Chapter 3 - Into the Unknown
Commander Wilhelm Koenig sat in CSS Archerfish's Captain's Ready Room and contemplated life for a brief moment. His new life. His new command.
He stared again at the little list of twenty-four names displayed on his ready room wall. All of those 23 other names were his responsibility, and where he was going, his alone - he would have nobody to share this grand responsibility, nobody to blame if things went wrong. It was, he admitted to himself, a trifle scary.
|Executive Officer||LT||Quinn, Samuel||Kathryn|
|Electrician's Mate||SSG||Walters, Henry||Christina|
|Radioman||CPL||Hurst, Charles (Chuck)||Marilyn|
|Gunner's Mate||SSG||Smith, Sheila||Charles|
|Environmental Technician||CPL||Krebs, Paul||Anne|
|Operations Specialist||LCPL||Wach, Howard||Francesca|
|Machinist's Mate||SSG||Lynch, Arthur||Theresa|
He was now a Captain, a title bestowed upon officers in command of a ship and not a Confederacy Navy rank in and of itself, but this ship was of a size of which even his great-great-great-grandfather - a skipper on a U-boat from the first War to End All Wars - might find amusingly diminutive. At least this time he and his brother and cousins were warring for their fellow humans, rather than against.
He'd had the AI look up and duplicate an Imperial German Navy sub skipper's hat from the Great War, and had it mounted in a frame which he'd had placed on the bulkhead over his desk, a sort of reminder of his ancestor. He was also voraciously reading every book ever produced about submarines at war from the point of view of both the winners and the losers.
This ship was not strictly a submarine, but had been developed with an eye toward similar tactics as for its blue-water counterpart: be stealthy, stand off, blow the enemy to smithereens with long steel cigars of death, slink away to fight again another day, lather, rinse, repeat.
Before he'd been picked up, he'd not dared dream of being a grand warrior like his ancestor, as his family still had the distaste of the war that had followed the Great War in their mouths. His ancestor had fought bitter political battles against the future rulers of Germany - and failed. Great-great-grandfather had managed to make enemies with the ruling elite of 1933, and only managed to escape Germany before 1939 by good luck and good timing. In the fall of 1945 they returned to what was now West Germany find their fortune reduced to rubble, the family home lost in the bombings. Like the rest of Germany, the Koenigs rebuilt. His family had, by the time of the Sa'arm, managed to become successful light industrialists feeding subassemblies to many of the world's "name brand" manufacturers. When the interdiction field went down in that biergarten in Munich, it was with only a mild regret for the privileged but doomed life they were leading that he, his elder brother and their families took off for the stars. His brother Hans was now in the Fleet Auxiliary somewhere, safely carrying cargoes of arrogant volunteers, terrified concubines and snot-nosed brats to new homes throughout the Diaspora. He himself was now off like some galactic Don Quixote, riding his faithful Rocinante, his faithful Sancho Panza by his side. Only his Rocinante was actually his former wife and now concubine Liza, and Sancho Panza was played by the urbane Brit, Executive Officer Lieutenant Sam Quinn. Two officers from former foes of the last century, united in amity and a common cause in this one - ironic, that.
He glanced around his ready room again. There was just enough space for a folding desk and a chair on one side of the room and two seats on the other. Opposite the pocket door was a narrow set of shelves holding various important documentation containing information deemed by Archerfish's designers and Navy bureaucrats too important to trust to virtual storage that might be inaccessible in the event of electrical failure, all well secured against failure of the ship's artificial gravity. The bulkhead in front of him, facing space, beheld a picture beamed in live of the scene outside this "window". It helped, somewhat, in decreasing the claustrophobic nature of the Archerfish. Each crew cabin likewise had such a feature, which could be changed to show, say, a snowy day at a Vermont farm or a beach scene in Waikiki. Captain Koenig preferred the live shot.
CSS Archerfish. Hull number PCM-001 - Patrol Combatant, Missile. A new class of vessel, the PC, with a new mission. Not to merely scout, nor to battle it out in fleet or squadron actions, but a lone wolf prowling space as an ambush hunter, like a real Earth-ocean predatory fish.
A knock interrupted his reverie. At his call of "Come!" Sam Quinn shoved his head in the tiny room. "Contemplating which of your crimes lead you to this cell?" As Wilhelm snorted, Sam added, "Archerfish is ready for your final prelaunch inspection, Captain."
Captain Wilhelm Koenig rose, donned his black jacket and kepi bearing his rank of Commander, and strode out to face his future, be it bleak or bountiful.
Of course the ship gleamed. Admiral Bickerson, despite having been given the nickel tour the previous day by Archerfish's chief designer herself, did a second, official white-glove inspection as part of the official commissioning, and vessel and crew passed with flying colours. The commissioning plaque was unveiled, the orders were officially given, and the Archerfish was ready for her first official war patrol.
"Man undocking stations!" Captain Koenig called out crisply, and the Chief of the Boat, Master Sergeant Ken Davison, repeated his call.
"Undocking stations manned and ready, Captain," reported the concubine monitoring the intercom.
"Thrusters at station-keeping."
"Thrusters at station-keeping."
"PCM001 Archerfish, this is Atlantisat Harbour Control. You are free to undock and begin your mission. Good luck, Wilhelm."
