Resurrecting a pantheon.
"Mission Control to Zeus. How do you copy?"
Captain Shayna Richards, mistress of the Treznor spacecraft Zeus hit the comm button to reply. "Zeus to Mission Control. We read you five-by-five."
"Roger that, Zeus. We also read five-by-five. We show you as 'go' for vector burn. Please confirm."
Shayna hit the button again, her heart beating a little more rapidly than before. She'd been training years for this, and now it was actually happening. "Zeus confirms 'go' for vector burn. Initiate on my mark: five. Four. Three. Two. One. Mark!"
The senior pilot pushed a button, and the old Centipede-class cargo hauler ignited its primary engines. The sensation of weight returned to the crew as the ship got underway at a leisurely pace of two gravities. They would continue on the burn for half an hour until they built up sufficient velocity to escape the gravity well of Earth. Shayna watched apprehensively as the now-familiar sight of the Treznor L7 space station dwindled on her screen.
"We have good insertion, Captain," said Lieutenant Berkley Grimes. "This old tub is performing exactly as the Scolopendrans promised. At this rate, we should arrive at Titan to deliver our first shipment in two weeks."
"Very good." Shayna pushed the button again. "Mission Control, we show good vector for arrival at Titan. Please confirm."
There was a brief pause before the radio came to life again. "We confirm that, Zeus. The rest of the fleet should be following behind you in a few days. Good sailing."
Shayna smiled as she thought of the rest of the fleet parked around the L7 satellite behind her. The Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hera, Hermes, Persephone and Poseidon all vyed with each other for the honour of being the first Treznor-run ships to fly to Titan, but the Zeus had won by a narrow margin. She had the best ship in the fledgling fleet, and now everyone knew it.
The launch of the Pantheon Fleet wasn't that big of a deal among the international community. The Centipede-class ships were just big, blocky cargo haulers purchased from the Federation of Scolopendra, along with the L7 station. Hand-me-downs and toss-offs, but they were shiny new to Shayna's eyes. She was captain of one of them, and the first person from Treznor to venture into space. So what if her mission was mercantile? It was a glorious adventure that was receiving much media attention back home. The Emperor himself had awarded her and her fellow Captains with medals and honours for their dedication and bravery.
For Shayna, simply flying through space was a dream come true.
For the moment there was work to do. The ship would continue to thrust for another twenty-five minutes, and then it would coast most of the way to Titan. There were few bodies between Earth and Saturn at the moment, and they had charted a course to avoid the asteroid belt. But there were numerous duties to attend to, minor details that were critically important in space travel. She had plenty to occupy her time and mind. She could dream later.
But oh, what dreams she would have. The ancient gods were resurrected to rule the skies once more, and she was a part of it.
"Anything interesting happen this watch Exec?"
"Not really, sir. The Empire of Treznor sent out their first trade craft to Titan, but other than that, no, sir."
"Okay, copy down the ship profile and ship it out to Admirals Mahan and Murphy. They might need it whenever that ship gets there."
"Yessir, and it'll take them two weeks to get there, at their acceleration rate."
The captain raised his eyebrows. "Very well. Send it, and would you join me and the rest of the staff for dinner tonight, Exec?"
"Yessir. I'll be there."
The information came into SDF Fleet HQ from TYCS HQ and analyzed. A 'trade route' was marked and the information was relayed out to the civilian and military fleet to make sure no collisions happened. The ship profiles were sent to the 53rd SBG on Luna, where they would track the ship for part of the journey as part of their routine duties, and the profiles were also sent to the various SBG's on Patrol and Search & Rescue duty.
The corvette TYWS-CC Coelocephalapion, patrolling the standard trade corridor between space station Valhalla in post-Earth Trojan orbit and Saturnian space, idly cruises along on low-distort drives, to an outside observer shimmering only slightly as it coaxed spacetime to propel it.
Inside its relatively small command room, a radar technician examines her screen, pulls up a reading on an odd little icon, grins, and finally looks over her shoulder. "Don't see these every day, Cap'n."
Lieutenant Commander Far-Rhu raises a thin eyebrow, spinning his central chair to face the eight-o'-clock sensors station. Seeing how this was a smaller vessel, it could get away with a small listening-post style command room... even if most of its volume was still taken up by the spherical strategic situation indicator hologram up front. "Whazzat, Lieutenant?"
"Looks like a sixteen kay-tonner Centipede hitting the fusion at a leisurely two-gravities."
"Two gravities aren't so leisurely when you aren't falling down an induced gravity well," Far-Rhu grumbles, "so, is it an old civvie hauler?"
"Seems like, but not running a Yut transponder signal. Computer reads it as flying the Treznor flag."
Far-Rhu chuckles. "So, it's one of those haulers the Segments sold, eh? What's the current sitch?"
"Untasked, sir. Next Vallhalla-Saturn convoy is due to leave at 2200 and all of Detachment Charlie is there to see it off."
"Excellent. Helm," Far-Rhu swivels his chair back to face the fore, "set an intercept course, one hundred gravities. Bring us out a respectful fifty kilometers off their foreward port, a little low. No reason not to give them an escort."
