The ship was a week further into its journey. Howard was sitting in his quarters reading a book when his communicator chimed at him. He reached over to his table and picked it up.
‘Sorry to disturb you Captain, but we’ve got the reports from the analysis on the secondary drive systems. We’ve also started installing the pilot’s station in engineering,’ Mark said through the open communication link.
‘Summary of the report?’ Howard asked.
‘Someone in the corporate supply chain got sloppy.’
Howard frowned, ‘Sloppy?’
‘Each of the signal repeaters and half of the terminal junctions are substandard parts. The ship had very exacting blueprints provided by Axion Data Systems, and they were approved by the International Space Agency, but apparently the contractors at Vitality Shipyards decided to cut corners on this particular system.’
‘Really?’ Howard asked, incredulously, ’defective parts?
‘Yes, sir. Near as we can tell, because of the sheer size of our system, the performance degradation of the shoddy parts added up to cause our delay. If our ship had been smaller, or fewer parts had been defective, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anything.’
‘Someone back on earth will lose their job over this. Is this going to affect our plan?’
‘No sir, because our new system we’re setting up will be quite a bit smaller, even if we use the defective parts, we shouldn’t see any delay. The civilian director in charge of electrical systems thinks he could even fashion us new ones without any delay if we strip a few components off of the secondary system. Since we won’t be using it anymore, I don’t see why not.’
‘Agreed. Give him the go ahead. We’ll just start from scratch. The less we utilise those defective parts, the better.’
A month had passed since they had discovered the cause of their command system delays. Thankfully, the plan to rig up a new pilot station in engineering had gone off without a hitch. Howard stood on the bridge with his hands clasped behind him.
‘Captain, we’re ready to test the new drive system,’ Mark said from the lower section of the bridge. Howard glanced at the details of the test on his tablet one last time.
‘Exo, have you memorized the test plan?’ Howard asked, looking up at a camera node on the bridge.
‘Yes, Captain. So long as results are as expected, my calculations will not be thrown off. We’ll remain on schedule for our jump.’ Exo reported.
‘Good. Mr. Jona, you may proceed.’
‘Aye sir.’ Mark sat down at a empty console and put on a headset, ‘Bridge to pilot station 2, test is a go. Are you ready?’
‘Roger that bridge, we’re ready down here. Drive systems are reading fully green. Status check on command links are all green.’
The bridge crew held their breath as the helmsman down in engineering prepared to take the system through its paces at his new pilots station in the engineering section.
The crew had disassembled one of the solar arrays and gotten the necessary cable from there. The other needed parts had been manufactured on the ship, by some of the talented colonial machinists and electrical engineers.
Now was the moment of truth. Would it all work together? If not, they would have to give serious consideration to turning around. If it worked, they could press on.
‘Commencing main drive start up.’
The ship had been warned of the test. Acceleration forces had to be taken into account, especially after a month of none at all. A brief warning tone sounded throughout the ship.
Howard felt a almost imperceptible vibration in the soles of his feet. Moments later, the pilot at the helm on the bridge said, ‘I’ve got a green light from the primary systems.’
‘The engines are already started. I guess the delay goes both ways,’ Mark said.
‘What about the new system, any sign of the delay there?’
Mark asked the pilot on the other end, ‘Is there a delay in response time?’
‘Negative sir, it’s handling smooth as silk.’
The mood on the bridge lightened considerably.
‘Very well, carry out the rest of the test.’
The stars out the view port shifted slightly, as the pilot tried the directional thrusters. First one way, then another, covering the axis of movement for the great ship.
Howard mentally checked off each of the maneuverings as they were performed. After they went through all of them, the vibration in his soles stopped.
‘Main drive offline, test is completed. Preliminary results are all positive,’ reported Mark.
‘Exo? Anything you noticed?’ Howard asked the Guardian.
‘No sir. The test was a success. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. I will continue calculations for the next jump. Jump drives are still recharging at the normal rate,’ Exo reported dutifully.
‘Good. Well everyone, looks like we don’t have to go back after all. We get to keep our vacation plans.’
A few chuckles came from the bridge crew. Everyone was smiling. There was relief in the air. They’d pour over an in-depth analysis of the results later. For now, it was all smiles.
‘What’s the status of our passengers?’ Howard asked Mark
‘A few bumps from people who apparently forgot the test was today, and didn’t strap in.’
‘Even though we announced it more then once.’
‘Some people, I tell you. I guess we’ll have to try a louder siren next time,’ Howard said with a smile.
‘I’m going to head down to engineering and have a look. Mr. Jona, you have the bridge.’