"Archerfish to Atlantisat Harbour Control. Acknowledged. Good luck to you too," responded Radioman Hurst in his Texas twang.
"Stand by on both main engines, activate CIC display."
"CIC display activated." All surfaces around him showed an external view of his ship, looking to his eye for all the world as if he were floating in a glass bubble rather than the CIC of a ship of war surrounded by sheets of solid metal.
"Both engines ready to respond on bells." An antique response: like all spaceships, Archerfish had no engine room telegraph, and hence no engine room telegraph bell. Still, naval traditions die hard and her Engineer responded in the time-honoured way.
Koenig checked the next item on his checklist displayed on a flat screen mounted on his chair. "Navigation lights on."
"Navigation lights on." Around the ship, green and red lights blinked and the name "PCM001 - ARCHERFISH" glowed port and starboard on her bow.
"Deactivate all mooring lines."
"Mooring lines deactivated." Another antique. The "mooring lines" were merely force projection beams, hemp rope being both too difficult to use and too difficult to make useful in the vacuum of space. Now only the navigational thrusters were keeping Archerfish dockside, centred in the drydock.
"Main engines, subluminal mode - one quarter ahead."
"Main engines, subluminal mode - one quarter ahead," repeated the engineer, adjusting the thrust accordingly. One of the concubines standing lookout in the after part of the CIC confirmed with Charlie and reported, "Stern has cleared drydock."
"Thank you, stern has cleared drydock. Set course for jump point. Check for encroachments."
"Course set for jump point," confirmed the helmsman.
"No encroachments on this course," reported Charlie.
As the nose swung toward the jump point, Captain Koenig commanded, "Thrusters to three quarters."
"Thrusters to three quarters." The ship obediently sped up and quickly began to hurtle toward her jump point.
"Set supraluminal course from Atlantisat to Borneoat. Set speed at three quarters."
"Course set at three quarters supraluminal max speed from Atlantisat to Borneoat. Ready to engage when jump point reached."
"All stations report." This was the perfect point to confirm that there was no damage. Although the ship had already gone through a thorough set of trials already, it was still a new ship fresh from the replicators and could have hidden flaws and damage in a dozen places. One by one, the ship's stations reported in.
"Engineering is GO."
"Navigation is GO."
"Environmental is GO, hull is airtight and environmental systems read nominal."
"Weapons are GO."
"Helm is GO."
"Sensors are GO."
"Shields are GO. Navigational shields are full on and battle shields are in standby mode."
"AI is GO," Charlie reported in her pleasant if disembodied voice.
"Medical is GO."
"All stations report GO, Captain," advised Lieutenant Quinn.
"Jump point reached, Captain."
With a gulp, Captain Koenig gave the ultimate, defining order. "Engage supraluminal drive."
"Supraluminal drive engaged," advised the Engineer needlessly as the stars started to hurtle past the CIC and the colours shifted around her. The Archerfish was on her way to war.
"Time to Borneoat, two weeks three days."
"Well, Great-Great-Great Grandfather Koenig, be with us on this voyage please," he breathed as he set the first watch.
Wilhelm lay back on his bunk, tired both from the stress of his first launch and from the vigorous sex he and Liza had just enjoyed. On the CIC, the Chief of the Boat sat in Wilhelm's command chair, and two concubines monitored essential systems.
Liza propped her head up on one hand. "You're worried," she said in German. It wasn't a question.
"Yes," he confessed, also speaking their native tongue. "It's my first command. It's my first time being on the bridge of a ship. I have no right, by all logic, of being at the helm of such a fine vessel. Yet, here I am, all eyes looking at me. It's quite sobering."
"You have no confidence in your ship? In your crew?"
"I have every confidence in the ship, and in the crew. I helped build her. Marcie Haywood is quite brilliant, and has I think covered all the bases. There will be flaws, but I'm not worried about those. No, it's the same as every soldier faces his first time, coupled with that of what every commander faces on his first time in command. Do I have that, that indescribable something within me? Will I find in there that I am not going to freeze, that I will meet the personal test and not find myself wanting. It's harder for a commander who is going into battle for the first time than for a commander who has been in battle, but is now in his first command. He's had a chance to work his way into it, and I'm being thrown in on a more 'sink or swim' basis."
"Oh, you'll make it, my love."
"No soldier really knows that until he or she has to. But I'm going to try to believe you're right. And you and I have an additional worry."
"Oh? We do?"
"Yes, 'we' do. How well will Freida carry out my order? How WILL she carry out my order?"
Liza stared at her owner. "What order?"
"She's 14 now, love, she needs a 'bun in the oven', as it is put in the English language. I've ordered her to find some nice Navy man and get herself knocked up before we return." He made a face. "I'd rather not do the deed myself, even though the proscription against incest has been lifted." Freida had not scored the requisite 6.5 or greater, and was now her father's concubine, and happy to be so.
"Would you if you had to?"
"Yes, but I'm hoping I won't, at least until she's older and I'm more used to the idea. If I have to do it 15 or 20 years from now with her daughter it will be easier - that much more genetic distance between us - but with my own direct daughter I still find my Earth sensibilities taking over."
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