"Sir," the helmsman offers, "assuming two-gravities constant acceleration, it'll take them nine days to get to Saturn. I severely doubt they're willing to live at double body-weight for that long."
"Well," the lieutenant commander scoffs, waving a hand emphatically, "so we pay them a visit. Set course."
"Captain to the bridge!"
Shayna rolled out of her bunk and groaned. She was used to operating under full gee thrust, but she'd only had a couple of hours of sleep. She slapped the comm button on the wall and growled, "This better be good, Ericson."
"Captain, we have a contact on intercept course, closing at over one hundred gravities!"
Shayna blinked as the information registered. Ships capable of running at a hundred gravities were military ships. "Have they hailed us?"
"Ma'am, they're the Scolopendran Coelocephalapion, and they asked to speak with you."
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? I'm on my way!" Shayna cut the connection and struggled back into her uniform. Even after being properly folded and hung, the costume felt wrinkled and grimy on her. Still, she didn't have time to fetch a clean one, and this one would do. She pulled on a stubborn boot and raced out the door.
Ensign Ericson, serving as the Officer on Duty, stood up as she entered the room and called out, "Captain on the bridge!"
"As you were," Shayna snapped before anyone else could move. She didn't have time for strict military protocols. "Sparks, are the Scolopendrans on the horn?"
Shayna settled into her seat and brushed her hair into place. "All right, patch me in."
"Screen Two, Captain."
The screen shows a surprisingly large, muscular Polynesian who somehow fits into a standard TYCS uniform. The bridge of Coelocephalapion looks a lot like science fiction shows say command rooms of starships should look like--utilitarian, screens all about, stations set radially from a 'captain's chair.'
"Treznor vessel en route to Triumvirate space, this is Lieutenant Commander Far-Rhu, captain of the Triumvirate of Yut WarShip Corvette Coelocephalapion." He looks stern for a moment, then grins broadly. "Thought we might as well pay a visit, maybe escort you along the Valhalla-Saturn corridor. How goes things?"
Shayna automatically reaches for her hair and makes sure it's in place. Then she chides herself silently.
Stop that, woman. You've got a husband and two little girls already!
"Captain, this is Captain Shayna Richards of the Treznor Imperial Vessel Zeus. We're happy to see you, and glad for the company. Everything has been quiet, but it's a long haul to Titan.
"That it is, at this accel." Far-Rhu glances to the left at a monitor that displays engine output; back at low distort, it hardly registers on the graph. "Just so you know the skies aren't completely unfriendly. So, what's in your stores, if it's my place to be asking? First time to Saturn?"
Shayna shrugs, tossing her hair slightly in the process. There I go again. "We're under orders to conserve fuel. I'm afraid until we find a better means of propelling these ships, we're on the slow boat. And yes, this will be our first trip outside Earth orbit.
"We're carrying a few hundred tons of frozen fruit and vegetables, chickens, ham and beef. We also have a few tons of iron ore aboard. We're running with a crew complement of twenty."
"Diatomic hydrogen fusion not working out for you?" Far-Rhu raises an eyebrow. "'Tis only the most abundant element in the Universe. Sure, it's not gravitics, but there's nothing wrong with going at one-gravity constant accel for the moment. Saves one a lot of trouble with null-gravity atrophy and whatnot without using big dangerous centripetal gravity wheels.
"Well, just to give the customs boys at home a break, would you mind if I sent over a party to check your stores? It'll save you some trouble in customs, I suppose."
Shayna smiles. "Hydrogen may be the most common element in the universe, but our production facilities aren't up to producing it en masse yet. Until we can make it for ourselves, I'm ordered to keep my fuel use down.
"And yes, if you feel it necessary you are welcome aboard the Zeus. Would you and your officers like to join me for dinner tonight at 19:00 hours?"
Far-Rhu glances at the chronometer placed prominently above the strategic situation indicator display. Thank goodness for Zulu time. One of the few things nations tend to agree on. "Seeing how it's your nation's first Saturn haul, it's only fitting. Nineteen-hundred hours it is, Captain."
The lieutenant commander grins broadly. "Before we sign off for now, is there anything else we can do for you?"
Shayna opens her mouth, then closes it again. She shakes her head quickly. "No, Captain. We're set for the moment. See you at 19:00. Zeus out."
She cuts the connection and stands. It's still the middle of night for her, but she's not tired any more.
Maybe a cold shower will help.
"Ericson, you have the bridge. I'll be in my quarters."
"Transmission terminated, sir."
Far-Rhu smirked across the bridge. "They seem nice enough, eh?"
"Quite, sir. Don't know what's up with their captain, though. Not even a week from port."
The commander chuckles. "She's not married to her job like the rest of us are, Jim. Well, everyone, get your nice Class A's out, we're going to go on a visit. Security, call down to the marines and tell a customs detail to get ready. Low-observability or light armor preferred. I don't think we need full standard kit on this one."
Shayna adjusts the trim of her Treznor military uniform once again, trying to make sure the black and silver patterns are straight. Her executive officer laughs quietly and nudges her with an elbow. "Cut it out, Shayna. You look like you're preening for a date."