Howard walked through one of the large double doors to engineering. The chief engineer, Keith Loheim, was on duty to supervise the test. Most of the hookups for the control had been his work. The laying down of the new cabling had been left to a team of civilian specialists.
‘Mr. Loheim, how is everything on your end?’
‘Ah Captain, I was hoping you’d stop by.’ Mr Loheim exclaimed happily.
‘Oh?’ Howard said curiously.
‘Yes. I do have a concern with our new set up.’
‘Oh, what would that be?’ Howard asked.
Loheim smiled sheepishly, ‘Well sir, James and I have been talking and he’s still concerned about the lack of shielding on the cables. I did some looking into it, and I have some data to back up his concerns.’
‘Okay, what have you got for me?’
‘If you’ll follow me, sir.’
Howard followed Keith over to a computer station in the vaulting bay. In the centre of the bay sat the assembly of the Jump Drive, which hummed softly as it drew power from the ship’s reactors. They’d be ready for another jump once the capacitors were fully charged, and the drive system had a chance bleed off its residual energy from the last jump.
Keith sat down at one of the seats, and Howard took another one nearby. Keith keyed up some data on the screen.
’Now Captain, as you probably know, the reason for the shielding along the cable conduits in the spine is because we run into a lot of cosmic interference. Stars throw off all kinds of signals, and if we are unlucky enough to be close to a pulsar, or a collapsing star, or any number of particularly strong phenomenon in space, we could be in for a rather strong burst of interference.
‘Unfortunately, due to the nature of our setup, and the limited tools we had to work with, part of our cabling had to be strung on the outside of the hull. Engineering itself here has shielding, but the spine connects to the engines at the top of the ship. We had to splice in our new systems up there on the outside of the hull. We’ve got a portion of our cabling that’s just sitting there, completely unprotected. I wouldn’t like to make any guess as to what some of that cosmic interference might do to the system, but it wouldn’t be nice.’
‘Valid concerns, but as we discussed when designing this system, the path we’re taking has been chartered before we came out here, and it’s been shown to be quite lacking anything particularly dangerous. To top it off, when we reach the new planet system, it’s got a very strong magnetic field,’ Howard said.
‘Before that, though, if we come out of a jump, or even just sitting between jumps, and find ourselves in the path of a wave of some high-intensity burst well I don’t know what it would do, but I’d rather not find out.’
‘I suggest we leave this entire system switched off until we get into the star system. We can use the primary system in deep space without much fuss. A few second delay shouldn’t make too much of a difference.’
‘I’ll keep it under advisement,’ Howard said standing up, on a thought, he asked one last question, ‘How long would it take to do a cold start of this system anyway?’
Keith thought about it for a moment, ‘Shouldn’t take more than four or five minutes. Of course, we’d want to make sure it was the only system online. We’d want to shut off the primary system so we don’t have any command function overlaps. Especially with the delay in the other system. That would just get messy. The primary would say fire the manoeuvring jets, and the new system would say fire the main thrusters, then they’d both go one after the other, and we’d start going in circles. Of course we’d know something was wrong and quickly fix it, but still.’
‘Five minutes... I’ll hold you to that.’
‘Now then, anything else of concern?’
‘No sir, we’re doing fine down here. The jump drive is charging happily, and none of our other systems seems to be having any trouble.’
‘And how went the test on your end?’
‘Overall it went swimmingly. Having the flight plan planned out in advanced works fine. If we need to do any emergency manoeuvring, I can patch the ship’s sensors through here, but it’s an awkward setup. Not impossible, just awkward.’
‘It’s the best we can do. High-grade cabling is in rather short supply. We were lucky we got what we did.’
‘That reminds me, James wanted to talk to you. He was also talking to me about his plans for reassembling the solar array when we reach Veil.’
‘I’ll go find him then. If everything went well here, then I’m satisfied with the test.’
‘We’ll I’ve got no other quibbles to bring up.’
‘Good. Keep up the good work Mr Loheim.’
James was back at work in the cargo bay housing his arrays, after having weathered the engine test in an acceleration couch in another part of the bay. Procedure stated that he should have been in a public space, or his quarters, but he had to be sure that the rigging holding the disassembled array would hold. So he had been double and triple checking the rigging right up until the test was about to start.
The array sat in the air, held in place by a series of meshes and straps. Its kilometres of surface area had been broken down into individual panels and stacked carefully in any place that had space. The wiring that had been stripped had been in the very structural joints of the array, so those had to be disassembled.
