colonial infrastructure. Howard remembered his name was James Bennett.
‘Hello, Mr Bennett. How goes the day?’
‘Just heading off to take a look at the solar arrays. I noticed everyone seemed to be giving everything a once over, I thought I’d join in the fun.’
‘Good man. Mind if I tag along?’
’Ahh, but ‘tis your ship good sir. Feel free to tag along at your leisure. I may get you to do some work if you do.’ James said with smile
‘Any captain afraid to get his hands dirty ought not to be commanding a space ship I say.’ Howard replied as they started to walk down the corridor.
‘Some would say a captain is better used directing the labours of a ship.’ James said, testing.
‘We have our dear Guardians to do that these days,’ Howard replied in a slightly mocking tone.
James smirked, ‘Not a fan of the ol’ metal men are you, sir?′
‘They do their job, but there’s not much of a job for an old astronaut these days.’
‘Final grand adventure then is it sir?’
‘Something like that. I thought to myself that I need to get away from it all, it doesn’t get much further than this.’
‘Aye, it doesn’t get much further at all. But you have to ask yourself, what if we just bring it all with us?’
Howard smiled a lopsided grin and looked to the side at the man, ‘You are one of a kind Mr Bennett. Where are you from?’
‘I hail from just outside of the fair city of Edinburgh, an’ you can call me James sir, Mr Bennett was my father.′
‘You can call me Howard, no need to stand on protocol, you’re not part of my crew.’
‘Nay, but I am on your ship.’
‘So are a great many people who probably wouldn’t recognise me if I was out of uniform.’
‘Well Howard, we’re here. My little domain.’ James said, standing outside of a large double door. James reached over and keyed the pad next to the door. The door slid open automatically.
‘Little domain?’ Howard said.
‘Maybe a poor choice of words, I’ll grant you,’ James said happily, ‘As you can see, this bay is simply massive by comparison to the rest of the bays on this ship.’
James gestured around the bay, indicating the ten large solar arrays stacked tightly in the area.
‘How large are those array’s James?’
‘Each one is about a kilometre long, and we’ve got them crammed in here like a cracker tin. A good idea these, we pop them out once we get to the planet, hook them together, and then beam down enough power for a buddin’ colony. No fuel, no mess, and next to no maintenance. Perfect for those off the beaten path,′ James said, smiling.
‘Except maybe the size,’ Howard mentioned.
James nodded, letting out a small laugh, ‘Except maybe the size. We could have had a whole lot of supplies in here if it wasn’t for them.’
Howard appreciated the idea behind the arrays nonetheless.
‘So James, what are we going to do?’
‘Well, I’m going to have a lot of time to work on these things between here and there, should the need come up, so I’m going to see which, if any, need work right now.’
‘And how are we going to do that?’
‘We’ll be going on the maintenance scaffolding’, and turnin’ on the lights. Then we’ll check and see if the panels pick up a charge. I only do it one array at a time, though. It takes a little while to get all the readings. No sense bittin’ off more than one can chew.′
‘What should I do?’
‘Well Captain, I’ll show you.’
With that, Howard and James got to work.