"I can't help it, Jeremy," she whispers back to him. "These guys are important, and I want to make the best impression I can."
"You've had the crew swabbing the decks until they shine. We're all decked out in our finest and there isn't a hint of dust anywhere. Relax, Captain. You look fine, and I'm sure Commander Far-Rhu will like you just how you are."
Shayna pauses to glare at him, then returns to fussing with her uniform. A moment later, a gentle "clank" announces the arrival of the shuttle, and she orders the crew to attention. The airlock cycles, admitting the first of the Scolopendran space navy.
Far-Rhu stood in the back of the shuttle, looking at the five security troopers in light powered armor--simple exoskeletons, armored boots, forearms, and torsos--over their fatigues along with his bridge crew. "Okay, people, all set?"
Other than the troopers, whose armor included monocle snoopers and a large pepperbox needle-pistol located in a holster prominently mounted on the left breast, everyone wears the standard TYCS uniform, complete with needler sidearm in a hip holster. No extra gew-gaws, no shiny piping or metal (excluding the burnished steel), just a utilitarian uniform. "Yes, sir."
"Well then," Far-Rhu sways slightly as the shuttle docks in one of Zeus' four small craft bays and the boarding tube extends to its airlock, "let's greet the newcomers, shall we?"
Stepping through the airlock, he bows shortly. "Lieutenant Commander Far-Rhu at your service, ma'am. These good ladies and gentlemen"--he indicated the light-armor troopers with one hand--"will be conducting the check on your supplies. They've passive and active sensor kits; no need to throw open containers or otherwise spoil your cargo bay." He smiles, then goes through introducing his four command staff officers.
"This," he indicates a medium-height brown woman with short curly jet-black hair, "is my situational awareness officer, Lieutenant Parveen Naikojohari; my communications officer," he points out a short man with dark brown hair, "Lieutenant Junior Grade Stanislav Faustin; my chief engineer," a tall, wiry woman is next, "Lieutenant Janice Onri; and finally, my executive officer"--a tan-skinned man of medium-build with pronounced epicanthic folds--"Lieutenant Rhee Gil-Hyung."
Shayna steps forward to shake Far-Rhu's hand. "Commander, it's a pleasure to meet you in person." She nods in greeting to each of the Scolopendran officers as they're introduced, but her eyes never stray far from their superior. When Gil-Hyung is introduced, she turns back toward her crew.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Treznor Imperial Vessel Zeus. Allow me to present Commander Jeremy Speigel, my executive officer. Lieutenant Berkley Grimes, my navigator. Lieutenant Harold Achers, communications specialist. And Ensign Natalie Ericson, senior pilot."
She turns toward her crew. "Ensign Ericson, please escort the customs detail to the cargo holds. You will afford them every courtesy." She turns back to the Scolopendrans. "Dinner will be served shortly. If you'll follow me?"
She offers her arm to Far-Rhu before heading toward the officer's mess.
Far-Rhu momentarily looks at the proffered arm as if the gesture is utterly foreign to him--and, in this context, it is--and thinks for a fraction of a second. PDA? Nah, maybe it's one of those cultural things. Smiling a bit more subtly than usual, he accepts it and walks arm in arm with Captain Richards. His mildly confused bridge crew look at each other--Onri shrugs barely perceptably--and they follow along.
Meanwhile, the five light-armor troopers quietly follow the indicated ensign. They look around enough to sate curiosity, but not enough to classify as 'snooping.'
Shayna leads the party of officers to the mess hall, her face flush with excitement at the event and her unusual display of boldness. Upon entering the room, she releases Far-Rhu's arm almost reluctantly and takes her place at the head of the table. The Zeus' officers file up according to rank along one side, leaving the opposite side free for the Scolopendran officers. The table is set with wine bottles on the Treznor side, but pitchers of water and juice line the Scolopendran side.
Shayna picks up her wineglass before anyone can sit down and fills it with a dark, red wine. "Ladies and gentlemen, a toast. To the Federated Segments of Scolopendra!"
The Triumvirate officers, after lining themselves up by rank, raise their glasses and echo the toast, sipping lightly. This will take for-freaking-ever if she plans on toasting every nation in the Triumvirate... or maybe there's just a mild misunderstanding here. Our uniforms are basically identical to the Scolopendran ones... but it's like toasting the old District of Columbia when visitors from the United States of America come calling. No insult intended, no insult taken. Noting his crew's curious looks, Far-Rhu flashes a happy-go-lucky 'play along, dammit' smile.
"A counter toast," Far-Rhu grins, "to the Empire of Treznor. May it be prosperous and free." He smiles secretly to himself as he sips. Well, it is run by a dictator, but nothing is completely perfect.
Blissfully unaware of her faux pas, Shayna repeats the toast to the Empire and tosses back her drink. Then she takes her seat, followed quickly by the Treznor officers. Crewmen then enter the room to bring on the first course, a light cream soup garnished with sourdough bread.
"Captain," Shayna says brightly, addressing Far-Rhu as she settles her napkin on her lap. "How long have you been on patrol?"