Rather than put the structural framework back together again, he had decided to just store it as is. If they ended up needing to replace any panels in the other arrays, it would be easier this way.
When the door to the bay opened, James looked up from his work. Captain Fredrick was walking towards him. James straightened up and smiled.
‘Ah Captain, good day to you. I trust the test went well?’
‘It went very well. The new system is performing as expected. The fact that our engineers and civilian techs could put that together makes me think we shouldn’t have any problems setting up our colony on Veil.’
‘We do have some bright minds.’
‘Some of the best. Although there were a few accidents from people not strapping in against the force of acceleration.’
‘Being bright in one field, doesn’t mean it’ll carry over to any others. I can’t cook to save my life.’
Howard laughed, ‘Remind me not to come over to dinner.’
‘Wouldn’t recommend it, sir. So what can I do for you, Captain?’
‘I think it’s what can I do for you, Mr Loheim said you wanted to speak to me?’
‘Ahhh he did remember then. Sometimes I wonder about him. He gets so focused on his projects and everything about them that he seems to forget everything else.’
‘He certainly is good at what he does, though.’
‘Half of the design of the new system is his. The other techs just put it all together. I mostly figured out how to make the most out of our limited cable.’
‘He’s voiced some concern for the shielding.’
‘Yeah, I swayed him over to my concerns. Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot we could do differently.’
‘So then you agree with his plan so far?’ Howard commented.
‘We’re going to have to do it that way I think. We just don’t the proper equipment to make modifications to the hull, either to shield the connections or to make them all internal. It’s got to be external at the connection from the cable to the engine.’
‘Do we have any way of making a shielded conduit for that area?’
‘Maybe we could, but I’d have to talk to some of the other specialists. I don’t think we have enough to play with, though.’ James replied uncertainly.
‘Have a look into that when you can. For now, we’re just going to leave the system off until we need it.’
‘That’ll have to work for now. Wouldn’t want to just rely on keeping it off. We know the parts in the primary are defective. If they break down, we could have to rely on the new system.’
‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Now then James, Mr Loheim, said you had some things you wanted to ask me about reassembling that array over there.’ Howard said, gesturing to the stacks of solar panels held in place by storage rigging.
‘Ah yes. Back to my primary job. So, as you know, I chose not to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after we pulled it apart. I didn’t think we needed to do the same work twice. If we threw it all back together, we’d just have to pull it apart again to put the wiring back into the support structure. Instead, I think we’ll just leave it like this as a source of spare parts for the other arrays.’
Howard nodded his understanding.
‘Unfortunately, because we had to rip that array apart, it means my team and I are going to need more time than normal to reassemble all this. I propose that when we reach orbit, you jettison this bay first, along with everything we need to work, and then continue on to jettison the other arrays and collapse the ship into it’s smaller size. Every time we orbit, you can contact us and see if we need anything. Once we throw together the first four arrays, which won’t take any time at all, we can position for the geosynchronous orbit using the ion thrusters. The thrusters should be enough to bring the bay with us if we just tether it all together.’
‘That sounds like it could be complicated.’
‘My team has more experience with zero-G work than anyone on this ship. If anyone can pull this off without support from the ship, it’ll be us.’
‘And then we just take the ship, set up the colony, and come back up to get you?’
‘The bay has it’s own oxygen supplies and an airlock system. After we push all the parts out into space, we’ll just pressurise it and use it as our crew quarters.’
‘If anything goes wrong, we might not be able to orbit around to you fast enough.’
‘We don’t have the luxury of a huge safety net. We can’t have you held up waiting for us to finish before you drop colony modules to Veil. The colony will need power as soon as they start setting stuff up. I’ll need a head start. It’s a logical plan.’
‘It’s not safe, though. We need some kind of safety net for you. A backup if anything goes wrong.’ Howard exclaimed adamantly, ‘The colony will need you and the team to keep the power grid operational.’
James thought about it for a moment, ‘Well we could create a crisis rooms in the bay. If we seal off an area of the bay, make it self-contained, give it it’s own oxygen and water supply, we could hole up in them if anything went wrong.’
‘Still tricky, but better. I’ll consider your plan for the array if you give me a plan for the crisis rooms as soon as you can.’
‘Will do Captain. I honestly believe this is the best choice available.’
‘Then get me that plan, James. Show me it’ll work, and after that, we’ll work on putting it in motion. Is there anything else?’
‘I’ll be off then.’
Howard turned and left. Once in the hall, he checked his watch. Sam was supposed to meet up with him in one of the observation rooms, along with Ayla and her mother.
It was almost time.