The lieutenant commander and his crew settle in to some relatively unusual etiquette--while trained in dining procedures, such procedures aren't used very often--and follow the lead of the Treznor crew just in case their forms are different.
"We've been out for about a month now, going back and forth between Saturn and Valhalla. The usual rotation is four months out on patrol, two months leave. The CPF is slightly undermanned at the moment--which is why the TYCS is bringing out the new Wildcat-class rapid-response corvettes--so we're running on a convoy system. Eases defensive duties." Far-Rhu waits for Captain Richards to start on her soup before going to his. It's only proper.
The Treznor contingent likewise waits for their Captain to start, then proceed to dig in. There's no rush, and they seem to have an almost relaxed air about them as though they're used to eating well at the officer's mess. The only fly in the ointment is that they don't seem familiar with dining among foreign representatives.
"What sort of drive system do you use?" Lieutenant Grimes asks curiously, oblivious to the glare it provokes from Shayna. "And how do you get along at over a hundred gravities without becoming paste on the walls? We'd love to get our hands on that kind of stuff so we could make this a day trip instead of a month."
Oddly enough, it seems like it's the manners that make the Triumvirate officers feel out-of-place. Other people... well, as they say, the more, the merrier.
The question itself elicits no more that a questioning look from Lieutenant Onri to Far-Rhu. Nodding shortly to his engineer, he then smiles at Captain Richards.
"Gravitics." Lieutenant Onri says the word, looks around, and realizes a bit more explanation may be appropriate. "Gravity distortion drive. In short, we produce and sustain a gravity well for ourselves to fall down. The real trick is to cancel out this distortion at a particular distance so we don't go about knocking things out of orbit. We also have fusion-drive backups a bit more advanced than yours just in case, but they don't get used very often."
Lieutenant Rhee pauses for a moment. "So, what's your country like? Barring actually visiting, asking natives is the next best thing."
--this double post has been excised by Scolo der Game Mod--
Grimes leans forward eagerly. "That's incredible. An artificial gravity well. I've never even heard of a thing theorised."
"That's because you spend too much time buried in old romance novels," Speigel teases. "I've heard about it, but I didn't realise anyone had taken it seriously enough to make it into reality. The potential of such technology is enormous; imagine creating a miniature black hole next to or inside an enemy vessel. It'd be a very short battle."
"Comic books don't count as scientific journals, Jerry," Shayna interjects, coming to the defence of her navigator. Her officers chuckle quietly, including Speigel. She then turns to Rhee and smiles. "Treznor is...contradictory. We were once a tropical paradise, if you didn't mind getting eaten by the dragons. After Emperor Treznor stepped in and set up the Empire, that began to change. The rainforest has been tamed and the dragons are more of an annoyance than anything else, now. There's still beautiful landscape to admire, but most of the land is given over to housing or industry. We have a lot more choices about what to do with our lives than we ever did before. People who show initiative and ability are...rewarded."
"You should see Amateur Night at the Auditorium!" Achers chimes in. "They hand out vegetables to throw at the folks who suck on stage. Sometimes you see some real talent, but everybody goes to make fun of the wanna-bes!"
(OOC: Gravitic drives would only really work a) if gravity is quantized (i.e. in gravitons) and b) there is a way to artificially generate gravitons. Let's just say my fingers are crossed that I bet right this time. If a) and b) are met, then it's just a matter of manipulation and time.)
The Triumvirate officers chuckle politely but look oddly amongst themselves. While it's perfectly appropriate to inform someone that their skills in a particular art 'suck' if they do, there's no point in physically abusing them over it. Far-Rhu covers for the visiting team. "Umm... interesting habit. I suppose it has an almost Darwinistic effect on your arts." He attempts a smile but is unsure whether or not he's successful.
Onri grins softly to herself. "Singularity weapons actually aren't a great idea. They'd be difficult to control; small black holes wouldn't exist long enough to be overly useful and holes large enough to last long enough would be... well... too big to be safe. It's much more efficient to stick to more convential weapons."
Lieutenant Naikojohari smirks. "Seems like every single thing humanity comes up with gets turned into a weapon in one way or another. Mildly annoying, but at least it keeps us employed."
Shayna looks slightly disgruntled and focuses on her soup for a moment. Commander Speigel jumps into the gap.
"Amateur Night isn't so much sanctioned as it is tolerated. The Emperor built the Auditorium even greater than his own palace as a gift to the populus and encouraged people to pursue the arts. People showed up as a matter of course, but there weren't enough real musicians and artists to fill a regular schedule, so somebody got the bright idea of jumping up on stage and singing any old thing. It just sort of took off from there."
He chuckles softly. "The first night they threw vegetables was about six years ago. I wasn't there, but I heard the whole theatre went silent, waiting for Guardsmen to show up to break up the riot. When nothing happened, the actors went on and more tomatos went up. The next Amateur Night, everyone came loaded with ammunition and the Emperor had to dedicate money to a special cleaning fund. Nothing official has ever been said, and it's become terribly popular. Personally, I think the Emperor considers it stress relief."
Grimes, however, is still focused on the concept of a singularity weapon. "Presumably, an artificial black hole could only be sustained so long as you fed energy into it. If you loaded the technology onto a torpedo, you could stay at a safe range while it went off. You wouldn't even have to be all that accurate; it would have something of a shotgun effect. At the very least it would play hell with navigation, and that would be worth the effort right there."
Shayna laughs gently and shakes her head. "Berkeley, if you keep that up you'll make our guests think you're a bloodthirsty barbarian." She turns to Far-Rhu. "Please excuse him, he's not so dangerous as he sounds. It's just that once he gets a thought in his head, he can't let go until he's thought it through."
"Oh, I'm sure." Far-Rhu grins. "It's just mild dinner-table banter; I know it's not my place to assume it to be anything else."
"Of course," Onri grins, "how do you propose feeding energy into it? It's simply energy inefficient, seeing how you're keeping up a spherical spacetime asymptote with exowatts of power that would be better suited to atomizing the enemy. As for navigation errors... it wouldn't stay up long enough to matter. Not without those exowatts."
"Not to mention," Lieutenant Naikojohari offers, "space is vast. Fleet actions put hundreds of kilometers between ships in formation. Accuracy beats 'shotgun effect' any day."
"Other than Amateur Night, what's Treznor culture like?"
Grimes taps his lower lip, lost in thought. "Hmm...I don't know what feeds them in the first place, so I don't know how you'd sustain the reaction. Presumably you have a means of negating the effect for yourselves, so the delivery system would need to cloak itself in such a field to avoid its own immediate destruction. It would also need to be set on a timer or a limited amount of fuel to avoid a semi-permanent fixture. But I suppose the latter would be easy enough, depending on how much fuel is needed to start the reaction.
"The exowatts could be used to generate an explosion, but the advantage of a singularity is that it would create a hell of a screen for your forces. Nothing could pass by it or through it, negating superior forces and firepower for the instant that the singularity existed. Lasers would be bent, missiles would be dragged in and ships would at least be damaged from space/time warping, if not destroyed. The intensity of a singularity should be powerful enough that the range of its effects should be apparent over an entire light-year cubed for the duration, reduced on the inverse-square law."
He blinks again, then smiles. "All theoretical, of course. We don't have enough data about black holes or what it needs to produce one to really speak authoritatively. Still, the possibilities are fascinating."
Speigel shakes his head and laughs. "In his spare time, Mr. Grimes likes to write amateur science fiction. He thinks it makes him an expert on all things scientific."
Grimes frowns and flushes, ducking his head to focus on his soup.
Shayna clucks her tongue and nods for the stewards to bring the second course. "To be fair, Mr. Grimes is also our resident science wiz. He keeps up with scientific journals and has the best all-around knowledge of scientific and technological matters of anyone in the crew. He also writes amateur fiction.
"To answer your other question, I like living in Treznor. I don't remember the bad old days of the old government, but I think our Emperor is tough but fair. In the early days of the Empire he had to crack down hard and impose draconic measures. Not everyone was prepared to surrender our civil or political freedoms. But now we have absolutely no crime, a powerful industrial base, and the respect of our peers and neighbours. But if it wasn't a lot of fun to live there before, the Emperor has started lifting restrictions on personal freedoms. We're no libertarian state, but we know how to party and now we've got the resources to party like never before."
The Treznor officers nod and murmur their assent, spontaneous comparisons of sports or parties they'd last attended while on the ground. It's clear that most of them miss it at least a little.
"Hmm, I suppose." Faustin nods. "Our societies tend to be more on the libertarian side... so I find it difficult to relate." I'd probably find it positively stifling.
Onri chuckles. Ah, the innocent can be so cute sometimes. "The effect of a singularity would vary by its mass. One light year or thirty light years, it's all dependent on the mass. Besides, I don't think any Solar nation wants to deal with a system-engulfing weapon."
Naikojohari joins in the fun. "Oh, and if you were hiding behind one of these singularities? I'd just direct the gunners to fire so that the gravity well bends our beam weapons into you." She smiles. "Any strategy can be adapted to."
Shayna shrugs gently as her soup is replaced with braised steak strips over vegetables and rice. "I suppose it is hard to relate. I'd hate to think of living in a place where I had to lock my doors when I went out." She spears a strip and chews it, blithely unaware of the alarmed glance her executive officer gives her.
Grimes, on the other hand, perks up at the debate his ideas have sparked. "Oh no, you'd want to restrict the singularity before it threatened to engulf an entire solar system. I'd love to study more about it. It has so much potential, even beyond weapon systems."
He smiles at Naikojohari. "There's always a way around every system. And yes, you could use the refraction to your advantage. I hadn't even thought of that at first. The best way to defend against that would be to place a second, smaller singularity behind the first to foil any such attack, or to set of an array of singularities that pop up at random intervals and at random strengths. For the short-term, it would be a very effective screen, and I would imagine it to be quite devastating to the opposing force."
Naikojohari chuckles. "TYCSDD-720, Counters to Commonly Theorized Threats. We have scientists who get together with science-fiction writers and come up with ways to get around whatever feasible ideas the writers have."
"So we've suddenly gone from a single singularity to a random number doing random things?" Onri chuckles. "It'd be rather devastating to the side using it as well... not even considering the energy needs. A single singularity might be doable with a Type II society, but you'd almost need a Type III to have enough loose energy around to just throw into black holes. The ideas are interesting ones, but the concern is whether they're valid--i.e., would they work or not--and that remains to be seen."
Faustin shrugs. "I know I don't have to lock my door. From the international rankings, Triumvirate nations are some of the safest places to be with crime rates in the fraction of a percent. 'Totally unknown' may be an overstatement, but only a slight one."
Grimes blinks in mild confusion. "Well, I was addressing the possibility of generating a black hole through a remote device, like a torpedo. It'd be a very poor fleet that only carried one torpedo. But Type II? Type III? I'm not familiar with those designations."
Shayna breaks into a bright smile at Faustin. "'Totally unknown' isn't much of an overstatement in Treznor. It's virtually impossible for criminals to get away with crimes. When Iaceo began terrorist activities in our nation, everyone was shocked and outraged. These things just don't happen in our country. The government was quick to respond, and brought it to an end in a few short weeks. That's the only incident of crime I know of in the past decade."
"Know of being the operative phrase in this matter." Faustin sets into his meal."
Onri grins. "Old designations made up by some Russian physicist. A Type I society can use the entire energy output of a planet; Type II a star; Type III a galaxy."
Far-Rhu merely shakes his head and gets to eating. That is the point of dinner, no?
Grimes nods with understanding. "Ah, I see. You must have fabulous libraries back home. I would love to browse some of them!"
Sensing a change in mood and an opportunity, Speigel turns to Far-Rhu. "I agree, there must be wonderous things to see on Titan. What can you tell us of your home?"
Far-Rhu shrugs. "It's like a lot of terraformed colonies--air's a little thin, but all the comforts of Earth. Birds tend to have larger wingspans to deal with the thinner atmosphere. Every kind of culture you'd like to see, lots of people working together. Honestly, I only see it four months out of the year and so I'm not the greatest resource."
He shrugs. "It's always most difficult to describe your own home because, well, you live there, right? Don't know what'd be interesting to outsiders."
Shayna smiles and leans gently toward Far-Rhu. "Fair enough. So what makes it worth coming back for you? Is it the birds or the culture? Or is there someone special to make you feel welcome?"
Far-Rhu laughs at the mention of 'someone special.' "I seconded into the TYCS through the Scolopendran Aerospace Directorate, and if one thing Scolo troopers don't have, it's significant others. I what the others think, but we've seen all seen troopers that try to deal with relationships. Eventually, someone gets hurt... it's a cultural thing. Joining the military is almost like joining a religious order in that regard."
He wipes away a tear of mirth from his eye. "Sorry for laughing so hard... just never been a common motive to me. I go back, because..." He thinks for a moment. "There's really nowhere else to go. It's home. My family and a lot of my friends are there, and there's just... a connection." He tries to explain with his hands, moving them back and forth as if they were connected by a small length of twine. "I feel like I belong there."
Shayna nods. "That's a valid reason. Friends and family are someone special.
"What's the view like from your home? I'm sure you take it for granted, having seen it all your life, but this is the farthest I've ever been from home. I find the view to be breathtaking. We're among the first people from Treznor to see the Moon up close, and that's just a big lump of rock in the sky. Living in orbit of a gas giant must be something else entirely!"
"Well, Saturn takes up about six degrees of the sky, as opposed to Luna's... hmm... thirty minutes from Earth. So, yeah, it's about twelve times bigger, not counting the rings. Huge." Far-Rhu sets his hands apart for emphasis. "Titan always keeps one face towards Saturn, so it just sorta hangs there, all day, all night. It's sorta interesting, watching its cloud patterns at night.
"Then there's the Ring, which looks like a slowly-moving dotted line that just cuts the sky along the ecliptic. The other moons of Saturn are a sight, especially when Rhea gets close. Zero-One lights up one side like a compressed starfield linked like a spiderweb, and The Black has its own colonies on the opposite side."
"I grew up in Allendale," Lieutenant Achers interjects. "I had a great view of the Windy Mountains from my room while I was growing up, and I never thought twice about it until I got a girlfriend who wasn't used to them. She always wanted to park on the lookout to stare at the mountains while we made out. She just couldn't stop looking at 'em. It made me realise just how much I took 'em for granted."
Faustin shrugs. "Saturn's the biggest thing in our sky, and since I've never had the priveledge of an extraTitanian friend... yes, I'd say we probably take it for granted generally."
Far-Rhu shakes his head. "How could you? Seeing how it's always there..."
"It always is, sir. The thing is, you're an astronomer by training... same kind of person who sits on Earth and looks at the Moon as if it was suddenly something new."
"Hrm." The lieutenant commander leans back into his chair. "Point taken."
An uncomfortable silence descends over the room as folks begin concentrating on the meal rather than conversation.
No politics, Speigel prays, hoping his captain will catch the thought. Please, gods, no politics. Shayna glances briefly in his direction, hoping for suggestions. He takes this as permission and turns back to Far-Rhu. "Do you have any preferences in musical selections, Sir? I thought we might like something quiet while we eat. Amateur Night aside, our Emperor is very keen on cultural development in the Empire."
The Triumvirate O-4 shrugs. "I've no particular preferences, though I think classical is generally appropriate for these kinds of things. I've found I like the Russian composers of the early-to-mid twentieth century, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich."
Lieutenant Faustin raises an eyebrow and smirks slightly. "I don't think that 'Leningrad' is quite appropriate for the venue, sir."
"Hmm... I guess you're right. I don't know much else. I'll leave that to your discretion, Captain." He nods with a smile to Captain Richards.
Shayna looks back at Speigel as if to point out it was his suggestion. Speigel smiles easily and summons a crewman. "Mr. Warwick, please see to having some music piped through to this room. Shostakovich, if you would. Let's start with his Piano Concerto Number 2 and work our way from there."
Far-Rhu nods appreciatively, the rest of his officers following suit; in their opinion the music is a little too energetic for the occasion but, as they say, when in Rome...
They continue eating quietly, apparently not wanting to intrude overmuch.
The Treznor side follows the example, eating quietly without attempting to interrupt with conversation. Shayna looks slightly worried, as though she's worried she's botched her first diplomatic encounter.
How do I reach these people? She frowns as the last course is served, chicken breast braised in a mild garlic sauce. I never expected humans to be so...alien.
The Triumvirate officers look at each other in the awkward silence, wondering why the Treznor crew have ceased attempts to make conversation. The usual topics of conversation aboard the corvette would probably be inappropriate here, they're no good with small talk, and they're trained to realize that politics and religion are generally poor topics of conversation due to peoples' vehemence concerning those issues.
Lieutenant Commander Far-Rhu looks concerned in approximately the same way and for the same reason as Captain Richards... first contact with Treznor merchant marine, and it doesn't seem to be going so well thanks to a national habit of not speaking when there's nothing to be said.
Hrm... well, never a bad time to push one's limits... "So, ahh..." Far-Rhu begins in a valiant attempt to make conversation, "how do you like your first interplanetary trip... hmm... so far?"
Shayna beams, and she releases a breath she hadn't realised she was holding. "Oh, I think it's wonderful out here. We've been stuck in Earth orbit for the most part, sitting on the L-7 station going through endless training and drills. It feels great to actually be under way. And the stars..." She gives a breathy sigh, her chest heaving unconsciously. "Even after two years in space I still can't get enough of them. I've always wanted to travel to the stars, and I'm thrilled to be part of our first step in that journey."
"Yeah... we've been running the Valhalla-Saturn beat for about five years now and we're still thrilled to be out here." Okay, so that's stretching it, but no need to get them convinced that space is pretty dull already. The two-week trip will do it well enough. "There is, admittedly, a lot to see... and a lot of work to it." Far-Rhu pauses, as if trying to think up more to say. "It's worth it, though, I think."
"We were warned about pirates," Achers pipes in impulsively. "If we see any, we're supposed to activate our stealth system and run. The problem is that I don't think we're fast enough to outrun anything these days. Have you seen much pirate activity during your tour?"
"We've seen a few." Naikojohari shrugs. "Very few are willing to accept a capital-grade broadside, even from something as unimpressive as a Battle of Shiloh-class. The Zoir were a problem until the Roving Cruiser Squadrons vaped their Sol system asteroid base."
"Well," Shayna interjects. "I'm certainly happy to have you folks escorting us on our maiden voyage. It would be terribly embarrassing to have pirates run us down first time out of the barn. We greatly appreciate having you here, both as escort and as our guests."
"I can't wait until our scientists finish developing those magnetic coil guns!" Achers continues brashly. "That'll give any pirates a big surprise, to find a pokey old merchant ship like this has teeth!"
"Lieutenant!" Speigel calls, a little too loudly. He had been too slow to interrupt, and he looks displeased. "Please check with Ensign Ericson, make sure she hasn't gotten lost."
Achers looks confused, and opens his mouth.
Looking like a scolded puppy, Achers reluctantly gets to his feet and salutes Shayna, then Far-Rhu. "Captain. Commander." He's out the door as soon as Shayna returns his salute.
Far-Rhu salutes back automatically, forearm bent up at a steep angle from the elbow (kept just a few centimeters from the side of the torso), doing his best to look friendly. The rest of the Triumvirate crew pretend to not have heard anything about Gauss rifles but the situational-awareness officer still seems to be quietly logging everything with a quick eye.
"Well, Captain," the lieutenant commander attempts after the silence, "escorting is our job... we'd like noncombatant vessels to get as little of the action as possible. I hope no one minds."
Shayna nods gently to Far-Rhu. "Absolutely, we don't mind. Anything that increases our chances of arriving without interference is a good thing in our minds."
"As you no doubt inferred," Speigel says slowly. "Our Emperor is also keen to ensure that we deliver your goods unmolested. In addition to your diligence, I understand that there's a deal with the Dominion of the Dread Lady in the works to provide military escort for our small fleet."
Far-Rhu shrugs. "If there is, it hasn't filtered down to us Oh-Fives yet. So far, it's just SOP--go back and forth along the Corridor on patrol--and I'm sure they'll tell us different whenever things change." He sighs softly. "Admittedly, it's slightly monotonous, but it beats the alternative."
Shayna smiles and manages to dredge up enough pleasant banter for the dinner conversation until the meal has finished. She nods to the head steward who promptly wheels in a dessert tray.
"My chef has prepared a selection of desserts for your pleasure. He's an absolute devil with chocolate; I usually have to pay penance in the gym after one of his cakes. But feel free to take a look and choose what you wish; we've got stores enough for all of you."
The steward lifts the cover of the tray to reveal chocolate cakes, puddings and pastries as well as a selection of tropical fruits. The Treznor officers point to their favourite desserts and request them, which the steward jots down on a notepad.
The Triumvirate officers follow suit. Parveen requests a chocolate eclair, Stanislav a simple pastry, Gil-Hyung a simple sweetbread, and Janice abstains from dessert. Far-Rhu requests starfruit, or, failing that, lemons. "Must have one's citric acid... scurvy is just as much a threat on a spaceship as a sailing ship, y'know." He grins.
Speigel raises an eyebrow curiously. "No, actually, I didn't know that. So much of our food involves fruit and citrus, we never really thought of it. I suppose it makes sense with any culture cut off from fresh produce; it doesn't store as well as meat, I presume.
"But, what, if I may ask, is starfruit? I've never heard of it."
Far-Rhu thinks for a moment. "Umm... it's a fruit native to Malaysia, actually. We call it belimbing besi. It's a oblate bright green-yellow fruit about yea big"--he holds his hands to indicate that it's about the size of a man's fist--"slighty tart, nice crunchy texture, thin stiff skin. Try one whenever you get the chance."
He shrugs. "I've just liked 'em ever since I was a kid. I'll settle for lemons, though."
Speigel casts an enquiring glance toward Shayna, who shrugs and looks to the steward. "Henry?"
The steward shakes his head. "I'm vaguely familiar with the fruit, Ma'am, but we don't have any in stock. It's not local to our region, and we don't have any trade with Malaysian nations."
He turns to Far-Rhu. "Shall I quarter those lemons for you, Sir, or peel them?"
Far-Rhu looks mildly shocked and confused. Whether it's intentional or not isn't quite determinable. "And take all the fun out of it? Really, I can do all that myself. Don't worry about it."
Henry looks a little shocked himself, but is far too professional to let it stop him. "Very good, Sir." Orders in place, he disappears to return five minutes later with the dessert tray laden, including a dozen ripe lemons in a silver bowl.
Shayna raises the glass of milk served with her cake. "Ladies and gentlemen, to Henry, the finest steward in the Emperor's Navy!"
Henry has the grace to blush.
Far-Rhu, not having anything to drink, nods at the toast as he takes a lemon and sets to peeling it with his tanned fingers. "I'd say; he knows how to make a guest feel welcome." He grins, collecting the yellow scraps of peel on his plate in a neat little pile. Finally freeing the flesh of the lemon from its casing, he gingerly removes a segment and pops it in his mouth, eating it as if it an orange.
If the lemon is sour, it sure doesn't look like it from his expression, happily munching.
Once the meal has finished, Shayna attempts to engage Far-Rhu and his officers in idle chat about operational details of working in space, steering the topics clear of anything sensitive. Eventually she checks the chronometer on the wall and stands up. "It's getting late, and as much as I'm enjoying this I'm going to have to retire."
She extends her hand to Far-Rhu. "Thank you very much to you and your officers for joining us tonight. It's been a pleasure to receive you, and I hope to see you again before we reach Titan. It's going to be a long trip, I'm afraid."
Far-Rhu accepts the hand with a firm shake and a short bow. "Thank you for having us over. It's not often that we have hosts of any sort, much less such decorous ones." He grins. "We're probably going to stick around, barring ill fortune. We may get called off, but our Loki can take care of most any problem faster than we can. Maybe along the way we can host your crew."
Shayna looks boldly into Far-Rhu's eyes as he shakes her hand. "I look forward to it. Good sailing, Captain."
Far-Rhu nods, not breaking eye contact. "Fare thee well, Captain Richards. We'll keep watch." Bowing shortly again, he leads his officers and the marine customs team back into the docked shuttle, which disengages and returns to the corvette.
Shayna gives off a long sigh as the hatch closes and the Scolopendrans depart for their own ship.
Speigel pats her shoulder. "So much for romance among the stars, eh Skipper?"
She looks back at him with a slight pout. "It's too bad. He's cute."
Speigel shrugs. "Sorry, Captain. He's not my type. Now, shall we pretend to be officers and go back to work?"
Onri leans over to her commanding officer. "Y'know, sir, that Captain Richards was eyeing you something fierce."
"Oh, get out, Jan." Far-Rhu chuckles. "She was just being a proper host, concerned with her guests and such."
"Hey, I know what it's like, having done it myself quite a bit. You've just not watched the females enough yourself to realize when they're giving you the eye. Too bad she doesn't know, eh?"
Far-Rhu snickers. "Yeah, I guess it would be sort of a letdown."